Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Less than three weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Stephanie Maez reached out to contacts with Emerge New Mexico, a recruiting and training program for Democratic women aspiring to public office.
Maez’s message sought donations to help Albuquerque City Council candidate Ane Romero – and she did it in the name of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
“I’m running Mayor Keller’s local (political action committee) supporting our fellow Emerge sister, Ane’ Romero (sic) for City of Albuquerque council district 4,” Maez wrote in an Oct. 16 email. “As you all know, campaigning is tough work, and it takes many hands and resources to win elections and stay in office.”
When one recipient asked if the mayor was running PACs for all City Council races, Maez responded “District 2 and 4,” according to an email exchange obtained by the Journal.
But Maez and the mayor’s office last week each denied that Keller was directly involved in either.
“The Mayor was certainly publicly supportive of these candidates and worked on their behalf, but any suggestion that these were his organizations is incorrect,” Keller spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn wrote in response to Journal questions.
Romero’s opponent, Brook Bassan, said she had heard nothing about Keller as it relates to the pro-Romero committee, but that she found his public endorsement of any City Council candidates problematic.
“If it doesn’t end up working out that his endorsed candidates win, it’s already just a natural human reaction to feel defensive going into something,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a good setup for a strong, cooperative environment.”
Bassan was publicly financed in the Nov. 5 election, but will run a privately financed runoff campaign.
“Given the amount of outside special interest money we anticipate being spent for my opponent in this runoff election, I had no choice but to opt out of public financing and instead seek voluntary private contributions,” she told the Journal.
City records show Maez is the chairwoman for two political action committees registered to participate in this year’s city election:
• A Better ABQ, which raised and spent money to help Romero, a deputy legislative director for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in the District 4 race; and
• Progressive ABQ, which supported District 2 incumbent Isaac Benton and stirred controversy with mailings accusing Benton’s opponent, Zack Quintero, of lying about his résumé.
Keller publicly endorsed Benton and Romero, fellow Democrats. But his name appears nowhere in the political action committees’ filings. Quintero is also a Democrat.
Maez said last week she erred in writing that the PAC was Keller’s, saying her language “wasn’t quite right.”
“I was just writing in short-hand,” she said in an interview. “I meant … PACs supporting the candidates the mayor has endorsed.”
Maez, a former state lawmaker and onetime executive director for Progress Now New Mexico, works as a political consultant. She said she started the committees – which the city formally calls “measure finance committees” – to aid some publicly financed candidates.
“I’m just involved in politics in general. We decided – we, as in me – in thinking through what was going on in the city election and what was needed, and the fact that our – my – allies weren’t necessarily in a position with public financing to be able to raise and spend money for additional campaigning that this was necessary,” she said.
Both Romero and Benton ran on public financing, meaning their campaigns had to forgo private contributions. But the committees can take such donations, though rules restrict how much they can collaborate directly with the candidates.
The Nov. 5 election failed to yield a winner in their respective districts as no candidate in either race earned 50% of the total vote, as required by the city charter. Romero now faces Bassan in a Dec. 10 runoff.
Benton and Quintero, also a publicly financed candidate, will compete in their own runoff.
Quintero said he did not mind Keller publicly endorsing his opponent.
“I think Mayor Keller has worked hard with Councilor Benton in the past, so I understand any kind of previous background they have,” he said.
Maez said Wednesday she had not decided whether to continue the committees through the runoff election.
As of the latest campaign finance report, Progressive ABQ raised $8,850 in cash, with the largest donors being Edward Garcia of Albuquerque ($3,000 so far) and Dana Rennaker of Portland, Oregon ($2,000).
A Better ABQ raised $5,620. The biggest contribution was $2,500 from the Sheet Metal Workers union.