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.