It was somewhere on the way back to Santa Fe from Los Angeles that he made the decision. Javier Gonzales was in the car with his youngest daughter, Cadence. They’d dropped off her older sister, Cameron, at college just a few hours earlier.
"It started to dawn on me that there was an eighth-grader at home who is full-time in my custody now," Gonzales says. He and his two daughters had talked about a potential run for a second term. He knew Cadence, a student at the Academy for Technology and the Classics charter school, would never tell him not to run. Not that she stayed silent.
"There was a point in the trip where she said, 'Would it bother you to step out?'" Gonzales says. Cadence has been resilient through his coming out as gay, the mayor says; through being in a blended household with the children of Gonzales' partner of two years, Brad Furry. She's handled his being gone nights and her changing schools. Now she needed to adjust to life without her older sister.
The decision started to take hold.
Gonzales also had to do some uncomfortable emotional accounting as he made his choice to forgo a try for a second term: He and Furry have parted ways.
"We found ourselves coming back into an environment that was going to change," Gonzales tells SFR from a trip to Washington, DC, this week. "Prior to taking Cameron to college, we were part of a strong blended family that had good security and good support. [Cadence] and I are on our own now. It really caused me to accelerate my thought process of what [another term] meant for her."
Gonzales' decision has cleared the way for not just the only major declared candidate, Ron Trujillo, but for a gaggle of other potentials. One, longtime Santa Fean Harvey Van Sickle, is already collecting signatures. The rest of the field of may-runs includes current city councilor Joseph Maestas, businessman and onetime Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber, and current Public Regulation Commissioner and former Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza. Zozobra producer Ray Sandoval is considering a run, but first wants to make sure his work with the annual event doesn't conflict with holding office.
Whomever Santa Feans elect as mayor will take the reins as the city's first full-time executive. The position carries not just full-time work, but an attractive $110,000 annual salary.
Trujillo has been clear from the get-go that he wants a back-to-basics approach to running the city. He successfully rode a wave of discomfort with the proposed sugary-drink tax and was in some ways the public face of its defeat.
A few months ago, Maestas was one of the names being tossed around as political insiders tried to measure interest in the mayor's race. Seeing what he thought would be a tougher path to success with Gonzales in the contest, former Española mayor Maestas instead chose to run for reelection to his City Council District 2 seat. Now, he's back to weighing a run for mayor.
"I think the underlying issue is restoring the public's trust in city government," Maestas tells SFR this week.
Webber, who came in second in the statewide primary party contest, also wasn't inclined to consider running with Gonzales in the mix. He tells SFR that he believes Santa Fe could stand to focus on making "city government 'people-centric' so it's faster, easier, more convenient to get things done."
Espinoza says the most important issue facing the city is jobs, but that keeping things affordable and water issues also top her list. She says she plans to pick up a candidate-information packet from the city clerk.
Candidates don't have unlimited time to make up their minds; nominating petitions that contain the minimum 265 signatures from registered voters are due on Oct. 31.
As for the current mayor's future plans, Gonzales says he doesn't have a new job lined up. He'll disclose that when he's closer to accepting an offer, he says.
Gonzales didn't do any polling leading up to his decision not to run. He saw the recent poll by the Santa Fe Association of Realtors that rated his job performance higher than that of the City Council.
He also doesn't plan to endorse a candidate to be his successor, though he voiced support for those who have ideas to make City Hall more efficient and to narrow the widening gap of both income and opportunity inequality he sees in Santa Fe.
Gonzales may seek a policy job advocating for what he sees as smarter government, but he says he's done pursuing political office.
"My plans are to make sure that my legacy and what we've worked on over the past three and half years are all key areas for the city going forward," he says. "I want to make sure those priorities don't go away and we solidify the things that we've done."