Critics of Gov. Susana Martinez have long considered her a dirty fighter in campaigns and a politician with misguided policies. But Tuesday marked the first time that Martinez’s political opponents attacked her personal integrity — calling her a liar based on a newly released police audio recording that revealed discrepancies in her first version of a disturbance at a hotel in Santa Fe.
“To be clear, this is not about the governor enjoying a few too many at her holiday party. This is about her breathtaking lack of honesty and her appalling treatment of our law enforcement officers and the workers of the Eldorado Hotel,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “Instead of taking responsibility for her action, she fabricated stories.”
The Santa Fe police audio recording made public Tuesday includes Sgt. Anthony Tapia saying Martinez was “inebriated” during a holiday party for her friends and staff that escalated to complaints that members of her entourage threw bottles from a fourth-floor balcony. Martinez had said that she consumed only one and a half alcoholic drinks across several hours.
But the greater credibility issue for Martinez based on Tapia’s recording was that she admitted someone had thrown bottles from a room that she and others occupied at the Eldorado Hotel the night of Dec. 12-13. Last week, in her first public statements about the disturbance, Martinez and her spokesman had insisted snowballs — not bottles — were thrown.
Tapia’s four-minute recording starts with a hotel employee talking with the governor. The employee tells Martinez that he went to a room occupied by members of Martinez’s group. The employee said he “personally heard how loud it was.”
Martinez tells the employee she had been to the room two hours earlier and it was empty. She also suggests she had been in the room even earlier when there was someone throwing bottles.
“Five hours ago, there was somebody that we said, ‘Get out of the room. Do not be doing what you’re doing,’ ’’ Martinez tells the employee. “And there were bottles being thrown over. We said, ‘Get the hell out and stop.’ But now the complaint is with the balcony and I am in there. And there are no bottles being thrown over.”
This differed from the account that her press aide, Chris Sanchez, gave after earlier police dispatch recordings were released to the New Mexican and other media outlets last week.
“Unbeknownst to the governor, there had been complaints about noise and someone throwing what turned out to be snowballs from the balcony of that room earlier in the night while the governor was in the ballroom,” Sanchez said in a statement on Dec. 18. “While the governor was in the hotel room, she was informed a complaint had been recently made, and was also made aware of the earlier complaints. At that time, the other guests left and the governor went downstairs to the front desk to find out more information about the complaints and assure the hotel staff that those who had caused those issues had long ago left, and there was no longer a problem.”
Questioned Tuesday about the latest recording, Sanchez repeated the original statement that nobody in Martinez’s group threw bottles from a balcony.
In an email, Sanchez said Martinez had only said that someone threw bottles because she was repeating the complaint made by the hotel staff.
“Regardless, the governor apologizes for the conduct of her staff the night of the holiday party. She finds it absolutely unacceptable and plans to address this with her staff — which could include disciplinary action,” Sanchez said.
He also said police found no evidence of bottle throwing, such as broken glass.
Martinez herself declined to answer questions about the hotel confrontation and the police investigation that she sought to halt. She made a public appearance Tuesday in Santa Fe to welcome home soldiers who had been deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, but she hurried away afterward as reporters tried to ask her about the latest recording.
At one point, a member of her security detail pushed away the hand of a KOB-TV cameraman and shoved a door closed as the cameraman tried to follow Martinez to her vehicle.
Although the Republican governor said nothing to the press Tuesday, her opponents were outspoken.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said in an interview that Martinez may have broken the law by telling Santa Fe police officers and dispatchers to end their investigation of the loud disturbance that may have included members of her party throwing bottles.
“If anyone tries to misdirect a criminal investigation, she or he is subject to a criminal investigation,” said Sen. Sanchez, no relation to the governor’s aide. “If this had involved a call to any other room in the hotel or any home, there would have been a police report and an investigation.”
Sen. Sanchez said Martinez, a former district attorney, knows well that the subject of a police inquiry should not be able to stifle that investigation. But, he said, Martinez used her position as governor to tell police to back off.
“Any regular person who tried to do what she did would be subject to a charge of obstruction, disorderly conduct or interference” with police, Sen. Sanchez said.
