THE MAYOR'S RACE
SFR Pick: David Coss
In its endorsements for the March 2 city election, The Santa Fe New Mexican noted the small field of candidates in this year’s races coupled with the gloomy economy, and concluded this year’s winners likely face several miserable years of governing.
That’s one way of looking at things.
Here’s a better one: This year’s election has included more forums and debates than any in recent history. It’s clear citizens care about and recognize the importance of who they choose to lead the city for the next four years.
As they should. The city, like the state and like the country at large, faces tough economic challenges. But while Santa Fe’s increased unemployment rate and budget shortfalls are not unique, its civic opportunities are. If the past year hasn’t made it completely obvious, the federal government isn’t going to solve all our problems. Nor, for that matter, will city government. But local government, if lead by thoughtful and ambitious people, can help Santa Fe reshape and refine its priorities and future. For elected officials, the next four years will provide opportunities to be contemplative, driven and creative.
The three-person race between incumbent Mayor David Coss, former City Manager Asenath Kepler and District 3 City Councilor Miguel Chavez has focused, to some degree, on creative solutions for the future. But there has also been a fair amount of finger-pointing and history lessons along the way.
|In order to decide which candidates to endorse in contested races, SFR reads campaign materials, listens to debates and, of course, follows the news. We call and email sources and gadflies to get their take on things. We conduct our Pop Quiz series to see who knows what. |
Before reaching our conclusion, we ask all the candidates in a given race to come in as a group. Members of the editorial department then interview them, basically conducting our own miniature forum.
This year, you can watch the bulk of those endorsement interviews on our website, SFReporter.com.
After the candidates leave, we make fun of them for a while, and then debate not just who to endorse, but why. We try to reach something resembling consensus.
If consensus can’t be reached, the editor, who is responsible for writing these and all endorsements, makes the final decision.
City Councilor Chavez references Coss and Kepler's failed tenures as city managers as part of the problem at City Hall. Of course, city managers often fail by getting on the wrong side of city councilors, who can fire them. Maybe it's time to revise Santa Fe's weak-mayor form of government to de-emphasize the appointed city manager's importance. We think Chavez is a good and responsive city councilor, with the best interests of his constituents at heart—but we didn't hear a lot from him that convinces us he has a broad vision right now for the city as a whole.
Former City Manager Kepler is backed publicly by dissatisfied city employees, past and present, as well as former officials, such as Mayor Debbie Jaramillo. Kepler also has support from certain sectors dissatisfied with government in general, such as local members of the Tea Party. It seems clear Kepler, if elected, is ready to shake things up. Big time.
While such vigor makes for an interesting campaign, in practice it reads as reductive and potentially destructive. City Hall has its problems, most def, but let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Right now Santa Fe has a mayor whose values and track record in certain areas reflect care for the greater good of the city. Coss didn't just voice support when the College of Santa Fe was in real jeopardy of closing, taking with it jobs, gifted teachers and a fair portion of the city's college-age residents. He rallied with students at the Roundhouse and helped guide them through the political process.
And when state lawmakers failed to respond, Coss drove the city's effort to broker the deal that kept CSF's doors open.
The mayor isn't just paying lip service to the green economy. When he's not riding the bus, he's an avid supporter of programs like YouthWorks and, unlike many, he sees and articulates the connection between gainful, meaningful work and the fight against youth crime.
When faced with irking factions of city police, he made his lack of tolerance for police brutality clear, even if it cost him some police support at the polls.
His public support for immigrant rights, for worker rights and for domestic violence solutions has never wavered.
And when you call him on the phone, you get a call back.
Again, make no mistake: The city has plenty of problems, and the mayor would do well to acknowledge those more readily, if not on the campaign trail, then at least after election day.
How about putting the city checkbook online and soliciting ideas from the public on how to move forward? Why not institute a hotline for anonymous concerns about city waste and corruption? Maybe hold a town hall with emergency responders that's open to all to discuss the ongoing concerns about annexation. Create better mechanisms for dissatisfied city workers to have their gripes addressed.
Or if these aren't the right ideas, make it easy for citizens to come up with their own suggestions for city government.
Let's face it: It's going to take time for the economy to improve, and it will likely never reset to where it once was. In the coming years, Santa Fe needs strong and steady leadership.
We wouldn't mind seeing a slightly more aggressive version of David Coss in his second term—but in substance, he's the right person for the job.