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U.S. Statehood Government, 1945-Now

Clyde Tingley, after serving as governor, returned to Albuquerque, ran for City Commission and again became chairman and ex-officio mayor from 1939 to 1948 and 1951 to 1953. Once again Tingley became a political boss, running city government with a strong grip.

With the war effort, Albuquerque’s population boomed from 35,000 in 1940 to 175,000 in 1950. Newcomers to the city had different expectations of city government. Much of the new growth was in the Northeast Heights, and it needed water lines, sewers and streets.

The city didn’t have enough wells to serve this new population. Tingley and the commissioners weren’t anxious to extend water lines because Tingley didn’t think the city could afford them. Late in 1952 representatives of more than 50 groups met and ultimately decided political action was necessary. It regrouped in 1953 as the nonpartisan Albuquerque Citizens Committee, which successfully ran a slate of candidates for City Commission. When Commissioner Dick Bice took office in 1954, he devised a strategy to fund new water lines.

From 1954 to 1958, the city added 190 miles of pipe to its water system, and water shortages and rationing were history. The city also paved 157 miles of streets, and traffic congestion eased. The city staff increased dramatically. To pay for these improvements, new taxes were levied; the most significant was a one-cent sales tax.

Government and civic leaders were concerned about Albuquerque’s future water supplies as early as the 1930s. Federal committees proposed a project to divert water from the San Juan Basin in Colorado and New Mexico and use a trans-mountain canal to bring water over the Continental Divide to the Rio Grande. It was sidelined over tribal claims and then World War II. In the 1950s Sen. Dennis Chavez began to pursue the project. It would be one of his signal efforts. The bill passed in 1958 and was signed by President Kennedy in 1961. In the early 1960s, the City Commission decided that Albuquerque should participate.

In those years a series of dams built on the Jemez River, the Rio Chama and the Rio Grande finally stopped flooding from the Rio Grande and also held back the silt that had long caused the river to jump its banks.

Traffic on Central Avenue had reached 38,000 cars a day, compared with 28,000 presently. To alleviate congestion the city in the 1950s made Lead and Coal one-way arterials, and in the early 1960s Plum Street became the six-lane University Boulevard. The City of Albuquerque acquired the privately owned bus system in 1965. It became the Albuquerque Transit System.

Tingley Beach for years was a popular place for swimming and boating. During the 1950s, public swimming places were suspected of being a source of polio, and the city tore down Tingley’s bathhouse and marina. In 1952 the city reduced the size of the lake to accommodate a new Central Avenue bridge. Tingley Beach became a duck pond and fishing hole. In 1963 the city opened its new airport terminal. Mayor Harry Kinney, another former Sandian, took office in 1973.

By then there was a movement to create a city museum, but voters had turned down the project during four bond elections. Bice asked Kinney if he could chair the next bond effort. It passed, and in 1967 the city started the Museum of Albuquerque in the old airport building. (In 1979 the museum moved to its present location in Old Town.

The 1970s would bring great changes to city government. City planning became more sophisticated and involved the public to a greater degree. Losses of the Alvarado and Franciscan hotels, along with other city landmarks, sparked an interest in historic preservation, which resulted in the city acquiring and restoring the KiMo Theatre, among other projects. Downtown revitalization became a priority. Neighborhoods got new attention, and neighborhood associations became powerful voices for city residents. The environmental movement raised multiple issues, including open space and air quality.

In 1974 voters replaced the commission-mayor form of government with a mayor and nine-member city council. Councilors would be elected by district and not at large.

In the 1970s the city embarked on a building program, completing the Convention Center in 1972, an airport terminal addition in 1973, Civic Plaza in 1974 and the downtown Albuquerque Public Library in 1975. In 1975 the city adopted its first comprehensive plan, intended to address growth, pollution and the protection of historic landmarks.

Momentum continued. The city added programs to create art in public places, eradicate graffiti, and preserve open space.

In the 1980s the City-County Building was completed on the edge of Civic Plaza, and the National History Museum Opened. Dick Bice was once again instrumental in securing funding for a museum.

The last ten years have seen the creation of the Albuquerque Biopark and Aquarium, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Anderson-Abruzzo Balloon Museum, and Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum. The city completed major expansions and renovations of the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, the Atomic Museum, and the baseball stadium. In 2005 the city and the Army Corps of Engineers created a new wetland at Tingley Beach and rebuilt the fishing ponds.

City government has come a long way from the days when the first and only concern was streets and sewers. Today city government addresses citizen needs ranging from land-use planning to affordable housing, bike paths to senior centers, parks to pets.

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