Attorney General Hector Balderas’ spokesman could not be reached Tuesday night regarding Sen. Sanchez’s call for an investigation over whether the governor violated the law.
The episode at the hotel came just weeks after Martinez was touted as potential contender for vice president by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida. Just as important, Martinez is scheduled to give her State of the State speech on Jan. 19, opening day of New Mexico’s legislative session. The recordings from the Eldorado Hotel and dispatch calls have added a raw intensity to criticisms of Martinez and led many residents to say she is unfit to lead the state. An online petition seeking her removal is but one of the public stands against Martinez.
Democratic legislators are among her harshest critics.
“New Mexico deserves leaders who do not bully citizens and public safety officers. I am concerned about our governor, an attorney by trade, who acts arrogantly and brazenly believes she is above the law,” state Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday.
Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, posted a public message saying Martinez had been dishonest in her account of what happened.
“Not sure what I’m more upset about, our governor’s poor judgment, putting out misinformation in her response, or the fact they spent $8,000 [of taxpayer money] on a holiday party. It’s all unacceptable,” Steinborn said. He was reacting to reports of how much the function at the Eldorado cost. Chris Sanchez of Martinez’s staff did not respond to a question about whether the figure was correct, but he told television station KRQE that the figure was about right.
Sanchez said the governor’s contingency account paid $7,900 for rental of the hotel ballroom, a buffet and live music. He also said that Pamela Cason, the governor’s records clerk, paid for the hotel room with her own personal funds.
Steinborn also zeroed in on how Martinez conducted herself at the hotel. In the dispatch recordings, Martinez demanded to know who made the noise complaint about her group before saying police should leave because they weren’t needed, as nobody had caused a noisy disturbance. Martinez said that she, along with her disabled sister and some six other people, had been in the room, eating pizza and drinking Cokes.
The New Mexican pointed out to aide Chris Sanchez that Martinez said in the recording released Tuesday that someone was throwing bottles off the balcony. He said she had heard an earlier account of snowballs being thrown, but said the difference was inconsequential.
“The governor does not believe that throwing snowballs off a 4th story balcony at night is somehow less serious than throwing a bottle,” he said in an email. “Either behavior is dangerous and entirely unacceptable.”
The New Mexican had requested Sgt. Tapia’s recording, which was made by a standard device on his belt, on Monday, but the City Attorney’s Office said it didn’t exist. City spokesman Matt Ross said Tuesday that he and the city’s records custodian were both out of the office Monday, creating “some confusion about whether or not there was audio responsive to your request.”
In the latest recording, hotel employees told Martinez that her group was so loud it had driven a guest from her room. The woman was in a hallway with her laptop when the governor spoke to hotel employees about disturbance complaints against her group.
A few seconds into the recording, Martinez asked who the woman in the hallway was and why she was in a corridor instead of her room.
“I guess she couldn’t sleep. She’s a guest,” the hotel employee said.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Martinez said.
At that point, Sgt. Tapia began talking to the employee.
“So, obviously we’re not going to be able to move her,” Tapia told the employee. “What can we do to resolve this?”
“Honestly, you know, I’ve only been really working here for like a month and a half,” the employee responded, “so, like, this actually is my first run-in with this sort of thing. I would never expect the first time to be the governor. I really don’t know what to do in this situation because like I can tell that she’s, that she’s kind of … ”
“Inebriated,” Sgt. Tapia interjected.
Tapia then offered his card to the employee and suggested the employee call if someone else made a noise complaint.
“We really can’t get them to leave,” the employee told Tapia. “I didn’t even know who is in there. Also, I don’t believe it’s six people in there. It’s quite a few people in there.”
Tapia responded, “I guess if issues keep coming up, give me a call. I’ll see if I can get ahold of her security detail, see if we can resolve anything.”
The officer also told the employee the trouble appeared resolved “at least for a little bit.”
“I hope so. I’m hoping they like realize that they were loud and at least keeping it down,” the hotel employee said. “I don’t know if they will, though.”
Daniel J. Chacón and Justin Horwath contributed to this report.
Contact Uriel J. Garcia at 986-3062 or firstname.lastname@example.org.