Chances are, many of you don’t care.
In the grand scheme of things, about 60,200 people are registered to vote in the upcoming city election as of the last count, yet if trends from past elections play out, fewer than 20,000 will cast ballots. That means city races will be decided by the elite few who bother to exercise their democratic freedom.
So, you should. You really should care. The people whom we elect and pay to run the local government in Santa Fe collect and spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in our names, and make rules about what we can do and where we can do it.
At the top of the nonpartisan ballot is the three-way citywide race to replace departing Mayor David Coss. Some predict it will be a real squeaker between long-serving city Councilor Patti Bushee, former county commissioner and state Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales and former Magistrate Judge and current city Councilor Bill Dimas (all who took public money in the city’s first mayoral test of a public campaign finance system). But three other races offer voters in certain sections of the city an opportunity to change or affirm current leadership.
Early voting continues through Friday at the city clerk’s office (200 Lincoln Ave.) during business hours. Those of you who are waiting to see the final mud get slung, or just like to vote on Election Day like grandma did, have between 7 am and 7 pm Tuesday, March 4 to get the job done. By 9:30 that night, all will be over but the crying.
SFR offers the following endorsements, based on what candidates have said and done (or in some cases what candidates have not done).
MAYOR: PATTI BUSHEE
If there’s been a theme to this mayoral race, it’s that none of these candidates appear to have all the qualities we think this great city deserves. No one has a viable vision for putting the unemployed back to work or bridging the wide poverty gap here.
An editorial in Sunday’s New Mexican even declined to choose a candidate—a rare move for the daily paper that usually doesn’t miss a chance to tell you what to do.
Tempting as it is, we’re not going to punt on this one. Besides, we might just be surprised.
Early on, it looked like there could be seven or more candidates for mayor, but backdoor agreements, failed fundraising, cold feet and other factors knocked out all but three contenders. One of them might have even dropped out under family pressure. (Roman Abeyta’s sister is married to Javier Gonzales’ brother.)
You probably know one of the wannabe mayors by now as the giant face on a billboard. A former magistrate judge and city cop, 68-year-old Bill Dimas has been a relatively quiet voice on the City Council for the last two years. When he does talk, it’s been about what he considers Santa Fe’s huge crime problem. A former youth athletics coach who still volunteers to MC at basketball games and sports a version of a high-and-tight military cut, he’s also got a large following from his days in bands as a keyboard player and vocalist.
Dimas decided in January not to participate in candidate forums, denying voters a useful way of comparing him to his opponents. Although he says he declined to appear because such forums are promoted by “special interests,” it might be a way to avoid his stance that the city shouldn’t weigh in on important social issues of the day. Or at least that’s the explanation he offered when he abstained from a vote to support marriage equality. He had no problem, though, voting to stop adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
Dimas does not seem to be running a genuine campaign. And so we feel compelled not to take him seriously.
There’s no question that Javier Gonzales is serious about getting this job.
At 47, this recently divorced father of two who is also recently out of the closet wants to be seen as a hip mayor. He spends a lot of time talking about education, an issue that the City Council has no control over in the current jurisdictional scheme. He’s also suggested that the city more or less get into the music-promotion business as a way to keep the “young people” happy.
Gonzales, a Santa Fe native who works for Rosemont Realty, is running an exceptionally well-organized campaign and saying all the things he believes voters want to hear. But he’s doing it with the help of a political machine that leaves a bitter aftertaste.
With the assistance of longtime Santa Fe election operatives Carol Oppenhiemer and Morty Simon and a legion of others on the who’s-who list of area Democrats, Coss anointed Javier with the holy oil early in the campaign season. Meanwhile, political action committees have also spent more than $20,000 in private money to campaign on his behalf. One PAC mailed out at least three glossy fliers last weekend that bore negative messages about Bushee.
Javier says he’s asked these groups to stand down, but either they don’t respect him enough to comply with that request, or the request was made with a wink and a smile. A city campaign review committee has been asked to make a ruling on this, but regardless of their choice about legality, the practice seems to violate the spirit of the public campaign finance system.
Javier is a nice guy, and a smart one. We don’t doubt his fresh eyes could help the local governing body. But we’re also not sure he’ll be able to avoid the entanglements that come with being so connected to the capital-P in Politics. Although he served on the County Commission a decade ago, he hasn’t been hands-on with City Different policy discussions in recent years, and that’s also a necessary activity for a would-be mayor.
