Like farolitos on Christmas Eve, street-side sign-wavers are a slightly bizarre but endearing Santa Fe tradition.
And it's how you know for sure Election Day has arrived.
On the sidewalk in front of Larragoite Elementary on Agua Fria Street, a leggy woman with a permagrin winked and waved as she wielded her Martin Lujan for City Council sign. Approximately 10 feet away, a hooded man in sunglasses limply held his Miguel Chavez for City Council sign. Ten feet further down the sidewalk, there was another Lujan sign waver. Ten more feet, another one for Chavez.
Despite their best efforts and pleasant weather, turnout for Santa Fe's March 4 municipal election was downright anemic: barely 19 percent of the city's registered voters bothered to exercise their right. Those who did decided three contested city council races in districts 1, 2 and 3, approved a general obligation bond for city parks improvements and all seven charter amendments on the ballot.
SFR hit four City Council candidate parties throughout the evening to get a flavor-literally and figuratively-of the final bits of drama in the '08 city election. The voters' verdict was handed down at City Hall at 8:48 pm by City Clerk Yolanda Vigil, who read results as they were simultaneously posted on two big flat screen monitors the council chambers wall.
7:27 pm, Martin Lujan for city council headquarters, 1225 Parkway Drive ***image2***
The District 3 Lujan campaign brain trust crowds a small office just off a larger room where a table of homemade food still hasn't been touched. A podium, flanked by Lujan's large red, white and blue signs, is missing a candidate. Said brain trust includes District 3 City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, Santa Fe Pubic Schools Board Member Angelica Ruiz and local political consultant Eli Senna. The mood is downright dour.
Q: You guys feeling good?
A: "Well, I know that this campaign had the best volunteers," a seated Dominguez says slowly. "We're hoping we had a high voter turnout."
Q: Do you expect a tight result?
A: "No, I think Marty is gonna win," Ruiz says.
A cell phone jingle later-it's Lujan himself from an undisclosed area-and Senna politely asks SFR to step out of the room. "Can you give us a few minutes?"
Later on, as approximately 30 campaign volunteers begin chowing down, Janet Richards, the campaign's press person, bemoans what she describes as the local media's disinterest in Lujan's string of law endorsements union endorsements.
Asked if she thought Lujan was hurt by charges that he recently moved into the district just to run for the council seat, Richards says she doesn't think so. She later mentions that she moved to Santa Fe from Arizona approximately six weeks ago to work on the campaign.
"I may stay and work on another campaign," she says. "I just haven't decided."
7:47 pm, Southside Plaza Café's back room
***image3***"It's a great feeling," begins a smiling City Councilor Miguel Chavez in the noisy, dimly-lit restaurant. He says his campaign poll watchers are reporting a 54 percent to 45 percent margin of victory. (Unofficial totals later in the evening for the District 3 race mirror his poll watchers' math, making it the closest race on the ballot.)
A busy waitress confirms that chilled Champaign is ready. "But they haven't bought it yet," she says, declining to give her name. "Not until I pop the bottle!"
Chavez, wearing his trademark turquoise bolo tie, is pretty clear about what sealed the deal.
"I think it was the known quantity versus an unknown quantity," he says, as children sprint across an illuminated dance floor. Continuing with his analysis, Chavez adds, "The fact that the opponent has been somewhat misleading about actually living in the district or not. Obviously that had to be a factor in there."
He's not done: "And all of our print material was printed here in town," he says in a matter-of-fact swipe against Lujan's glossier, better-funded campaign. "It wasn't shipped in from someplace else."
Later in the evening at City Hall, Chavez's 15-year-old son Manuel leans the wall underneath one of the monitors as he watches the results. "Nah," he says when asked if was sweating the outcome: He worked hard on the campaign and learned a lot. Plus, he says, he's now been bitten by the political bug.
"A few people have told me I'd make a good president," he says, launching into a bit of a stump speech. "I think I could be the first Hispanic president!"
The elder Chavez isn't looking that far ahead. Instead, he says all he wants is a warm bed.
"I'm just going to try to get a good night's sleep."
8:17 pm, Piccolo Cafe
There's not much going on at District 2 City Council candidate Rosemary Romero's party. The band that was set up in the corner isn't playing any longer, and no one is picking at the finger food options on the café's long counter. A few groups of friends and campaign volunteers chat in small groups. But the candidate isn't here. She's at City Hall.
Cornered in the hallway leading toward the Council chambers, as well-wishers hug and congratulate her, a glowing Romero preempts the city clerk's pronouncement: "It's official!" she says. Well, not quite. But Romero clearly won. Unofficial totals show the private facilitator and mediation consultant squashing her opponent, real estate agent Robbie Dobyns, 74 percent to 26 percent.
"We both ran good campaigns. We've both been very civil to each other," Romero adds graciously.
Q: What proved to be the difference?
A: "People know me. I've been a planning commissioner. The kind of work I do is very public work."
Romero adds that she plans on enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the morning before heading off to a facilitation job that was already scheduled-win or lose. But Romero is eager to get started on her job as the city's newest councilor. "I think the city is ready for someone to roll up their sleeves," she says. "Look, I've already got mine rolled up!"
9:29 pm, Tiny's Restaurant and Lounge
Robbie Dobyns has his game face on. Clearly disappointed with his loss, Dobyns is nonetheless determined to have a good time at his campaign party-billed as "A Celebration for Robbie Dobyns."
"I feel good," he says, as the Hoodoos jam out on the stage at the far end of the restaurant.
It's hard to tell who is part of the "celebration" and who's just here for a beer.
Dobyns concedes that his real-estate affiliation was probably the kiss of death in his attempt to replace outgoing District 2 councilor and development-skeptic Karen Heldmeyer.
"There's so much misunderstanding. If I could just get up in front of the room and explain what a realtor is," he says, his voice trailing off a bit. "There would be unusual acceptance."
Andrea Dobyns, the candidate's daughter as well as a Santa Fe police officer, rises out of her chair to come to her dad's defense.
"He should have won. I thought he was gonna win," she says. "He was the candidate who had the ideas."
The elder Dobyns takes the cue and rattles off his ideas regarding the city's Two Mile Reservoir, affordable housing and the city's crime rate.
But then he abruptly moves on to a much lighter subject.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" he asks this gay reporter. "Because there's a cute German girl I'd love for you to meet."
Dobyns, like Lujan and Anthony Garcia-who got soundly beat by incumbent District 1 City Councilor Patti -couldn't win for trying.
Tuesday, March 4 just wasn't their night.