When David Coss leaves City Hall this month, a pair of his trusted advisers will remain close to the seat of government.
Just like they were in his corner when Coss was elected mayor twice, Carol Oppenheimer, 68, and Morty Simon, 67, have played a key role in getting Javier Gonzales into the job.
The married, retired lawyers work as a team that has been a mainstay in local progressive political circles. But some view the pair with suspicion. As the mayor’s race kicked off last fall, a memo hung on the community bulletin board halfway between the offices of the city clerk and the city attorney.
Oppenheimer and Simon “are running the city of Santa Fe,” it read in large letters. “Remember that you have the choice on who to be mayor.”
Though the memo contained a spelling error and lacked an author’s name, it was addressed to members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3999, the union that represents city employees.
It criticized the couple for fast-tracking unions to endorse their favored candidate for mayor, Gonzales.
Later, the union did endorse Gonzales, and so did Coss. But Coss dismisses the notion that the friends he calls Carol and Morty have undue influence. Although he acknowledges that during his eight years as mayor he periodically sought advice from the couple on issues like committee appointments and labor union relations, he says that’s as far as it went.
“Myself, city council and the city manager—we’ve been running the city for the last eight years,” Coss says.
Oppenheimer and Simon first got involved with city politics when they retired from their law practices in the late ‘90s. Soon, they were on the forefront of pushing for a living wage.
“It was a way of talking about disparity of wealth and doing something,” Simon says.
Oppenheimer served on a city task force to study a living wage and was, with Simon, a founding member of the Santa Fe Living Wage Network. At the urging of that broad coalition, the City Council eventually adopted a citywide living wage, which remains one of the highest in the nation.
Coss, however, says the law’s lack of enforcement partly spurred him to run for mayor in 2006. He tapped Simon, whom he has known for 30 years, to run his campaign.“THEY'RE SMART, AND THEY WORK VERY HARD."
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Simon says. “That was the first time we got involved politically in a campaign.”
It turns out he was good at it, as Coss won his first mayoral election with 50 percent of the votes and his second at an even bigger margin in 2010, though Oppenheimer and Simon played a scaled-back role in that campaign. But during the Gonzales campaign, Oppenheimer served as co-chair, and it was hard to find a Gonzales event for which she was not present.
Coss, who also helped the candidate in phone campaigns, attests that the couple has done much more work for Gonzales than he has.
“They’re smart, and they work very hard,” Coss says.
Last week, Simon and Oppenheimer celebrated a different victory as Santa Fe County passed its own version of a living wage. After the vote, they hugged other supporters and posed for pictures.
“We just won something that we’ve been trying to get for 11 years,” Simon says. (JP)