Voters chose to keep two incumbents on the Santa Fe City Council and selected a restaurant owner and a city planning commissioner to join the governing body, according to unofficial results from the Nov. 7 election.
Restaurant owner Alma Castro emerged the winner from a field of four in District 1, the northernmost district in the city.
Café Castro owner and labor organizer Castro earned the most votes outright, 37%, before the city’s ranked-choice voting rules went into play to refine the results. Geno Zamora, a former city attorney, received 35% of votes in the first round.
Returns then went through two runoff rounds before 35-year-old Castro, this year’s youngest council candidate, snatched the seat. She received a final 52.4% of the vote after initial votes for fourth-place finisher Brian Gutierrez and third-place finisher Katherine Rivera were retallied. Zamora’s final total was close to 48% of votes.
Castro, who relied on $22,500 in public financing, snagged the victory despite being outfinanced more than threefold by Zamora, who raised more than $83,000.
“I’m still sort of in shock,” she tells SFR a few minutes after midnight following the election. “I am blessed to have come home to such a wonderful group of people that has supported me in so many ways.”
Castro grew up in Santa Fe, graduated from Santa Fe High School in 2005, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College before she moved to Chicago, where she taught and volunteered at public schools. The race was Castro’s first attempt at public office, though she previously served on the Arts Commission before resigning over a disagreement with the city’s handling of the obelisk and its sidelining of the commission.
Outgoing District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal did not seek reelection. She held the seat since 2016 and ran in an uncontested race for her second term. Villarreal endorsed Castro as her replacement, as did former Councilor Patti Bushee, who had endorsed Villarreal as her successor.
Castro attributes her successful bid for a City Council seat to the “incredible effort” she and her volunteer team made to talk to voters, as well as the high-end excise tax ballot measure.
“We knocked over 4,000 doors,” Castro tells SFR, “and we did not let up even on the last day, and we were out there yesterday from morning until it got dark knocking on doors, making sure we got people out to vote. We didn’t just hit likely voters. We hit anybody that we could, because it was really important that people got out. And I think that the high-end excise tax really also brought folks out to the polls because we stand together for a community that is for all of us, that is affordable, that is for working families, and we proved that today.”
Incumbent District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia hung onto his seat for a second term with 54% of votes, beating back a challenge from climate educator and bicycle activist Phil Lucero.
Deb Dominguez lives near Garcia and says he received her vote because he is responsive to concerns from constituents.
“He’s the only City Council person I’ve ever been able to call to express a concern about something and he’ll act on it…Before I even got to know him, he was on it,” Dominguez tells SFR after voting at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds on Nov. 4.
“I’m not going to vote for someone just because they mountain bike,” Dominguez says. “I’m going to vote for somebody who is plugged into city politics.”
Other voters, such as Jenna Rode, cited trouble distinguishing between the two candidates’ platforms and priorities, and ultimately chose Garcia because he had already sat on the City Council.
“Garcia has a demonstrated track record of successes and the challenger has never been in politics,” Rode says. “I didn’t see that much of a difference in their positions from what I could gather that would make me go with the challenger.”
Garcia used public campaign financing against Lucero, who raised over double that amount based on Nov. 6 reports—$45,155. He tells SFR his victory is due to the “success we’ve had during the first term of service.”
“It just shows that when we as city government really work with the community, we can really have big achievements and success that will benefit our entire community,” Garcia says.
Planning Commissioner Pilar Faulkner will fill the seat held by outgoing District 3 Councilor Christopher Rivera, who did not seek reelection and did not endorse a candidate in the race.
Faulkner, an Ojo Caliente native and 33-year resident of Santa Fe, has a background in government liaison services through her bizAcumen Advisory Group firm, which she established in 2002. Her campaign promised she would work on affordable housing, land use, water conservation and more.
Faulkner received about 56% of votes, while 44% of voters sided with private investigator and former police officer Louis Carlos.
Eric Erb visited the Southside Library on Nov. 4 to cast a ballot for Faulkner.
“I think she has more experience with government and budget, and that’s going to be important for City Council,” Erb tells SFR.
Faulkner and her opponent Carlos remained on similar fundraising playing fields. Faulkner accumulated just under the $22,500 Carlos used under the campaign financing system: $21,348. She tells SFR her victory is due to her “servant leader nature.”
“If I’m going to represent you, I want to meet every single possible person in my district. We’ve been canvassing door to door since June.…I truly wanted to meet as many of my community members as I possibly could,” Faulkner says.
She says she’s “grateful and humbled” that people in her district believed in her enough to elect her to City Council.
“I feel humbled by my community that they chose to lean into issues and not negativity, and that really tells me that my district is invested truly in moving forward and not looking backwards,” Faulkner says. “I hope and I pray that I can literally serve them in the manner that they deserve to be served.”
Incumbent District 4 Councilor Jamie Cassutt has another four years ahead of her on the City Council, as voters chose her for a second term with 69% of votes against challenger Joel Nava.
Elected in 2019, she most notably cosponsored the high-end excise tax to support the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund alongside outgoing District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal. Her most recent bid to retain the seat advocated for more affordable housing opportunities, more support for first responders and a focus on sustainability.
Marsie Silvestro, a self-proclaimed feminist who previously ran the Esperanza Shelter, tells SFR she supported Cassutt because “she’s very responsive.”
When Cassutt’s campaign manager Bronwen Murray came to the door and Silvestro asked about the councilor’s stance on abortion, the voter received a call back from the candidate in two hours and learned Cassutt supports abortion rights.
“Any councilor that would respond to a question that quickly so a voter could be clear on their decision is a really good thing,” Silvestro says.
Cassutt and Nava both opted for private funding, but to two vastly different results. The incumbent managed to raise over $48,000, but the security officer collected $4,000, based on Nov. 6 campaign finance reports.
Cassutt tells SFR she credits her win to her track record during her first term.
“What I kept seeing on social media or hearing from people is that I’m very responsive to my constituents, they know that they can call me or email me and I will get back to them,” Cassutt says. “I really felt that narrative coming out that a lot of people don’t feel like they can get a hold of anybody at the city, and yet they know that they can get a hold of me.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version gave the wrong amount for Zamora’s fundraising and has been corrected.