For eight years, Art De La Cruz has been a swing vote of sorts on the Bernalillo County Commission.
He sided with fellow Democrats last year, for example, to cast the decisive vote needed to raise taxes.
And a few months later he lined up with Republicans to ensure passage of the enormous Santolina Master Plan.
In other words, De La Cruz is often the man in the middle.
But the South Valley Democrat will step down at the end of 2016, setting up the chance for his successor to change the balance of power in county government.
Democrats next month will choose among Robert G. Chavez, a retired police sergeant and business owner; Adrián Pedroza, development director of a nonprofit group based in the South Valley; and Steven Michael Quezada, an actor and member of the Board of Education.
The winner will face Republican Patricia Paiz this fall.
Each of the Democratic candidates points to his own qualifications as an asset to constituents in District 2.
Chavez, 57, said he has unmatched experience, having worked in both construction and law enforcement. He spent 21 years as an Albuquerque police officer, and he’s owned a construction business since 1983.
“Absolutely my experience is like no other candidate,” he said in an interview. “That experience enables me … to look at things from a different perspective.”
Pedroza, 38, said he has a record of community-based work, including stints for then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat; the University of New Mexico; and his present employer, Partnership for Community Action.
That history has helped him build “a well-rounded, informed sense of what needs to be done in our district and how to work across groups and with coalitions, families, institutional leaders and policy-makers,” Pedroza said.
Quezada, for his part, points to his experience on the Albuquerque school board, which oversees a massive budget.
He said he also grew up as “one of those poor kids” that so many programs are trying to reach, giving him insight into what services are effective.
“I’m not a politician,” Quezada said. “I’m a community guy. There’s a difference.”
Approval of the Santolina Master Plan – a framework for growth on the West Mesa – is a topic of serious debate in District 2.
Chavez said he would approach the issue from a “quasi-judicial” perspective, meaning he will evaluate future Santolina decisions based on the evidence presented, as a judge would.
“I’m going to be impartial about it,” he said, “but I will do everything I can to protect the constituents in our community.”
Pedroza said he opposes the Santolina Master Plan and that the county should make the neighborhoods already in need of good streets and infrastructure the priority “before looking at building a brand new city on the southwest mesa.”
Quezada said he was against Santolina as a member of the school board. But now that the plan has been approved, he isn’t certain how he would vote if the development comes up again.
“They have to make sure everything is done right if they’re going to do it,” he said. “I don’t want another Pajarito Mesa, and then there’s no infrastructure.”
A political action committee funded by members of the Santolina development team has raised about $25,000 and erected a billboard supporting Quezada, though he says he didn’t ask for their support.
Bios for Bernalillo County Commission District 2 Democratic candidates
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: South Valley, Albuquerque.
EDUCATION: Master’s in business administration, University of New Mexico, 2004; B.A., political science, minor in business administration, UNM, 2001.
OCCUPATION: Development director, Partnership for Community Action (PCA), 2016-current; executive director, PCA, 2007-2016; employee in the High School Equivalency Program and College Assistance Migrant Program, University of New Mexico, 2002-06.
FAMILY: Married to Valerie Valles-Pedroza; three children
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: President Obama appointee, commissioner, President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, 2010-present; Office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, constituent services, 2001-02; Excellence in Education Award, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, 2012; community lobbyist, New Mexico Legislature, 2014-16; Kellogg Foundation fellow, 2014-present.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Built a financially sustainable, community-based organization dedicated to advancing the well-being of our neighborhoods. We’ve succeeded in increasing investments in early education, built a successful family engagement model at our schools, and regulated predatory lenders.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: My family. Valerie and I have been married for 11 years and are blessed with three wonderful children who we are raising in the South Valley.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: adrianfornewmexico.com
Robert G. Chavez
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: South Valley, Albuquerque
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree, Wayland Baptist University, 2002.
OCCUPATION: Supervisor, Maintenance and Operation Structural Department for the Albuquerque Public Schools, 2001-present; retired, sergeant and officer, Albuquerque Police Department, 1980-2001; co-founder and owner of The Batters Edge located in District 2, 1984-2009; founder/owner of JR Robyn Construction, my company that built many homes in District 2, 1983-present.
