Three seek soon-to-be-vacated County Commission District 1 seat

·6 min read

May 28—A retired private-sector

and government worker, a

city project engineer, and a small-business owner and architect are vying to be the next Santa Fe County commissioner in District 1.

The seat will become vacant as Commissioner Henry Roybal runs for the Democratic nomination for a seat in the state House of Representatives.

Orlando Romero, Justin Greene and Jon Paul Romero will be on the ballot for the June 7 Democratic primary election. There are no candidates for the seat from any other major party, so the winner of this three-way race likely will take office in January. Jon Paul Romero, a former Pojoaque Valley school board member, is the only one who previously has held an elected office.

The commission's District 1 spans from northern Santa Fe to southern Española and includes 18 communities, two municipalities and four tribal governments.

The diverse landscape ranges from foothills to mountains to the streets of downtown Santa Fe.

Orlando Romero, 71, said he understands the wide range of issues that affect the district.

"You've got the city of Santa Fe on the south and you've got Española to the north. Within that, you've got 22 unincorporated communities with no public water and no public sewer," he said. "The needs of the cities are quite different from the rest of the county."

His top priorities, he said, would be to oversee crucial infrastructure projects like the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System and road expansions.

Orlando Romero has worked in a variety of positions in the private and public sector, including deputy secretary of the New Mexico General Services Department, deputy chief of staff in the Governor's Office and the director of the Pueblo of Pojoaque Tribal Realty department.

Most recently, he retired from a job as the constituent services liaison for outgoing Commissioner Roybal.

His experience with the county has prepared him to hit the ground running if elected, he said, adding, "The other two candidates don't have that experience."

Retirement also gives him an upper hand, he said, because it means he will have more time to dedicate to his constituents.

"My opponents have to have their primary job. This is a second job for them," he said. "This will be my first job and only job, and I will dedicate as much time as necessary to this because I know what the needs are."

Orlando Romero said he grew up working in his family's drug store in Pojoaque with his five siblings.

"It was in our family for 60 years. And, you know, it provided a roof over our head, clothing, food and educated us all," he said.

He admitted on a candidate questionnaire he had been arrested on suspicion of DWI about 20 years ago, but the charge later was dismissed. He said he was pulled over after having drinks at his family's home in Pojoaque.

"I haven't had a drink in 18 years. I just decided that it probably wasn't worth my health ... really wasn't worth killing anyone," he said.

Green, 53, is an architect who has lived in Santa Fe for over 25 years.

A native New Yorker, he never expected to make Northern New Mexico his home, he said, but he soon fell in love with Santa Fe's picturesque way of life.

He decided to stay "after a few years of realizing that this is a great place to live and I could apply myself to the community," Green said.

He received a bachelor's degree in architecture from Syracuse University and a master's in business administration from the University of New Mexico. During his time in Santa Fe, he has taken part in several urban design and real estate development projects, including the Railyard.

He also is a small-business owner, operating Dashing Delivery, a food delivery service, for over 19 years.

Some of his top priorities as a commissioner would be water security and housing, he said.

Greene said he understands Santa Fe's police, firefighters and nurses often struggle to afford housing in the city, and he hopes to work with private partners to introduce small-scale housing initiatives for some of those vital workers.

He would like to "create starter housing for young recruits and people that we want to retain in this community," he added.

Greene also said he wants to ensure all residents in District 1 have access to water while allowing "individuals on the systems retain their water rights and their voice and how they use their water."

He sees the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System as a way to expand internet access in rural communities.

"It's going to be probably five to 10 years of construction and lots of digging and laying waterlines. At the same time that we dig and lay those waterlines, we have an opportunity to lay fiber-optic cable for broadband up in those areas," Greene said.

As an avid biker, Greene said he wants to improve infrastructure for cyclists.

"I'm an advocate for safe biking," he said.

Jon Paul Romero has been a lifelong resident of Pojoaque. After studying engineering at UNM, he said, he wanted to dedicate himself to serving his community.

"After I graduated, I always felt that I was going to live and die here in my hometown. So I came back and I took a job with the city of Santa Fe to work as a project engineer," he said.

He worked on affordable housing initiatives and was the development manager of Rancho Viejo — one of the largest-growing communities on the south side.

He also served on the Pojoaque Valley school board from 2009-21.

Jon Paul Romero, like Orlando Romero, wrote in a candidate questionnaire he has been charged with DWI, but he did not return a call to elaborate on the incident and did not clarify whether he was convicted of the crime.

Raising the minimum wage, increasing affordable housing options and maintaining county roads are some of his top priorities. He said understands the needs in the rural areas of the district are different than those in downtown Santa Fe.

Jon Paul Romero also said he wants to work with the county and the private sector to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"Getting people back in the job force is important. So, one of my top priorities is economic development — helping these little mom-and-pop shops that were impacted so badly by the pandemic," he said.

He said hotels, restaurants and businesses affected by shutdowns are still struggling to hire employees.

Jon Paul Romero said he wants to ensure the county has a sustainable water source, but like Greene, he also wants to ensure people in the Pojoaque basin are able to continue using their wells if they don't want to connect to the regional water system.

As an engineer, Jon Paul Romero said he understands the many jurisdictions in the area and is well equipped to take part in county road construction projects.

"We have to maintain those poor-quality roads so we can get the health and safety services to people who might need it. We need to be able to get a firetruck and ambulance there," he said.