Zack Quintero, a Democratic candidate for state auditor, has made an eye-popping claim.

He said his work as a Santa Fe city employee kept the arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf from leaving the state.

“During my time I was able to be in charge of the labor force contract that kept Meow Wolf here,” Quintero said at a public event while campaigning for the Albuquerque City Council in 2019.

Quintero’s campaign made a similar statement in a flyer listing his accomplishments.

“After college, Zack became a city economist, where he managed the contract between the city of Santa Fe and Meow Wolf that ensured they were able to remain in Santa Fe.”

Not true, says Vince Kadlubek, who was a founder of Meow Wolf and its CEO during the relevant period.

Meow Wolf received a $60,000 city grant that Quintero indirectly referenced in his discussions about a labor contract.

Kadlubek told me the company appreciated the city’s support. But, he said, Quintero’s claim of being instrumental in keeping Meow Wolf in New Mexico is false.

“The decision to be in New Mexico was independent of the small amount of incentives we got,” Kadlubek said.

As for Meow Wolf’s dealings with city government on the grant, Kadlubek said the majority were with Quintero’s boss.

“We worked mostly with Kate Noble,” Kadlubek said of the administrator who headed the city Economic Development Department at the time. “Zack was junior on the project.”

The city grant helped, Kadlubek said, but it was one part of a greater effort. He said Meow Wolf succeeded because of investors who bet on the company, dedicated employees and its House of Eternal Return exhibit in Santa Fe.

Meow Wolf this year expanded its operations to Denver and Las Vegas, Nev.

During recent interviews, Quintero told me his motives were pure in highlighting his work on the contract with Meow Wolf.

“I wasn’t trying to fabricate anything,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to come from any other point than presenting what I’ve done. … I was coming from the point that I was a key asset.”

I asked Quintero how his work on a $60,000 government grant “ensured” Meow Wolf remained in New Mexico.

He said he used the wrong word, and the statements he made now seem too sweeping.

“I helped contribute to the success of a small business in Santa Fe,” Quintero said Thursday.

Had he described his participation that way, he would have made it harder for critics to pound him in the Albuquerque City Council election. He lost the race to incumbent Councilor Ike Benton.But in speaking with me, Quintero also described his work on the Meow Wolf contract as “pivotal in that it helped contribute to the overall messaging that was coming from the mayor’s office and from Vince.”

Keeping young people in Santa Fe and supporting New Mexico artists were priorities the company and the city emphasized, Quintero said.

Now 30, Quintero went to work for the Santa Fe Economic Development Department in June 2014. He had graduated the month before from New Mexico State University with bachelor’s degrees in government and economics.

His job title with the city of Santa Fe was economic development specialist. In campaign appearances and advertisements during his city council race, Quintero called himself an economist. He said he considers that description accurate based on the work Santa Fe’s mayor and city manager expected from him.

“They stated that I was doing economist-based worked,” Quintero said.

Quintero asked me to interview former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and City Councilor Signe Lindell to verify the responsibilities he had.

Gonzales, now out of politics, declined to speak on the record. Lindell told me she had no recollection of Quintero’s work on the 2015 grant for Meow Wolf. But she said she found him to be an industrious and reliable employee during his two years with the city.

Quintero went to law school at the University of New Mexico after resigning from his job in the Santa Fe Economic Development Department. He graduated in 2019.

He worked as the state ombudsman for 10 months. After that, he was on the staff of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for 17 months. Quintero said he’s now working on a contract basis providing legal analysis in cases involving administrative law.

He’s also busy campaigning for state auditor in what should be a contested primary election in June. Joseph Maestas, a state public regulation commissioner from Santa Fe, also is running for the seat.

Meow Wolf might still be a topic in the campaign. Quintero, though, didn’t save it from extinction in New Mexico.

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

(5) comments

Andrew Lucero

It’s pretty clear to me that this guy doesn’t have the slightest idea what a State Auditor does. I don’t know Mr. Quintero, but based on what I’ve read about him thus far, he is not remotely qualified for this position. He’s just a wannabe political hack trying to get his foot in the door. I certainly will not vote for him. And if the people are smart, they won’t either. People of his questionable character should not be allowed anywhere near elected office. That said, we really need to have some tougher requirements to hold state offices. Common sense should dictate, that the minimum requirement for being the State Auditor is that they at least have a C.P.A. That would go a long way in making this state office more professional and competent while also disqualifying the vast majority of these self-serving political hacks from ever holding the office.

Aurora Sanchez

Does this young man actually know what the state auditor's office does or is it simply s way for him to get into a political office? This is an important office that should not be abused for any political gain. Read the law that created the office, learn it's purpose.

Mark Ortiz

I agree but for better or worse, it is an elected office that has been used for decades, like lower offices to climb the political ladder. This recent abomination comes to mind, Marco Serna and the mockery he made of the Santa Fe's DA's office thinking he could use that a springboard to Ben Ray's US Rep seat. Regarding the Auditor's Office, Robert E. Vigil- served prison along with his homey in crime, former State Treasurer, Michael A Montoya , Domingo Martinez-retirement, Hector Balderas-AG, who really wants to be Governor but Michelle cut the line, Tim Keller-Abq Mayor, but wait, he’s 43 and just getting started, Wayne Johnson, well he's a Republican so I'm sure he's cashing in in the private sector, and now Brian Colon, 50 years old and surely must have a plan past this office. While gathering this info, I see NM Governor's seat as a runway with lined up candidates, Balderas, Keller, Webber (really?), Egolf, and ?????

Mike Johnson

So "saving" Meow Wolf is supposed to be a good thing? Seriously?

Heather Nordquist

Yes, apparently now giving public money to for-profit entities is something to celebrate /s

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