He was super cozy with former Gov. Bill Richardson and even got introduced in some parts of the state as “the next lieutenant governor” a time or two. He has the endorsements of 10 former and current city councilors who have faith that he’s got the right stuff. Since he appears to be the front-runner, we hope they are right.
Notwithstanding what might be the messy handwriting on the wall, Patti Bushee is our reluctant favorite for this mayoral contest. We have to agree with her when she recently said to a crowd at a campaign forum, “I’m not the best politician in this race. I, however, think I am the best public servant.” Patti, a 54-year-old Maine native who runs a small landscaping company, chose to make her home in Santa Fe. Ever since her appointment to the Council to fill a vacant seat in 1994, she’s been at City Hall putting in the hard time at countless late-night meetings and learning about the moving parts that make the local government tick. She’s managed to get elected five times, remaining the city’s only openly gay elected official and its longest serving councilor in history.
Longevity is also a detractor for voters. If you haven’t fixed it in two decades, how are you going to fix it as mayor? On the other hand, when Patti gets a question about improving the city bus system, for example, she knows enough to give a reasoned response: Buses should run later and be more frequent. Javier’s answer to the same question? There’s an app for that.
Bushee also has hands-on experience with the ever important city water system. She was part of an effort that resulted in requiring new development to transfer water rights to the city and has a plan for emphasizing increases in water conservation as well as putting pressure on commercial water users to bear their part of cutting back.
SFR did not endorse Patti when she ran for city council two years ago against an upstart youngster. But she did earn the paper’s endorsement for mayor in 2002, when she narrowly lost in a crowded field. If she pulls off a win, we urge her to take another criticism to heart: Lots of folks say she’s hard to work with. Be a people person, Patti. Listen and learn, or at least do a better job at pretending. Don’t get carried away being the Lone Wolf. Stand with your back to the political winds when necessary, yet do what’s right for our city even if it means bending a bit.
CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT 1: SIGNE LINDELL
This Council district covers the northwest side of town, and with 17,705 people on the voter rolls at last count, it has has the most registered voters of any district in the city.
It’s also the district that contains the historic downtown Plaza and a good chunk of the city’s tourism-fueled zone.
Two people are vying to fill a seat being vacated by Chris Calvert. Signe Lindell is the clear choice over Michael Segura. Segura’s platform seems to be that he’s a “born and raised” Santa Fean. He’s also advocated that the city send water division employees into private homes to detect and repair leaks, and suggested that the way to increase transparency in the city is to establish yet another hotline. Those ideas are not big enough for us. Plus, he also has a bit of a sketchy record with drunken driving arrests and unpaid taxes.
Sig, a retired real estate agent who formerly worked for Homewise, has proven through her service on the city Planning Commission that she can and will do her homework. In her seven years on that board, she was unpredictable in a good way, sometimes giving weight to neighbors with concerns about impacts on their backyards and sometimes leaning toward desperately needed infill developments.
She’s an outlandish dresser who prefers primary colors and wacky patterns, and that’s just a hint about her strong personality. Sig appears to be a straight shooter who won’t cower in a tense situation. She’s been in the city since 1984, and she has effervescent energy that we expect will help her beat off the time vampires that come with elected office.
DISTRICT 2: JOE H ARELLANO
With a field of five, this race presents the most interesting wild card on the ballot for a job that Rebecca Wurzburger is stepping out of.
We look to Joe H Arellano to shake things up on the governing body with his down-to-earth style, his deep Santa Fe roots and his ability to run a successful small business. Plus, and we quote, he’s “not going to sit up there all night and listen to your bullshit.”
Joe, a construction contractor and landscaper, thinks the city should schedule hearings on big issues at times when regular people can make it, and even at places other than downtown. Bring it, Joe!
While architect Rad Acton is a strong second for this job, he’s closely aligned with the Canyon Road Neighborhood Association. Lots of the folks previous representing this district have had Canyon Road close to heart (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but this district with 15,389 voters stretches through some decidedly non-Canyon neighborhoods.
Former Española mayor and city Councilor Joseph Maestas is another serious contender in this race. While Maestas has a wealth of public-sector job experience and a progressive activist background from his time up north, his interjection into Santa Fe’s local scene seems contrived. He’s working with big-name Albuquerque political consultant Neri Holguin, and even with that plan, the campaign made a blunder by leaving Fiesta parade spending out of its finance reports, earning a fine from the city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board.
