In a public forum hosted by the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the three Santa Fe mayoral candidates responded to a wide range of questions from the housing crisis to reconciling the city’s divisions. The event comes seven weeks before the 2021 municipal elections on Nov. 2.
Mayor Alan Webber, seeking reelection, faced off against two opponents: District 4 Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler and former 3rd Congressional District candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson. The chamber intended to hold the town hall at the Drury Hotel, but instead the event was live streamed via Zoom due to COVID-19 concerns.
Hosted by David Fresquez, the chamber president, the town hall maintained a quick pace. In a series of lightning rounds, each candidate had one minute to respond to questions with 30 seconds to respond.
In the first policy question Fresquez asked the candidates to come up with solutions to reduce unemployment in the city.
Webber pointed to the living-wage ordinance and Mayors for Guaranteed Income program—a project with Santa Fe Community College to provide universal basic income to student parents—as evidence of his commitment to reducing unemployment. With city councilors Signe Lindell, Roman “Tiger” Abeyta and Carol Romero-Wirth, Webber introduced a proposal earlier this month to increase the minimum wage for city employees to $15.
Vigil Coppler offered her support for the living wage ordinance and raising the minimum wage for city workers. She chided the current administration for having a “broken” land-use permitting system.
“We need to make it easy to do business in the city,” Vigil Coppler said, arguing the permitting process is one of the road blocks impacting business growth. “Different kinds of businesses who want to operate, we need to make it a smooth process where you don’t wait for so long to get a permit.”
The mayor applauded his administration’s record awarding permits to developers undertaking a flurry of construction projects around Santa Fe to address the decades-in-the-making housing shortage. Webber highlighted the fact that many were granted during COVID-19, when government services were pushed online.
Her competitors’ differing opinions of the permitting system piqued Martinez Johnson’s attention, “How are we going to move forward if the current administration is not even on the same wavelength?”
In a question that drew emphatic responses from the candidates, Fresquez asked the candidates to outline Santa Fe’s primary social problem.
Vigil Coppler pointed to the growing unhoused population. If elected, Vigil Coppler said she plans to establish a collaborative of organizations to provide services and a case management system. She also pointed to the division in the city—she said the process Webber has touted to address those conflicts are insufficient, “CHART is something that we need to help play out, but that’s not going to solve the deep rooted anger,” she said.
In response to the question, Webber pointed to growing inequality, “We are seeing the rich getting richer and the poor falling further behind.” He echoed efforts of his administration to support “people who want to work and live in Santa Fe.”
Martinez Johnson cited crime as the city’s most pressing social issue—she told the audience that the “mob” that tore down the monument posed a significant threat to Santa Fe.
It didn’t take long for what the mayor called “the elephant in the room” to surface, though the mayor didn’t offer that label until toward the end of the event. Early on, when responding to a question on how to best support Hispanic businesses in Santa Fe, Martinez Johnson said she believes the city needs an ordinance to protect public property. Referring to the Plaza obelisk, Martinez Johnson said, “We didn’t have an ordinance for that. We all need to make sure for that businesses’s sake, the tourist environment and for others we have a robust downtown and that people are happy to come here.”
The obelisk loomed over the meeting, receiving regular mentions from both of Webber’s opponents.
Vigil Coppler said that the mayor ordered the police chief to stand down when activists toppled the monument. She told the forum, “That information came directly from inside the Police Department. I have no reason to disbelieve them.”
Webber maintained that was not how the chain of command between the police chief and the mayor functions. He reaffirms that the events that transpired at the Plaza on Indigenous People’s Day last year turned out better than could have expected. Webber told the audience a police union official told him after the event “‘We lost the obelisk, but no one was hurt, no one was killed. Everyone went home safely.’”
Webber urged reconciliation, “We need to come to terms with the way in which the obelisk was torn down by some people who took the law into their own hands and we need to heal and come together as a community, [with the] CHART process and make that happen. Let’s all get behind it and make it work.”
The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition will host another public forum for the mayoral candidates on Oct. 4 and 5. For more election related details see SFR’s Santa Fe Election FAQ.