Politics as usual became politics at its worst when Jerome Block Jr. eked out a surprise victory during the June 4 Democratic primary for the Public Regulation Commission’s District 3 seat.
In the months that followed, endless muck was raked up on the candidate, from youthful indiscretions in his past to serious allegations of misspending public money.
SFR dubbed the chain of scandals, “
.” The Albuquerque Journal urged voters to reject Block in what it called the “most important” race in northern New Mexico. The blog
named the 31-year-old title insurance salesman the “worst candidate ever.”
Nonetheless, Block emerged victorious in the Nov 4. general election against Green Party opponent Rick Lass. (He also did not respond to SFR’s requests for comment for this story.)
Block opponents were surprised he had even made it past the June primary, a six-way race in which Block took a mere 23 percent of the vote.
“On paper, he was the least experienced of any of the candidates,” lawyer and primary opponent Bruce Throne says of Block. Indeed, Block is a college dropout and was the only candidate other than Throne never to have held public office.
However, Block’s father, who shares the same name, has held several elected positions, including PRC commissioner. That name made the difference, according to another defeated opponent, Española Mayor Joe Maestas.
“There was a lot of confusion in terms of who was actually running, whether it was his father or himself,” Maestas says.
Dissatisfied with Block, the Green Party quickly nominated Lass, an election-reform advocate also with little experience in public utility issues. Lass’ main qualification: He wasn’t the son of Jerome Block Sr., seen by many as beholden to corporate interests.
But, in time, Block Jr. became a problem all on his own.
The first “Blockgate” story broke when SFR
Block hadn’t honestly answered questions about his criminal history on newspaper questionnaires during the primary. Among the undisclosed offenses: a charge of urinating on Albuquerque police department property and a guilty plea after an arrest for riding with a drunken driver. Block also claimed he had been found “not guilty” for an earlier DWI when, in fact, the case was dismissed because the prosecutor ran out of time.
More scandals emerged, including his misrepresentation of his education and a restraining order connected to a youth gang. But these decade-old issues fell off the radar when evidence emerged that Block lied about how he spent taxpayer money given to him under the Voter Action Act.
SFR discovered Block had paid $2,500 to San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez, the top election official in the only county Block carried in the primary, for a performance by Maez’ country band. Although Block said the event happened, a few weeks later, two band members and Maez himself came forward and told the Las Vegas Optic it hadn’t.
“[Block], absolutely, bald-faced lied to my face, sitting in the chair right next to me,” Optic Editor David Giuliani says. “Politicians, they say, lie all the time, but usually they just shade things. They don’t just outright lie to your face and say a rally occurred with 75 to 100 people that never even happened.”
In response, the Office of the Secretary of State opened an investigation into whether Block knowingly lied on a campaign finance report, which is a fourth degree felony. The Attorney General’s Office also jumped on board.
Eventually, the SOS assigned Block $21,700 in penalties for the band issue and for improperly donating public funds to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Though the negative publicity benefitted him, Lass says it also was frustrating.
“When I made the decision to run, I thought that, at the very least, we’d get to talk about renewable energy, green-collar jobs and the role of corporations in our society,” Lass says. “Yet, 85 percent of the time I got a call it was, ‘What’s your opinion about Jerome Block’s latest blunder?’”
Despite his foibles, Block won with 56 percent of the vote, though he lost by significant margins in Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties. Lass, and others, believe straight-party Democratic voting was largely to blame.
It remains to be seen if Blockgate is over. The AG has yet to release the results of its investigation; the Office of the State Auditor also is looking into Block’s reports; and state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Bernalillo, would like to draft articles of impeachment for the upcoming legislative session.
But, if he survives, Block will spend the next year on the PRC in long, exhausting hearings over whether Public Service Company of New Mexico will be allowed to raise its rates by 18 percent.
Bernie Logue Y Perea, a Santa Fe Democrat who campaigned hard for Lass, even while recovering from a kidney transplant, is just ready for a vacation.
“I suppose my idea was if he’s going to take a $90,000 job, I’m going to make him work for it,” he says. “It’s difficult to run against a straight-party ticket. That’s where the problem lies, but, no, I’m not disappointed at all. Now let’s see how Jerome Block Jr. does up there.”