DISTRICT 3: CARMICHAEL DOMINGUEZ
Incumbent Councilor Carmichael Dominguez hasn’t exactly been the most dynamic leader in this race. In fact, in a number of campaign forums he has come across as tired or worse, bored. But he’s still our pick to retain this seat to represent residents on the south and western edges of the city as he has for two terms already.
Dominguez’ commitment to upgrade what he calls the “quality of life” for folks who live in his Tierra Contenta neighborhood is noteworthy, especially his courage in challenging the state’s powerful liquor industry by restricting the sale of miniature alcohol bottles and limiting advertising for alcohol along Aiport Road. He also championed funding for a large park scheduled to get built this year.
Carmichael is facing acerbic criticism from Angelo Jaramillo, son of former mayor Debbie Jaramillo. This challenger also deserves a hat tip for going the distance against an incumbent. He’s got the right spirit for the job and is certainly angry enough for a whole district and its 12,904 registered voters, but we’re worried that he goes overboard with hyperbole. No, living on the southside is not just like living in the Gaza Strip, and no, the local daily newspaper did not repeatedly rape your mother.
Candidate Marie Campos has campaigned for the post before, and she earns kudos for those efforts as well. But her understanding of city policy and her ideas about improvements aren’t as well-defined as either of her opponents, making her a distant third.
We hope that if Carmichael retains his seat, he’s able to put aside some pettiness that has been a hurdle for him, such as the time he got mad at the former city manager for firing his friend and held a employee benefit package hostage in the Finance Committee. But then again, maybe that was just a coincidence.
DISTRICT 4: RON TRUJILLO
This is the second time incumbent Councilor Ron Trujillo will appear as the only name on the ballot for this district with 14,217 voters that he has represented since 2006.
Trujillo sometimes goes off track with ideas such the incredibly unpopular red-light cameras and photo enforcement units, but he’s the one who brought us beer and baseball at Fort Marcy Park and who never misses a chance to remind us that Santa Fe is way more than the downtown Plaza Rumored to run for mayor in 2018, we look forward to four more years of Ronnie at bat.
Neatly occupying all the leftover space on the ballot are nine questions about the city charter, the document that functions as Santa Fe’s Constitution. In case you have a short attention span, vote yes on questions 1 to 8. These are pretty much no-brainers that seem like good ideas for the city to implement, including many that reflect current policies about water, audits, limits on campaign contributions and the living wage. New ideas include creating an independent commission to determine district boundaries and requiring the City Council to fully explain tax proposals and spending plans.
Question 8 gives the mayor a vote in all matters that come before the council. Right now, he or she sits with a gavel to run meetings but can’t vote unless there’s a tie.
Then you’ll get to the last question. It has nine bullets all of its own. This is a lot for you to be reading as you stand with your face tucked between two plastic walls. Is there a bubble to fill out for “It’s complicated?” Here’s the crib sheet: This amendment would create a “stronger mayor” form of government than we have today. This can of spinach won’t get opened, however, until the Popeye of 2018 takes office. That mayor will earn a salary, $74,000, have management authority over the city manager, clerk and attorney (and be able to hire and fire those individuals), and have responsibility to craft an annual budget, among other new directives. Later, the city could vote to give the mayor a raise.
Making the switch to more centralized, professional kind of mayor is what a city with Santa Fe’s challenges needs. Right now, the mayor earns $29,500, a salary that is no doubt a detractor—even to the most civic-minded citizens who are still trying to keep up with student loans and car payments.
What’s more, gone are the days, as articulated by charter commission member Houston Johansen, when the mayor could spend the day on the golf course, “and hang out at the Bull Ring and nothing would go wrong at City Hall.” A chief executive for the city needs to be hands-on to face the challenges of 85,000 residents and 1,600 employees on the public payroll to serve them.
Arguments against this amendment feature a scandalous theory called “rogue mayor,” an autocratic dictator who could rule the city with an idiotic iron fist. Those who argue against the amendment say it would eliminate separations of powers and give too much control to the mayor, particularly over appointment of department heads. But a more logical reason to vote no is that this proposal was a lastditch effort by those recommending changes to the charter, and then got amended significantly by the council in a hurried manner.