Councilor Ron Trujillo raises a glossy mailer depicting him as a younger man with a fuller, blacker goatee. It’s an ad supporting Mayor Javier Gonzales’ proposed sugar tax. Trujillo says it’s racist.
Just to drive the point home, the councilor blew up the image of his face and taped it right below his nameplate on the City Hall dais.
"I had people call me and tell me, 'Ronnie, that picture they posted on the flyer looks like you just got out of the pinta.' For those of you who don't know what pinta means, it's slang for the penitentiary," Trujillo explains, before launching into a 17-minute speech lamenting political action committees, potential job losses, the perils of diet soda and the horrific disappearance of free refills.
Mayor Javier Gonzales sits at the other end of the dais, fingers pressed against the bridge of his nose, barely masking his irritation.
He's tired. We're all tired.
It's almost midnight in the City Council chambers, and we're witnessing the beginning of the 2018 race for mayor of Santa Fe, in tandem with the beginning of a special election to decide whether the city should impose a 2-cent tax per ounce on some sugary beverages to fund pre-K programs for low and middle-income families.
But who can really tell the difference?
"If I'm elected mayor, Santa Fe is open for business," Trujillo tells SFR later that week, sipping on an iced tea (sweetened) at the Second Street Brewery at the Railyard.
Sounds like a campaign slogan to us, and in fact it's something he's already repeated—along with other portions of his stump speech—to multiple reporters. Trujillo declared his intent to run last month, and plans to publicly launch his bid on Saturday, making him the first contender to mount a challenge against Mayor Gonzales, who has recently raised his national profile speaking in support of sanctuary cities—and who is also eyeing the governor's seat.
Trujillo, who represents a middle-class district encompassing parts of midtown and the Southside, talks fast and peppers his sentences with "you know." He becomes animated when he talks about his hobby of choice, fishing, vigorously acting out a cast and reel.
The crux of Trujillo's campaign will be "starting a conversation" about how Santa Fe can attract more businesses.
"Money made here gets spent in Albuquerque," he says. To persuade younger people to stay in the city, Trujillo says he'd like to see more opportunities for recreation and entertainment, like a jump space, bowling alley and Dave & Buster's-type arcade. Trujillo also cites the Facebook data center in Los Lunas and call centers in Albuquerque as job creators he would've liked to see come to the state capital.
"Sometimes you hear big business could be bad for the city. If a chain restaurant comes in, I still support my local businesses," he says. "But having a new business come in? Nothing wrong with going over there. To me, that's GRT [gross receipts taxes] coming into the city."
The councilor has become known for standing alone on high-profile legislation. Trujillo was the sole dissenting vote on a ban of thin plastic bags, saying the rule favored businesses that could afford thicker plastics, which were exempted from the ordinance.
And on the night of his opus, he was the only councilor to vote against a special election for Gonzales' proposed sugar tax.
"This isn't about being against pre-K. This is about the funding source," Trujillo tells SFR. "There's consequences to this. You're affecting jobs. It's happening in other cities. People are losing jobs."
The councilor is referring to soda plants in Philadelphia, which eliminated around 100 jobs since the city imposed its own sugary beverage tax. Officials there accused the companies of laying off workers to make a point, not out of business necessity.
Asked whether the Hart family—which owns the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Santa Fe and sent dozens of workers to the public hearing to testify—could swallow some of the costs from a new tax, Trujillo says, "I don't know. You'd have to ask them."
Trujillo's opposition to the soda tax fits into a "back-to-basics" approach to governance he plans to campaign on. Turning away from the high-minded experimental programs pushed by Mayor Gonzales, Trujillo says he wants to focus on city upkeep: fixing busted pipes, filling potholes, renovating parks.
He's been one of the most vocal critics of weeds, noting that downtown areas are mostly free from the destructive eyesores. "You go to the southern parts of Santa Fe, there are some weeds that are 6 or 7 feet tall. What are our priorities? They've got to be citywide," he says.
For Trujillo, there's a political label creating division in the city, one he's hesitant to identify with.
"The term I hear people say is they're 'progressive.' Before I attach my name to anything like that, you know what I am? I'm a Santa Fean. I'm a Santa Fean first," he says.
This won't be Trujillo's first underdog run. He made history winning his current seat in 2006, when he bested two-term incumbent Carol Robertson Lopez by just two votes.
But Mayor Gonzales, the former chair of the Santa Fe Democratic Party, likely poses a greater challenge if he decides to run for re-election. Gonzales' network of support comes across in Pre-K for Santa Fe, the political action committee (PAC) supporting the sugar tax proposal, which is run by the same operatives that headed a PAC supporting his mayoral campaign. That well-funded effort caused controversy in the race because Gonzales accepted public campaign funds while benefitting from the PAC, one he disavowed.
Pre-K for Santa Fe printed the mailers attacking Trujillo and Joseph Maestas, another city councilor considering a run for mayor.
Maestas on Wednesday questioned the appropriateness of outside spending flowing into the ballot election, criticizing PACs that on both sides of the soda tax debate. While the money doesn't violate Santa Fe's campaign code, it does "go against its spirit," Maestas says.
When asked whether a PAC might pop up supporting Trujillo's mayoral run, he says, "That's the whole reason we wanted to do public financing. That's to get PACs out of the election."