FAMILY: I’ve been married to my beautiful wife, Joanna Chavez, for 33 years. I have three adult children, and three grandchildren.
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Running for the County Commission position is an opportunity for me to continue serving my community. After discussing this with my family and friends I have decided to give it my all and run for this position.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: I have been a public servant for over 35 years. I helped start programs such as Neighborhood Association/Community Base Policing. I also helped start the G.R.E.A.T/D.A.R.E programs in APS Schools.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: My marriage of 33 years with my wife Joanna Chavez, who together we raised three amazing children. Our children are productive members of society who have all chosen to give back to this community.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: robertgchavez.com
Steven Michael Quezada
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque
EDUCATION: Graduate, West Mesa High School.
OCCUPATION: Actor, comedian, writer, producer, 1985-present.
FAMILY: Married to Cherise Quezada; four children
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member and secretary, 2012-present; member of the Route 66 West Neighborhood Association, two years; Democratic Party delegate, two months; I’ve also attended several community meetings, town halls and forums for over 10 years.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Two Screen Actors Guild nominations, winner in 2014; New Mexico Hispano Entertainers Association multi-award-winning comedian and writer; NMHEA award-winning Stage Actor.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: My family is my major accomplishment. I’m also proud of my support toward countless charitable organizations for over 30 years. YDI is also special to me as I’ve developed and taught several youth programs there.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: steven4commission.com
Questions for the candidates
What is the top priority in District 2 and how would you address it as a county commissioner?
Pedroza: Building a strong, sustainable local economy with well-paying, career-track jobs. We must strengthen our support for small businesses, help build a strong workforce, compete for state and local business incentives, and invest in rebuilding our local infrastructure.
Chavez: Lack of jobs, mental health/substance abuse problems, and road and drainage systems are in disarray. My proven professional background has prepared me to have practical solutions to work towards resolving these issues.
Quezada: Ensuring the Behavioral Health Tax is implemented as intended. A triage center offers treatment instead of jail time. Addressing this piece will be crucial in solving the problems that affect education, public safety, street crimes and drugs.
Do you generally support or oppose the Santolina Master Plan? Should Tax Increment Development Districts and other incentives for development be approved for the Santolina Master Plan?
Pedroza: Oppose. No, TIDDS are a tool that should be used for their intended purpose, which is to revitalize communities in need, not subsidize new development.
Chavez: I believe as a county commissioner, you are not only morally obligated to listen to the people but are required by oath. With that being said I chose to stand with my community and oppose Santolina, until I’m able to review the plans more thoroughly.
Quezada: I voted against the Santolina Master Plan as an APS BOE due to the lack of schools, water and infrastructure and recently voiced my concerns about transportation needs at a CPC Hearing. TDDS concerns me, but may be needed for a community this size. I don’t want another Pajarito Mesa.
Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a tax increase? And what types, if any, would you support?
Pedroza: I support tax increases that have the broad support of the community and have been taken to voters for approval. I supported the recent voter-approved tax for expanded and improved mental and behavioral health services.
Chavez: In order to support and expand our small businesses, property taxes and gross receipt taxes should not be increased. I would need to thoroughly review the Bernalillo County bi-annual budget to make sound decisions.
Quezada: I believe the county needs to create jobs and further economic development efforts. The county also recently passed the Behavioral Health Tax. I would support its expansion to address this epidemic in our community.
Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?
Chavez: No, my businesses have always been run with integrity and honesty.
Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?
Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state?
Pedroza: I have received traffic citations, and in my 20s was charged with two petty misdemeanors, both of which were dismissed.
Quezada: Yes. I was arrested three times; convicted for one. I am not that guy anymore and I thank my wife and children for changing my life.
Editor’s note: Pedroza said he was charged with refusing to obey an officer’s order about 11 years ago after he didn’t leave the parking lot quickly enough at the start of a University of New Mexico football game. As a teenager, he faced a disorderly conduct charge after a scuffle at the mall, when a couple of guys were harassing a female co-worker, he said. Both charges were dismissed.
Quezada pleaded guilty to a driving while intoxicated charge in 1998, and two additional DWI charges were dismissed in 2001 and 2002.