Candidates seeking to represent Santa Fe's east and southeast City Council seat kicked off a season of election forums Tuesday night. The discussion covered how the police department handled protests at this summer's Fiesta Entrada, among other issues.
All three District 2 candidates said they're concerned about why police relegated protesters to a certain area and arrested eight of them. Audience member David Bacon asked what they thought of the ordeal, which he called "one of the most compelling things that has happened in … a long time in Santa Fe, in my estimation, that kind of bursted the bubble a little bit."
"I was really thankful for those protesters because I learned a lot thanks to what they did," said candidate Nate Downey, who runs a permaculture business and is making his first bid for public office. He added later, "It's clearly a question for a little bit more police training and a little bit more respect for the First Amendment."
Carol Romero-Wirth told a packed house at the Center for Progress and Justice that the next course of action should be conversations between "all the stakeholders" on changing the nature of the Entrada, a pageant that presents a skewed version of the city's history. It's a similar strategy to what's been suggested by the archbishop of the state's largest Catholic diocese, and to ideas raised prior to this year's protests—the latest in a string of opposition to the pageant.
"We need to address the Entrada, and we need to respect all the cultures that are here," said Romero-Wirth, an attorney who specializes in public policy. Later, she summarized, "People should have been allowed to protest without being arrested."
Joe Arellano, who has served on the city's advisory Public Safety Committee and has run for the District 2 seat before, said he hoped that as a councilor he could get more information from that group and from the police chief directly about why they made the decisions they made about the so-called "Free Speech Zone."
Arellano, the owner of a roofing company and a fitness center, also advocated for some kind of talks with "everyone," including the church and Fiesta Council, to "see what we can see going on there so that we can have peaceful protests and have everyone have their say."
Charges against the protesters have been dropped and police maintain they took a proactive stance due to violent protests in other parts of the country that season.
The candidates also fielded questions about their stance on development along Old Pecos Trail, a hot button for east-siders who want to the city to continue to preserve the nature of that entrance to the city by limiting change (they mostly agree); about whether they favor ranked choice voting (they all do); and whether they favor a city ordinance on sick time, as well as how they'd get stronger enforcement of the city's Living Wage rules (stay tuned on those. Arellano has a proposal to introduce apprentice wages and something he calls "professional minimum wage" of about $15).
The District 2 race is one of two council districts with three contenders vying for an open seat in the March 6, since incumbent Joseph Maestas is running for mayor. In District 4, which includes the central southern part of the city, JoAnne Vigil Coppler, Greg Scargall and Eric Holmes are running to fill the seat vacated by Ron Trujillo, also on the ballot for the citywide mayor's post.
Arellano, known for previous attempts at the office and for straight talk, got a few knowing laughs from the crowd for two ideas: making City Council meetings "a reasonable time frame," and installing public bathrooms downtown near the Plaza.
Romero-Wirth and Downey both repeatedly mentioned the city's recent audit that uncovered vast opportunity for fraud in financial controls. "It's interesting reading if you are interested," Romero-Wirth said.
Downey describes himself as a progressive, but it's noteworthy that he used the presidential adjective "sad" to describe his feeling about two topics: the pending closure of Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and the treatment of a Pueblo woman arrested at the Entrada.