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An already-tense debate during Tuesday’s Bernalillo County Commission meeting extended past adjournment with one member calling another a “bitch.”
The panel had just finished arguing over when to meet to fill a vacancy in the New Mexico Senate created last week when Jacob Candelaria, a West Side Albuquerque independent, stepped down with two years left on his term. The commission is responsible for choosing his replacement.
Commissioners Adriann Barboa, the chair, and Debbie O’Malley disagreed with Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty’s effort to set the meeting for Oct. 31, arguing it was too quick a turnaround. They contended they wanted to give community members more time to apply for the appointment.
Pyskoty, however, had support from the commission’s other two members, Steven Michael Quezada and Walt Benson.
O’Malley voiced frustration over their plan during the meeting, noting that the Senate district at issue is located primarily in her own commission district and that she wanted a say in when to make the appointment. She called Pyskoty’s effort to expedite a decision “extremely disrespectful and rude.”
But the discussion did not end there. Shortly after the meeting concluded, Benson said he heard O’Malley call Pyskoty a “bitch.”
“The meeting was over and Debbie stood up and said ‘You’re a bitch,’ to Pyskoty, and then Pyskoty didn’t respond. Then she said, ‘Did you hear me?’ and I think ‘Pyskoty said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I did.’ That’s when Joe chimed in,” Benson said, referring to Pyskoty’s assistant, Joe Noriega, who was sitting in the audience.
A Journal reporter subsequently witnessed a heated exchange between Noriega and O’Malley.
“Continue. Make a fool out of yourself,” Noriega said. “Look at you. You’re the commissioner and you’re up there calling another commissioner a bitch.”
“Shut up,” O’Malley responded.
Pyskoty declined to speak to a Journal reporter by phone about the incident, saying she would only answer questions in writing. In an email, she said O’Malley “walked up behind me and verbally assaulted me with an abusive slur. She then asked me if I heard her, and repeated the word. I responded in a quiet, steady tone, ‘I heard what you said, ma’am.'”
She added that Noriega then told O’Malley others heard the remark and she needed to stop and that O’Malley then acted in a “threatening and disorderly manner” toward Noriega.
Pyskoty said she is seeking “counsel” on the matter.
“This unprovoked, abusive, bullying behavior is inappropriate from anyone, especially an elected official. Commissioner O’Malley needs to be held accountable for her unethical and retaliatory behavior in public,” Pyskoty wrote.
Noriega, meanwhile, told the Journal via email he is filing an “internal complaint” through Human Resources about the situation, saying he heard O’Malley twice call Pyskoty a “bitch.”
A statement he provided said in part “Commissioner O’Malley is a bully and I called out her verbal attacks on Commissioner Pyskoty because I had enough, this prompted Commissioner O’Malley to launch additional verbal threats at myself and Commissioner Pyskoty. I am disappointed that she would display this unethical and retaliatory behavior in public.”
Asked the nature of the threats, Noriega said O’Malley told him “What are you going to do about it? Come up here! Come do something about it!”
O’Malley on Wednesday refused to talk about what she said to Pyskoty in that moment.
“Whatever the conversation was, it was face-to-face,” she said. “It’s between me and her and so I’m not willing to discuss it.”
Asked if she felt she lost her cool, she said “I was very upset; there’s no question,” and that she thinks other commissioners are working specifically to get current state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a West Side Albuquerque Democrat, into Candelaria’s seat. Upon Candelaria’s resignation, Maestas immediately signaled his interest in the position.
O’Malley noted that Maestas’ wife, high-profile lobbyist Vanessa Alarid, helped fund Pyskoty’s reelection bid.
According to campaign finance reports, Alarid’s consulting firm made the single largest contribution to Pyskoty’s unsuccessful bid during the 2022 Democratic primary. Alarid Consulting gave Pyskoty $5,000 worth of in-kind mailers.
Pyskoty during Tuesday’s meeting said she has never “done anything socially” with the couple.
“I have zero relationship with them,” she said.
But Pyskoty on Wednesday would not answer Journal questions about that contribution, including whether she or her campaign ever communicated with Alarid or her firm about the contribution.
Both Pyskoty and O’Malley are in their final months as commissioners, as Pyskoty lost in her primary and O’Malley could not run again due to term limits. Their terms end Dec. 31.