If Santa Fe sees one third of its registered voters show up to the polls for the next election, it’ll be a decent turnout. Most voters don’t care enough to show up on some Tuesday in March when they’re more likely to be thinking about spring break than whom to put in City Hall.
Next year, though, Santa Feans will elect their first full-time mayor and start paying her or him a $110,000 annual salary. And two of the four city councilors up for reelection aren't running. Last time the city had a mayor's race and two open council seats, 10 candidates ran for those three offices.
The city is fresh off a barnburner of a special election that topped turnout for that 2014 mayoral election, so expect a healthy slate of both candidates and voters at the polls in March 2018.
"It's hard, to say the least," says first-term Councilor Renee Villarreal, who tells SFR collaboration is vital. "Listening to all sides; even though you may not agree with somebody's side, you need to take into consideration their point of view."
With the city willing to kick in cash for public financing, the time is ripe if you're the kind of Santa Fean who reckons they can make a difference. So, should you run? Here's how.
- Pick up your candidate packet
- — The first day candidates can swing by the city clerk’s office to pick up instructions is Sept. 1. They have all the info you need for gathering signatures from registered voters, election rules and campaign finance particulars.
- Turn in your signatures
- — The packet will tell you how many nominating signatures you should expect to need. City law says one half of one percent of the registered voters in your district (or in the entire city if you’re running for mayor). Oct. 31 is the final day to turn in them in. Be sure to get more than you need, because “Seymour Butts” is probably not a registered voter.
- Declare your candidacy
- — This is the most important day of the campaign, other than Election Day. Dec. 5 is
- the one day
- to officially declare your candidacy for city office. As City Clerk Yolanda Vigil explains, “You could do everything else right—pick up the packet, gather your signatures, collect money—but if you fail to declare your candidacy on Dec. 5, you’re not a candidate.”
- Get out the vote!
- — Election Day is March 6, 2018. Expect a full slate of candidates and a robust turnout, given the overall interest in the election and the new use of voting convenience centers that let you vote anywhere in town.
Campaign Cash Dash
Of the 10 candidates SFR spoke to, only District 1 challenger Doug Nava plans to privately fund his campaign. That's not to say it couldn't change—candidates have until the day they accept the first public-financing check to switch from public to private financing. It's not free money, though. Public financing requires you to work for it a little.
Seed money — City law says candidates can collect a small amount of private money to get their campaigns underway while they wait for the first public check; up to 10 percent of the public total. No more than $100 in cash or in-kind contributions (printing flyers, providing meals to volunteers) can come from a single entity. Council candidates are limited to $1,500 in seed money and mayoral candidates can raise $6,000. Raising seed money is allowed, but not required.
Qualifying donations — You have to prove people are taking you seriously, so candidates need to get $5 donations from voters in their district. Candidates have to raise one percent of their eventual total, so that's $150 for City Council and $600 for mayoral candidates. The deadline to qualify for public financing will be in November.
Decide — You can back out of public financing up until the point you cash the first check. While $15,000 or $60,000 might seem like a lot, remember that campaigns can easily crank up the PR machine and spend $4 million like they did in the sugary-drink tax election. Private contributors are limited to $1,000 each, so if you have more than 15 rich friends, you might be missing out. Then again, you might be making a point by accepting public financing.
So You’ve Decided to Run
Some civic-minded citizens have already tossed their proverbial hats into the proverbial ring (possibly while reading Proverbs, but also possibly not).
Because City Councilor Ron Trujillo is looking to become Mayor Ron Trujillo, he has to give up the District 4 council seat he'd have to defend in March. That's already attracted three candidates, including two newcomers and a former city administrator.
JoAnne Vigil Coppler twice headed the city's Human Resources Department and has worked for the state court system. She now runs her own real estate agency. Greg Scargall is a US Navy veteran who helped start the Veterans Resource Center at Santa Fe Community College. Eric Holmes is a longtime local businessman who owns a collection of promotional, printing and media companies. All three say they welcome competition.
"We're going to have a lot more in common than we do that separates us," Scargall tells SFR. "Voters have to look at the commitment" from each candidate, he says.
"I love it," Holmes says of the competiton. He tells SFR he'd like to see three more candidates rather than what he feels is a lesser-of-two-evils approach. "Who wants that? I don't want someone who's Evil 1 or Evil 2. I want someone who is really going to listen."
District 3 candidate Roman Abeyta, a former county manager, tells SFR, "I think with the more candidates and the more ideas, the more we can find out about why people are running and what the needs are."
But a crowded field can turn ugly, too.
Vigil Coppler says attempts by candidates to differentiate themselves can quickly get negative. "I'm concerned about it in this campaign in all races. … I'm concerned about it as far as the city of Santa Fe's reputation."
Abeyta's District 3 opponent Jim Williamson recently disavowed the Santa Fe Power group after a pair of racist social media posts by the group's leaders. The accountant and self-styled watchdog has been a fixture at council meetings, but he says campaigns that turn negative can quickly sap momentum: "It's trying to get out of the weeds of that and go about focusing on the true issues."
The Current Lineup
Incumbent: Javier Gonzales (undecided); Challengers: Abigail Fox, Ron Trujillo
Incumbent: Signe Lindell; Challengers: Doug Nava
Incumbent: Joe Maestas (unopposed)
Incumbent: Carmichael Dominguez (not running); Challengers: Roman Abeyta, Jim Williamson
Incumbent: Ron Trujillo (running for mayor); Challengers: JoAnne Vigil Coppler, Greg Scargal, Eric Holmes