Carlos Ortiz was walking around Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium before Saturday’s big basketball game between Santa Fe High and Capital when a banner hanging from the railing stopped him in his tracks.
Unlike the other banners, most advertising local businesses, this one featured the smiling face and name of First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, who is running for Congress.
“I think it’s inappropriate for a public institution to be promoting any person,” Ortiz, 75, said Monday. “Now, it didn’t say ‘Running for Congress’ or anything like that — just a big picture of him with his name on it. I thought these other banners are promoting their business, and they’re supporting the sports program. Obviously, he’s promoting himself.”
After Ortiz called the school district, Superintendent Veronica García ordered the banner removed after determining it violated district policy.
“I told them they’d have to take it down,” García said.
The policy allows advertising that enhances district goals and objectives but prohibits advertising that promotes political campaigns or causes, alcohol, tobacco, gaming and firearms, among other things.
García said a member of the school booster club, not a district employee, solicited the advertisement from Serna.
“She thought it would be OK because it wasn’t advertising a political campaign,” she said. “It must’ve gotten past the school in terms of the fact that it wasn’t a political campaign. They must’ve thought it was OK, I’m assuming.”
The booster club member, Andrea Serna Probst, no relation to the district attorney, said she was unaware of the policy.
“I solicit donations from many people in our community,” said Serna Probst, whose two sons play basketball for the Demons. “I go to everybody. I go to the neighbor. I go to my aunts and uncles in other states to help this program.”
Though she doesn’t personally know them, Serna Probst said she would’ve asked some of Marco Serna’s many competitors in the 3rd Congressional District race to purchase a banner if she had bumped into them too. Serna Probst said she’s known Marco Serna, who graduated from St. Michael’s High School, “forever.”
“I don’t know Teresa Leger [Fernandez], and I don’t know Valerie Plame, but I’m happy to solicit them if you give me their number,” she said. “I’m happy to take a check from each of them. We can put all the banners up. Let’s do it. And you know what? If they care that much about the kids, they should write the check without the banner.”
Marco Serna’s twin brother and campaign chairman, JonCarlo Serna, said his brother made a “personal donation” to the school’s athletic program.
“Nothing came from the campaign,” he said.
Though he hadn’t seen the banner, JonCarlo Serna said it would be a stretch to call it political advertising.
“There’s no ‘For Congress’ or anything political,” he said. “If we just have a name of an individual, that’s a reach to suggest that it’s political or it infers anything political.”
But for Ortiz, the politics behind the banner was crystal clear.
“It’s so out of place,” he said. “All the other ones are banners of businesses promoting their business. They have their name. They have phone numbers, and they briefly talk about the service they provide. They’re all businesses except for this one. It stood out.”
Ortiz, who is supporting Leger Fernandez, said the school district owed it to the other candidates in the race to give them equal advertising.
“It’s a public institution,” he said. “If they’re going to have his picture up, then they ought to have all the candidates’ pictures up.”
García said she plans to remind all the principals in the district what the policy states.
“We’re going to go back and just be clear in our policy,” she said. “We need to be careful that we don’t have those sorts of pictures up.”