Candidates waited anxiously in the entrance to the town hall in Taos Tuesday night (March 6) as the election results made their way onto a glaring TV screen. When town council candidate Pascualito Maestas heard he had won one of two seats, tears welled up in his eyes.
After hugging his wife, supporters and other candidates, the new town council member cheered when he realized he had collected 548 votes. That vote count set him on top of the seven-way council race and made him the only new face among the town election winners.
"I'm just excited," Maestas said after seeing his victory. "First steps are to get to know the process. I need to learn the ropes a little bit."
Maestas ran once before in the 2016 election but lost. Now he is looking forward to working with the council on new ordinances and transparency in town government, he said. Maestas gathered the most votes of any council candidate and even surpassed incumbent and second-place council winner, George 'Fritz' Hahn, who gathered 546 votes in the race.
Maestas, a Taos High School teacher, will replace Judi Cantu on the council and will bring a new voice to the discussions and policies made at the town council meetings.
"I think the people asked for transparency, and I'm going to be working really hard to get it for them," Maestas said. "I don't want to spend the next 2-4 years fighting. I ran to get some things done, and hopefully we can work together to do so."
The first runner-up in the council race was former council member Andrew Gonzales who gathered 379 votes. Gonzales was followed by Cantu (364 votes) and Sarah Lopez who collected 324 votes in her first run at public office.
Candidates Michael Santistevan and Melanie Baca both said they gained a fair bit of knowledge on the campaign and that they would consider a second run for office in the future.
In the highly divisive mayoral race, Dan Barrone retains his seat as mayor after collecting 784 votes, surpassing challenger Darien Fernandez by 210 votes.
"I feel awesome," Barrone said after seeing the results. "I think we can move forward and continue that momentum that we have."
Barrone will serve four more years as Taos mayor and Fernandez, who brought in 574 votes, will retain his seat as a town councilor.
During the campaign, Fernandez and Barrone hit several roadblocks challenging their residency in the town. Fernandez had his 326 Montoya St. family residence challenged by community members and family in court but prevailed when a judge ruled against the challengers. Barrone has yet to appear in court for a challenge of his address filed by Cantu. Both candidates dismissed the court cases as distractions from the real issues in Taos.
Fernandez and Barrone clashed head-to-head on several issues during the race, including marijuana legalization and the tourism market in Taos, which Fernandez was looking forward to changing. The two were also divided on their approval of town manager Rick Bellis, who Fernandez said he would seek to replace if elected.
Despite the differences, the two congratulated each other for the campaign and are looking forward to the future of working together on the council.
"It's important for him to really reach out and build consensus," Fernandez said of Barrone's victory. "I hope that he takes these next four years to strive for compromise and bring us all together so that when we face a difficult issue in the community, there is enough public dialogue and we can move forward unanimously."
Fernandez is eager to get back to work as a councilman and says he has a few things he'd like to focus on economically with Maestas as a new voice on the council.
"I look forward to working with Pascual," Fernandez said. "I think he's an excellent addition to the council."
Barrone is also looking forward to the future and has encouraged Fernandez to bring some of his campaign discussions to the council table to work out a solution for the future.
"You're still on the council," Barrone said of Fernandez. "If you have ideas, let's work on them."
After an unopposed race for municipal judge, Honorable Judge Richard Chavez received 981 votes to retain his seat on the bench.
Barrone, Hahn, Maestas and Chavez will take their oaths of office during a special 3 p.m. meeting Thursday (March 8) at the town council chambers. Each will serve a four-year term.