Council Race Heats Up

As candidates bemoan city division, District 2 campaigns generate scrutiny

From left to right, Phil Lucero and Michael Garcia are running for City Council District 2

The race for City Council District 2 took on a more combative tone this week as challenger Phil Lucero launched a video criticizing the number of times Councilor Michael Garcia has abstained from voting, and District 1 Councilor Sig Lindell jumped into the fray with criticisms about Garcia’s campaign claims.

In an email and a video advertisement, Lucero called out the one-term councilor’s voting record. The climate educator and planning commissioner cited 23 times the incumbent abstained, arguing the abstentions “slow things down” and that the city needs “a leader who isn’t afraid to take a stand, let constituents know where they stand, and move things forward with urgency.”

Of the instances Garcia did not vote, Lucero tells SFR he believes only two were “for legitimate reasons.”

“I don’t think [Garcia] is going to take a stand on hard issues…As an elected official in this capacity, I think you need to make hard decisions,” Lucero says. “I do think it’s incumbent upon us to not only make the hard decisions, but to really stay true to our values. I see that he’s for affordable housing—he votes against it. So, I don’t know where he stands. I think ambiguity, for lack of a better term, is troubling for me.”

Garcia calls Lucero’s critique “very unfortunate and very divisive,” and says it is obvious the first-time candidate “does not understand the governing body process.” “An abstention is absolutely a tool to be used as we are considering legislation as we make our way through the committee process. That is where the sausage is made,” Garcia tells SFR.

Every vote on the list of instances in which he abstained occurred during hearings at the Public Works and Utilities Committee and Quality of Life Committee, Garcia notes, and on several decisions—such as the CHART proposal and the new signs about gun laws—he ultimately voted in favor of the ideas during governing body meetings.

Both candidates in the District 2 race have noted division among the governing body and in the city at large and vowed to work toward unity in what’s been a largely friendly race so far. While Lucero acknowledges the new video might create a stir, he says he doesn’t see it to be “any sort of negative campaign.”

“The only voice in it is [Garcia’s,] and that was on purpose,” the bike activist says. “I’m not trying to cast him as this evil person…This is not an attack…This is me really trying to educate the public that I think I have what it takes to be the leader the city needs.”

One of Garcia’s colleagues on the City Council, meanwhile, criticizes Garcia’s advertisements. A mailer sent to homes in the district reads that Garcia “successfully increased the budget for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to $3 million for three years straight.” But District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell—a strong ally of Mayor Alan Webber who says she has not endorsed a candidate in the District 2 race and whose seat is not on the ballot for this election cycle—tells SFR Garcia is taking credit for a collective effort.

“The mayor along with the city manager make up the budget that is presented to Council,” Lindell says. “I do not see that Councilor Garcia had the opportunity or the ability to have moved $3 million from our general fund into the budget that’s presented to Council. That seems highly unlikely.”

Garcia tells SFR the argument that he’s taking undue credit is “absolutely false.”He has “always been in favor of putting as much resources into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund as we can,” he says, and has advocated for the housing budget. He added that in spring 2021, he, alongside the mayor and other councilors, sponsored a resolution instructing city staff to develop a strategic plan for affordable housing in Santa Fe.

Lindell also scrutinized the District 2 councilor’s claim to have “advocated for and achieved an increase in the minimum wage for city employees to $15.” As an original sponsor of the increase, Lindell says the mayor did most of the work with the city’s legal team.

“I think the way that you can take credit for something is if you have the idea, and you pursue it and work on it with legal, and you bring it to the Council, introduce it and take it through the entire legislative process. That’s how I see that,” Lindell explains. “And I’m also not comfortable taking credit when I cosponsor something because cosponsoring it does not mean that you’ve been working on it.”

Garcia has positioned himself as opposed to the Webber administration; for example, he gave it an ‘F-’ grade at a candidate forum hosted by the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He voted against Webber’s reorganization of city departments and the furloughing of city employees, for example. Yet, in cases such as the employee wage hike, Garcia signed on to the proposal with other councilors.

”It’s not the amount of times you vote with somebody or vote against somebody because the same could be said in any other type of body,” Garcia says. “What’s most important to folks is how folks vote on a particular issue.”

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