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State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas is now Sen. Maestas.
The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday appointed the West Side Democrat to the District 26 senate seat, filling a vacancy created by Jacob Candelaria’s recent resignation with more than two years left on his term.
The decision deeply divided the commission, with Maestas’ nomination passing on a 3-2 vote after weeks of commission in-fighting and political intrigue.
“It’s a great victory for the West Side, a great victory for a Hispanic-majority district,” Maestas said after the vote. “It’s unfortunate that personal hatred and animosity came into play. The community deserves better.”
Maestas earned the appointment with the support of Walt Benson – the commission’s lone Republican – and Charlene Pyskoty and Steven Michael Quezada.
“I think his resume speaks for itself; I think his dedication to the community speaks for itself,” Quezada said of Maestas, who has served 16 years in the state House.
Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Adriann Barboa voted against Maestas.
O’Malley had instead tried to appoint Julie Radoslovich, the former principal and director of the South Valley Academy who had about 15 public commenters speak on her behalf.
O’Malley – whose commission district encompasses most of the senate district in question – accused Maestas and Candelaria of scheming and undermining the public so Maestas could slide into the seat without election. Candelaria announced several months ago he intended to resign. Had Maestas told his constituents earlier he wanted that seat instead, they could have elected someone else to serve in the House, O’Malley argued, but Maestas instead ran for reelection to the House and last week won another two-year term. Once he resigns to take the Senate seat, the five-member county commission will then pick who fills that position.
“Sen. Candelaria and Rep. Moe Maestas pat themselves on the back for being fair and just and helping the little guy and that’s well and good, unless it gets in the way, I guess, of your political ambitions,” O’Malley said during the appointment debate. “Should we reward that behavior? I don’t think so.”
Asked after the meeting about O’Malley’s allegations, Maestas in turn accused O’Malley of practicing insider politics.
“The audacity of her allegations are so ridiculous because she thinks everybody rolls like her,” he said. “She is the last vestige of old-school patron politics in this city.”
Tuesday’s decision capped weeks of drama surrounding the appointment.
Candelaria resigned Oct. 19, and Maestas immediately stated his plans to pursue the seat.
Tension over the appointment process began flaring during the county commission’s Oct. 25 meeting. Pyskoty – backed by Quezada and Benson – pushed to override Commission Chairwoman Barboa’s plan to make the appointment in mid-November, saying she wanted it to happen on Oct. 31.
O’Malley, like Barboa, had said she wanted to wait longer so that community members interested in the seat had ample time to apply. Because the senate district under consideration is situated almost entirely within the boundaries of her commission district, she contended she should have a say. She called Pyskoty “extremely disrespectful and rude” during that Oct. 25 meeting and – after it adjourned – called Pyskoty a “bitch” with the commissioners and county staff still in the chambers.
The drama did not end there.
Last week, a Bernalillo County resident filed a complaint with the county alleging that Pyskoty had violated the county’s code of conduct due to a $5,000 in-kind donation she had received from lobbyist Vanessa Alarid’s firm. The complainant argued that the code bars officials from taking more than $1,000 from “restricted” donors and that Alarid meets the definition because she has represented the development team behind Santolina, a large planned community that requires approvals from county commissioners. In addition, Alarid is married to Maestas, which complainant Carl Peterson said created a conflict of interest if Pyskoty were to vote on whether to appoint Maestas to Candelaria’s seat.
The county’s Code of Conduct Review Board has scheduled a preliminary hearing set on the complaint for Dec. 2.
O’Malley reiterated the concerns during Tuesday’s meeting, encouraging Pyskoty to recuse herself. Pyskoty said she had no conflict of interest and would remain part of the decision, noting that “accusations are a dime a dozen” and that the hearing on the case has yet to take place.
“Anything about that donation … will come out; this is not the time or place to discuss it,” she said.
In addition to Maestas and Radoslovich, the commission considered five other applicants for the Senate seat: Steve Gallegos Dan Serrano, Peter Zollinger, Donald Wood, and Em Ward. Loc Truong, who the county had identified Monday as an applicant, said that while she had considered seeking the position, she withdrew before any vote.