October 8, 2019

The economy of words—and economics in elections

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Words have meaning. But sometimes in politics, there are delineations between former job titles and former job duties. An Albuquerque city council candidate’s self-proclaimed experience as a city economist has raised a question: What is an economist?

Since council candidate Zachary Quintero announced his candidacy for City Council District 2, which encompasses downtown Albuquerque, NM Political Report received numerous comments and concerns about one of Quintero’s claims. According to his campaign and at least one of his social media accounts, Quintero worked as an economist for the City of Santa Fe. But Santa Fe does not have a city economist. According to his LinkedIn profile, Qunintero worked as an “economic development specialist.”  

Quintero said the confusion over his previous job is a result of his work there not necessarily matching the job title. 

“[Human Resources] only had one classification for that, which was Economic Development Specialist, but they made clear to me at the beginning that the work I would be doing was the work of an economist,” he said.  

Qunintero said some of that work included labor force modeling, Gross Domestic Product analysis and helping to craft public policy. 

According to city records, an Economic Development Specialist makes $15.00 per hour and is part of the city housing department. Quintero said he was recruited by the city specifically to do the work of an economist as an “emergency hire” and that the job title was not reflective of the work he did. His LinkedIn resume seems to follow that same narrative. 

“Provided policy analysis for economic initiatives from the department and Mayor Javier Gonzales, managed various projects related to Santa Fe’s labor force and entrepreneurship, and successfully created and maintained a professional internship web portal to recruit millennial talent to Santa Fe,” his online resume reads. 

Kelly O’Donnell, a University of New Mexico economic research scholar, has a PhD in economics and previously worked as an economist for the state. She said working as an economist can mean a lot of things, but that generally in the public sector it means economic forecasting and examining how policy or economic conditions may impact future revenues.  

“Generally speaking in government, a major role of an economist would be involved with the budget process,” O’Donnell said. 

Quintero’s description of his job duties may, more or less, line up with O’Donnell’s description of what an economist does, but his campaign fliers and website overlook the caveat he mentioned when talking to NM Political Report—that he did the work of an economist and did not serve as the city’s economist. 

O’Donnell said the difference between the two can be very important. She said early in her economics career, while in graduate school, she worked as an economic intern for the City of Albuquerque.  

“I would not have called myself an economist,” O’Donnell said. 

Quintero is one of many in a crowded race for the seat currently held by Councilor Isaac Benton. He’s currently a formidable challenger financially — Quintero last reported almost $40,000 on-hand and Benton last reported having almost $30,000.  

Quintero said no one has raised concerns to him about his work in economics, or economic development, but that he thinks any concerns about the specifics of his resume originate from his opponents who are nervous that he’s gaining traction.   

“I think this keeps coming up because I’m talking about the issue of retaining jobs and having a labor force plan for graduates,” he said. 

The race will likely heat up in the coming days. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on Tuesday and early voting starts the same day.