Santa Fe mayor denies political favoritism in restaurant deal

GRILLED ABOUT THE AIRPORT GRILL: Santa Fe Mayor David Coss denies any political favoritism regarding a restaurant located at the city's municipal airport.

GRILLED ABOUT THE AIRPORT GRILL: Santa Fe Mayor David Coss denies any political favoritism regarding a restaurant located at the city’s municipal airport.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – Santa Fe Mayor David Coss says he showed no political favoritism in handling a controversy involving a former campaign contributor, a union supporter and a restaurant at the city’s airport that is facing an Internal Revenue Service lien.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the airport,” Coss told New Mexico Watchdog in a terse interview right before the weekly Santa Fe City Council meeting began Wednesday night.

Coss denied there’s any sweetheart deal for the Santa Fe Airport Grill, run by Duke City Gourmet Co. LLC. A state document lists the restaurant’s officials as film industry union representative Jon Hendry, a long-time political Coss supporter, and Duke City Gourmet managing partner Lisa Van Allen.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Van Allen and her business have contributed nearly $2,300 to Coss, who has been mayor since 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2012.

Coss is a longtime union supporter and has served as organizer, negotiator and president of Communications Workers of America State Government Local.

“That lease (for the Airport Grill) was done a long time before I was on the scene,” said Coss, who insisted that any political contributions had no bearing on the city’s dealings with the restaurant that is alleged to owe more than $108,000 since 2010.

Santa Fe airport manager Francey Jesson has said she noticed discrepancies in the restaurant’s payment history when she started working for the city earlier this year,.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Jesson was worried the city was possibly out of compliance with federal regulations because Duke City was paying rent at below fair-market value.

In a timeline of events, Jesson wrote that she met with Santa Fe officials, including city manager Brian Synder. “If I remember correctly, it was at the start of this meeting that the mayor, who was wrapping up a meeting with Brian, mentioned to ‘be nice to them,’ in reference to the restaurant owners,” Jesson wrote.

Coss denied any favoritism to New Mexico Watchdog and city spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter told reporters Tuesday, “The mayor routinely instructs staff to be courteous in dealing with members of the public, contractors and partners.”

New Mexico Watchdog spoke to Hendry, a union representative well-known for his work on behalf of the movie industry. Hendry said he cut off his relationship with Duke City Gourmet years ago.

“It’s a company I’ve not been associated with for a decade,” Hendry said, adding that he and Van Allen have been “good friends” and denied reports that the two are domestic partners.

“I’ve represented her for 20 years,” Hendry said. “She’s one of the members of my union (IATSE — the Interernational Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.)

Santa Fe City Council member Patty Bushee is calling for an audit of the restaurant.

“The improprieties that perhaps occurred I think are putting the city in jeopardy with regards to federal funding out at the airport,” Bushee told New Mexico Watchdog on Wednesday.

But Hendry blasted Bushee, accusing her of trying to score political points in the run-up to the city’s mayoral election in March.

“This is not about me, this is not about Lisa (Van Allen), this is not about Airport Grill,” Hendry said. “This is about embarrassing Coss.”

Bushee is running for mayor in a field that includes Bill Dimas and Javier Gonzales. Last week, Coss endorsed Gonzales.

“This is absolutely a political issue,” Hendry said. Bushee “sat on this issue until Coss endorsed Javier.”

Bushee denied any political motivation, saying she’s raised concerns about the airport’s restaurant deal since 2006.

“This situation concerned our new airport director (Jesson), and we simply had a conversation and I think she’s been trying to do her job and not allowed to do it,” Bushee said.

When asked if she was referring to Coss, Bushee said, “I’m not going to say until there’s been a hearing how this went on.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

The post Santa Fe mayor denies political favoritism in restaurant deal appeared first on Watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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