Convicted felon Rebecca Romero wasted her time by running for the Santa Fe City Council. She hasn’t received a pardon from the governor, which she needs to hold office under state law.

What’s worse is an untold number of voters have already cast their ballots for Romero. She hid her criminal record for most of the campaign, a disservice to residents of Council District 4.

Because no one asked and Romero didn’t tell, voters knew nothing about her felony convictions until this week.

A tipster steered reporters to court records of Romero’s crimes. They are listed under her maiden name of Rebecca Ridgeway.

She pleaded no contest in January 2007 to forgery, credit card theft and unauthorized withdrawal from a bank account. Later that month, Romero’s criminal record grew, as she pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement.

Now 37, Romero attributed her crimes to immaturity or perhaps naiveté.

“I was in my early 20s when I became a convicted felon,” she wrote in an overnight Facebook posting to her “constituents.”

Judges showed Romero mercy, placing her on probation. She remained under court supervision until 2014.

“I’ve had many years to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into society, becoming a functional, upstanding, active/engaged citizen to our local community,” Romero wrote.

Much of her assessment is self-serving. Convicted felons can reform themselves and become contributing members of their community. Part of that atonement is being honest — something Romero did not do.

I asked her why she didn’t disclose her criminal record to voters.

“I made a mistake. I should have,” she wrote in an email.

Did Romero believe she could lawfully become a city councilor with her felony record?

“As I just recently discovered the rule for holding office, I am working on that issue.”

She didn’t begin soon enough for the November city election. Romero would have had to petition the governor months or even years ago to have had a chance of being pardoned in time to take office.



Politicians with criminal records worse than Romero’s have won elections, including at least one in New Mexico. Former state Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, was connected and astute enough to obtain a pardon before seeking office.

Ryan was 18 years old in 1980 when he and two cohorts broke into the home of a widow. They stole portraits and other valuables. Then they called the terrified victim to demand ransom money for the return of her property.

Ryan was arrested and convicted of conspiracy and burglary. He said the pain he caused motivated him to turn his life around. He became a lobbyist and a behind-the-scenes advocate for Republican politicians.

Gov. Gary Johnson, then a Republican, pardoned Ryan in 1997. Ryan went on to become executive director of the state Republican Party.

In 2004, he ran for the state Senate in a tossup district. Ryan knew his felony convictions would cloud his campaign, so he sent 10,000 letters to residents of his district admitting what he’d done. Voters elected him by a decisive margin.

His criminal record occasionally was used against him in the Senate. Ryan deflected each attack the same way.

“I am a convicted felon,” he would begin. Then he would say most people are willing to forgive someone who’s remorseful. He was correct.

Depending on the moment, Ryan could be an affable or a cocky politician. Once, when redistricting threatened to match him against Democratic Sen. Dede Feldman, he told many men in a crowded corridor of the Capitol why he would defeat Feldman: “She’s old,” he said.

I reported Ryan’s comment in a column, and it appeared in most of the state’s newspapers. Humiliated by the publicity, Ryan apologized to Feldman on the Senate floor. To jab Ryan, she had arrived wearing a white wig and riding a wheelchair she did not need.

They weren’t thrown into the same district. Ryan survived a new wave of criticism to win another term. He served 12 years in the Senate before retiring from elective politics.

Romero probably came from tougher circumstances than Ryan. She didn’t have his network of powerful contacts or his willingness to take responsibility for crimes or his rude remarks.

But Romero could have been honest about her record. She blindsided supporters and early voters. On that basis alone, she doesn’t belong on the City Council.

She can still make a comeback if she cares enough to take the first arduous step. Every story of redemption starts with a truth-teller.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(22) comments

DeeDee Downs

It's good her felony was eventually revealed. She's clearly STILL too dishonest to hold public office. A public official needs the Public's trust. Liars, by omission OR commission, are not trustworthy. Had she told the truth, apologized, and sought a pardon, she might have even won. What a pathetic shame.

Robert Fields

No, Milan, this isn’t a peril of early voting or any reason for people not to vote early.

This was either a candidate committing perjury if there was any swearing to not being a felon, or Romero wasn’t properly vetted before being added to the ballot.

We aren’t overrun by felons running for office but we are having to fight attacks on our right to vote in the form of intentionally slowed mail service, attempts to reduce the numbers of polling places, attempts to make voting harder, etc.

But this is not some shining example of why people shouldn’t vote early. It’s a shining example of others, including the media, not doing their jobs.

