A political action committee’s support of Steven Michael Quezada for Bernalillo County Commission is leading to questions because of the donors behind it—including from Quezada himself.
Last month, the New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC paid for billboards that reference the actor and comedian’s most well-known credential—his supporting role as DEA Agent Steven Gomez in the cable TV drama “Breaking Bad.”
“Elect Breaking Bad’s good guy,” read the billboards, which also feature a picture of smiling Quezada and his name written in a font reminiscent of the opening credits of the popular TV series.
The funders behind New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC, which is independent of Quezada’s campaign, are developers and lawyers with ties to Santolina, a controversial planned development of residences that the county commission approved zoning changes for last year.
Santolina’s backers say the planned development could be home to as many as 90,000 people over the next 40 to 50 years. But the issue has sparked outrage from critics who call it sprawl development and point to British-based multinational bank Barclays, which owns the land Santolina is set to be built on, as the corporate driver behind it.
Adrián Pedroza, a social enterprise director at Partnership for Community Action and Quezada’s opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary, said the PAC’s actions now make Santolina the main issue for their primary battle June 7.
“This election is trying to be bought by Santolina interests,” Pedroza, who has voiced opposition to the planned community, told NM Political Report. “So it’s a question of prioritization and where we want our resources to go.”
Right now, developers behind Santolina are asking the county commission to approve 80 different subsidies to help build-out of the development over the next several decades. Pedroza says this plan “outraged” constituents of the district, which includes parts of downtown Albuquerque, the city’s South Valley and the southwest Mesa.
Quezada says the billboards upset him too.
“I flew into town and I was driving home and I looked up and I saw that billboard and I go, ‘Who did that? Why would they use Breaking Bad for me?’” Quezada said. “I’m not running for this office because I’m an actor from Breaking Bad, and it read that way.”
Currently a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, Quezada points to his vote on that body against Santolina as evidence that he’s not supportive of the development.
Quezada also cited his campaign’s refund of a donation from Jeff Garrett, one of the developers behind Santolina and a contributor to the PAC. Garrett contributed $5,000 to the PAC, which raised $25,000 in April and spent nearly $13,500.
Garrett also contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Robert Chavez, another Democrat vying for the same county commission seat.
“All I can think of, the reason they’re supporting me in whatever way, is because I’m for economic development on the Southwest Mesa,” Quezada said.
By economic development, Quezada said he means infill on the West Side to add jobs and industry.
“I live up here where we can’t even fix a sink,” he said. “I can’t even take clothes to a drycleaner. We have three restaurants, and one’s a Jack in the Box, the other is McDonald’s and one’s a Subway.”
Donna Taylor, the listed treasurer of New Mexicans for New Mexico, wrote in a statement to NM Political Report that she supports Quezada or Chavez.
“I don’t support a candidate who is from [Northeast] Heights and is opposed to development and job creation,” Taylor writes in a dig at Pedroza, who for his part notes he’s lived all over the city and is committed to raising his kids in Atrisco. “I want someone from here who is job friendly.”
As for Santolina contributions to the PAC, Taylor writes, “I know Santolina wants leaders who are job friendly so I asked for them to contribute and help candidates that want to create jobs.”
In January, Santolina developers submitted applications for 40 public improvement districts (PIDs) and 40 tax increment development districts (TIDDs) for county commission approval. Both are mechanisms for public subsidizing of the development over the next several decades.
Pedroza said he doesn’t think even the current county commission, which approved the Santolina master plan 3-2 last summer, would support the subsidies.
“I think there’s example after example of where we put public investment, like [planned community] Mesa Del Sol, and we never quite see the promises of jobs and economic growth come along with those initial promises,” Pedroza said.
Quezada, though, didn’t rule out the possibility of supporting the PIDs or TIDDs.
“If you look at how that’s structured, it’s whoever moves into Santolina that’s got to pay that TIDD tax,” Quezada said. “That doesn’t go to the whole county.”
He continued: “I’m a comedian. I have to see things from all sides before I say anything, whether I’m going to make fun of it or work hard to change it. I need to know what our options are. Do we say no to the TIDDs, and then they back out, and then they piecemeal sell it and we end up with [another] Pajarito Mesa? If that’s one of my options, I don’t really care for that option.”