When mayoral candidate Patti Bushee responded to a question in the third mayoral debate, hosted by the Democratic Party of Santa Fe, she told the packed crowd at the Center for Progress and Justice that she was "inordinately disappointed" her opponent Javier Gonzales voted for what she called an "immigrant jail" while he was a Santa Fe County Commissioner.
This was supposed to be a friendly debate—and for the most part it was. The moderator asked the two candidates what their plans for undocumented workers in the "sanctuary city" of Santa Fe. But Bushee's response apparently breached the rules, causing the moderator to warn: "We will not tolerate hearsay about other people."
Bushee's remarks weren't exactly hearsay. In 2000, Gonzales and two other Santa Fe County commissioners voted in favor of a failed plan to allow a private incarceration company to house legal immigrant prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes in the jail, which was suffering from vacancies and hurting the county. Gonzales, at the time, argued that the deal would bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the county. But immigrant rights advocates and clergy from the Catholic Church loudly protested the move. Once the resistance grew, Gonzales expressed a change of heart and publicly stated that he would rescind his vote.
The two candidates, unable to call their opponent out, resorted to highlighting their own records and dropping campaign slogans in asking the progressive crowd gathered on Wednesday night for votes.
Gonzales invoked his experience as a regent at New Mexico Highlands University and New Mexico State University in arguing he's the candidate who can shore up the city's balance sheet and shine sunlight on City Hall. He argued his endorsements from organized labor, an environmental group and sitting Mayor David Coss show he'll be able to "bring multiple communities together." His stint at the Democratic Party will also help the city lobby in the Roundhouse, Gonzales argued, as he's "built relationships all over with legislators."
And he once again defended the controversial tax package he supported as the chairman of the Democratic Party. Bushee has made a point of criticizing Gonzales' support of the package, which uses cuts in "hold harmless" payments from the state to municipalities like Santa Fe to help pay for a reduction to the corporate income tax rate. The bill also included new tax rules for big box stores and shifted the state's film incentives more to TV shows that shoot in the Land of Enchantment.
"The loss of the funds due to the hold harmless distributions is significant," Bushee said at one point.
Santa Fe might have to raise taxes to make up for a loss of millions in state payments, but Gonzales argued the city has already seen positive results from that tax package, with shows like Longmire shooting in the area and thus helping boost the city's economy.
Asked whether he'd cut services or raise taxes to make up for the lost revenue, he did not respond directly, but pointed to his experience as a regent who helped craft New Mexico State University's budget in the face of $38 million in cuts in state funding. He said the budget allowed for staff and facility increases while minimizing tuition increases for students there. "The same thing is going to happen at the City of Santa Fe," he said of cuts in state appropriations. "You know one of the things we would never do is use reserves to cover operating funds, and that's been going on at the city for the last six years."
Bushee said previously she'd consider a public safety tax to make up for losses in state payments and said that if she's mayor, she'd order audits on the city's books.
It seemed Bushee could cite a resolution she helped pass for nearly every question in the forum, given her two decades on city council. In response to a question about making the city's infrastructure safer for pedestrians and cyclists, she responded that she helped change the city's code to mandate that a bike lane be included in new roads built in the city. In response to a question about homelessness, she replied that she's helped put together a joint county-city advisory council on food policy. She mentioned her role in creating the city's sunshine portal that gives citizens better access to the city's business.
And in responding to what her legacy will be as mayor if elected, Bushee replied that she will have put Santa Fe "back on firm financial footing," "taken care of basics throughout all sides of town," "lessen the economic disparity" and that "our river might even have water in it."
Gonzales' responses were grounded in his vision that Santa Fe needs to start offering more jobs. He wants access to "employment centers" away from downtown and stressed economic development as a way to help keep young talent in the City Different. He said he'd like to create a youth service corps where teenagers can learn about service and a "public bank" to help small business with financing. He envisions a city that embraces technology like high-speed Internet access. And he didn't miss a chance to drop his campaign slogan of "moving Santa Fe forward."
"I believe in a town that would create a pathway up," he said, "...not a pathway out."
Again absent was the other mayoral candidate in the three-way race, Bill Dimas, a city councilor who has vowed not to attend the candidate forums because he fears loaded questions from "special interest groups." Gonzales at one point noted of Dimas' absence: "I wish he was" at the forum, "because we need to hear about the differences in opinion and the differences in ideas."
Joey Peters contributed to this report