Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mike Cerletti was master hotelier

11312 Cerletti

SANTA FE – Former state Tourism Department Secretary Michael Cerletti was known to the public for his 10 years heading the department and two years at Expo New Mexico. But that wasn't what made the recently deceased Cerletti the legend he was.
Cerletti had a talent for taking aging hotels that had lost some of their charm and returning them to their former grandeur. In New Mexico, he began with La Posada de Santa Fe. Then he moved on to the old downtown Albuquerque Hilton and made it La Posada de Albuquerque.
Then he took on the De Vargas Hotel near the state Capitol and made it the stately St. Francis Hotel. Then it was the Sprawling Rancho Encantado guest ranch north of Santa Fe. In the course of his career, Cerletti bought and sold many hotels in New Mexico and in the San Francisco area of his native California.
Most of his transactions involved finding partners. That was a natural for Cerletti, with his always-positive attitude and great personality. On the final day of his two-year fight against brain cancer, his family says he donned a sweat shirt saying, "I'm Michael and here's the deal."
In between stints with state government, Cerletti served as director of the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department at New Mexico State University. During that time Mike and his wife Helen had a house in the southern part of town in a neighborhood filled with huge pecan trees.
I remember his surprise when he learned that neighbors had contracted with a firm to harvest all their pecans, sell them and distribute the proceeds. Mike was very pleasantly surprised to learn how much he had made off the deal. From that time on, his friends often called him Farmer Mickey – quite appropriate for a director of our agricultural university.
A few days after Mike Cerletti's death, another former hotelier, Michel Fidel, of Santa Fe, passed away. Fidel had owned and managed El Fidel Hotel at the corner of Don Gaspar and Water streets in Santa Fe. Old timers will remember El Fidel Hotel in Albuquerque, which later became the Cole Hotel downtown. And El Fidel Hotel in Las Vegas, NM is still in business.
"Mitch" Fidel came to this country from Lebanon in the early 1920s. He was a chemical engineer, who helped enrich uranium at Oak Ridge, Tenn. during the Manhattan Project. Following World War II, he and wife Christine moved back to Santa Fe to join the family businesses.
I usually stay out of presidential politics unless it involves New Mexicans. But current GOP politics intrigue me. I keep hearing that this race will go all the way to the convention. But I remember four years ago when the same predictions were being made.
Then, suddenly, everyone was out but Sen. John McCain. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul seemed to have plenty of money to go the distance. Conservatives had agreed that Mike Huckabee was their candidate. But they all got out.
This year, Romney looks much stronger to me than McCain did at this time in 2008 but nearly everyone is predicting this one will go down to the wire. I'm guessing that if Romney does well in South Carolina, the bigwigs are going to huddle and say it is Romney's turn so everyone else should get out.
And they will.
Regardless of what happens in the Republican race, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's switch from Republican to Libertarian will have an impact on the general election results here.
Much can happen between now and then to affect the race between Republicans and Democrats but Johnson is going to pull more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.
Early in the campaign, a poll showed Johnson winning the Republican primary in New Mexico. That may not still be the case but it is an indication that he will tilt the race toward President Obama.


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