Khal Spencer

I just went to the NM SoS web site. It will not let me access the form a candidate needs to fill out. I was able to open the Candidate Guide:

https://www.sos.state.nm.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/2021_RLE-Canddate_Guide.pdf

Felony Convictions: A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be permitted to hold an office of public trust for the state, a county, a municipality, or a district, unless the person has presented the governor with a certificate verifying the completion of the sentence and was granted a pardon or a certificate by the governor restoring the person’s full rights of citizenship. NMSA 1978, § 31-13-1(E).

That said, I don't know if there is a question on the application form asking if one is a felon or whether the form must be notarized. If someone can access the form (Milan??) sure would be nice to know, as that could constitute perjury.

David Gunter

It's disingenuous to claim this is any problem with early voting. The entire fault lies with a crooked candidate and a system that lacks any vetting before people are allowed on the ballot. Her news could have easily come out post-election.

Lisa Bronowicz

I agree with you. You covered all the reasons.

Robert Fields

[thumbup]

Stefanie Beninato

One reason why early voting can be a problem. Yet Romero needed to be honest--the fact that she is not says volumes about her integrity

Charlotte Rowe

"She hid her criminal record..." Really? Seems to me the job of media is to do enough digging to expose this kind of easily accessible public record. Can you imagine a national candidate getting as far in a campaign as early voting without some reporter finding out and reporting on a felony conviction for a candidate? I'd say the local reporters dropped the ball on this one big time. This does not mitigate in any way her requirements to disclose such information (I assume there is some sort of criminal disclosure requirement to run for public office in NM) - her failure to do so may actually add an additional crime to her record if that's the case. But you'd think the local reporters would have asked this question about every candidate.

Khal Spencer

Sounds like Milan did the digging, but if our election process is so sloppy that there is not a record of the candidate lying about her felonious past, that is a problem with the application process rather than the press.

If I have to have a call made to the FBI for me to buy a gun, seems someone who is elected to a trusted office should have to be vetted just a little bit by the proper authorities, eh?

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Wow Milan! You should really look in the mirror on this one! You who strongly supported Mayor Webber in the first election never offered an apology to the public who followed your lead giving us a horrible leader. You report on the bullying of politics. The Webber campaign was quick to call out the bullying of a reformed addict (who I personally consider a friend) yet you continue to bully the woman that the Webber campaign outed for a former felony. She could still be pardoned by the Governor and she could still be called Councilor in the end!

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

Khal Spencer

So how is it she was able to get on a ballot without someone vetting her and finding out she was a felon? This never should have happened if someone was doing their job. Or, in New Mexico, isn't it anyone's job?

Robert Fields

There was a name change in there which probably stymied a cursory check, but it looks like just as with other background checks, having candidates list all former names and aliases may need to be required - if it isn’t already.

Emily Hartigan

Ironically, felons who can truly own their harm to the community can become particularly effective representatives of us fallible humans.

Ones who hide or minimize their culpability, show that their stripes haven't changed. If you can't take responsibility for your own imperfect actions, you can't govern.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

You should try reminding Webber about being Culpable for his actions! Hispano-phobia! Destruction. Of public property! Dereliction of duty! Misuse of funding! Failure to follow campaign rules, etc.

Matthew Edge

Milan, Romero's convictions were public record. Why did The New Mexican only just "discover" something one of their intrepid reporters could have Googled months ago? So how does this incident show the perils of early voting, as opposed to the perils of a lazy press?

Mike Johnson

Exactly, and another question, why is it the SOS or City Clerk who certify candidates for an election not have seen this? Do they really rely totally on what is on the form submitted with no fact checks??? Poor practice at best, stupid at worst.

Richard Reinders

Romero, is already out this article is kickem when their down journalism, you know she just might be right in saying she has been on the straight an narrow since her convictions and is trying to be a responsible citizen.

Robert Fields

She may have been and if so, it’s unfortunate for her. But if she truly didn’t understand she was ineligible to run for office there was an information hole there and telling her story can alert others with criminal histories that they are also ineligible without pardons. It may even help keep others from committing crimes when they find out how many things a criminal record disqualifies them to do and be.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

[thumbup]

Charlotte Rowe

Pobrecita little crook, don't bring up the problem because nobody else would ever try it and get away with it, that's right.

DeeDee Downs

doesn't matter... she refused to tell the truth when it mattered. So... she's still dishonest.

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