Santa Fe welcomes two new faces into City Hall this week in Santa Fe's first fall City Council election. Unofficial vote totals reported late Tuesday indicate Michael J Garcia is the new city councilor for District 2, and Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez will represent District 4.
Garcia replaces Peter Ives and Cassutt-Sanchez will take the seat occupied by Michael Harris. Neither incumbents sought new terms on the council.
If it feels like city elections snuck up too soon this time around, that's because the last time new members were voted onto the council was just a year and a half ago. Lawmakers decided to move the city election to November to increase voter turnout, but candidates expressed concerns early in the race that some voters might not be prepared for the early election, either.
While Tuesday's ballots also featured contests in the rural areas of the county, just over 9,000 people voted for unopposed Municipal Judge Virginia Vigil, the only citywide candidate, according to early unofficial results. That's about 16% of the city's roughly 58,850 registered voters.
By Monday afternoon, reports indicated voters had cast 5,681 early voting ballots in the county. For comparison, 7,055 people voted early in the March 2018 municipal election. The total number of votes cast in 2018 was 20,670.
This year's contests felt sleepy for the most part—until journalists unearthed allegations of domestic violence against both men in the District 4 race. It's not clear whether that paved the way for the convincing margin for Cassutt-Sanchez, but she collected enough votes to negate the need for ranked-choice voting.
Voters trickled in and out of polling places all day as the candidates waited for the results. The county fairgrounds on Rodeo Road seemed to be among the busiest polling stations, with a line of cars entering and leaving the parking lot from morning till late afternoon.
It was also the top spot for council candidates to set up camp chairs and wave to voters in the hopes of making one final impression on those who still might be questioning how to cast their ballots.
District 4 candidate Xavier Anderson sat outside his truck under a sun umbrella wearing a cap with the firefighter union logo for most of the day. The union had endorsed him in the race.
Cassutt-Sanchez and District 2 candidate Michael Garcia also showed up for several hours in the afternoon. District 4 candidate Gregory Scargall and District 2 candidate Alysia Lori Abbott weren't as visible.
When SFR arrived at the Scargall's house late in the afternoon before the polls closed, the candidate, a fourth grade teacher, said he spent the day working "in service" at Cesar Chavez Elementary School and then closed the door without further comment.
Abbott could not be reached.
Changing the date of the election to November seems to have caught everyone—including potential candidates—off guard this year. For weeks, Garcia was the only candidate to join the race for the open seat in District 2, but a second candidate, Alysia Abbott, jumped in at the last minute, scrambling to get enough qualifying signatures before the deadline.
The District 4 race had more momentum with three candidates—Cassutt-Sanchez, Anderson and Scargall—contending for another open seat. The race turned dark last month after reporters learned that Scargall's wife had called police about a domestic dispute in September, which was followed up by a domestic violence "welfare check." The police left without making any arrests.
Older but more troubling allegations emerged, too.
SFR discovered records of two previous domestic violence allegations filed against Scargall by his wife. In one instance in which she applied for a domestic violence order of protection, Scargall's wife accused him of pushing her around so roughly that she was left with bruises all over her body.
A search of Anderson's record also turned up one domestic violence allegation filed by his now ex-wife, who accused him of stalking during their divorce nearly a decade ago.
Cassutt-Sanchez was the only candidate for the district with a clean record. With her victory Tuesday night, Santa Fe's City Council—already with a female majority—now tips five-to-three women over men.
City councilors Renee Villarreal, District 1, and Chris Rivera, District 3, ran unopposed for reelection.
The date of the election was not the only change this year. Usually city staff is in charge of counting the votes and announcing the results, but this year the county clerk's office took over.
Staff for County Clerk Geraldine Salazar posted the first results about a half hour after the 7 pm close of polls, then the Secretary of State's official site didn't see a Santa Fe County update until after 10 pm.
DISTRICT 4’S NEWCOMER
The District 4 contest would have been just the second election featuring ranked-choice voting, but since Cassutt-Sanchez got more than half the "first place" votes, that method of counting did not come into play. Of 3,343 votes reported at presstime, 56.9% were in her favor. Scargall and Anderson were neck and neck with 21% each.
Cassutt-Sanchez recently returned to her hometown after starting her family, and she started her first effort at political office with a lot of general ideas and a less-than-intimate knowledge of the area she was vying to represent. Her early refrain: "I don't know the answer to that, but I'll find out."
In the months since, she's proven to voters that she's taken this commitment seriously, and it's one of the things constituent Mary Anne Gabson likes best about her.
"It's refreshing to have someone who admits their blind-spots honestly and is always working to evolve their perspective. I think women are better at that, and it's a leadership skill that Jamie has proved she has," Gabson told SFR at the polls.
Cassutt-Sanchez says she knocked on over 2,000 doors over the course of the race and made over 1,000 phone calls to constituents.
"Going door to door is exhausting, but I think it's been my favorite part of the race," Sanchez tells SFR on Tuesday. "Everybody has such a different viewpoint that you really will not know unless you take the time to sit down and listen."
For those who encountered her on the campaign trail, meeting her in person made all the difference. Denise Rappmund, who met Cassutt-Sanchez a few months ago, says she was so impressed that she signed up to help out with the campaign.
"She's young and more like me and I felt like she really understood not just what's facing young families in town, but with her background in public health, she understands what people in general are facing," Rappmund told SFR.
Cassutt-Sanchez said after learning about the domestic violence allegations against her opponents: "I don't want to win by default … I want to win because my ideas resonate with the community."
Late Tuesday, Cassutt-Sanchez says she felt like this goal was achieved.
"From talking to the people who were reaching out to me, they were saying that they really liked what I was talking about," she says. "That they were really excited to have somebody that cared about the health and wellbeing of the community."
Cassutt-Sanchez says her first priority in office will be to pursue the "Health Alliance Committee" that she has talked about since the beginning of the campaign. The initiative would bring together numerous government and advocacy agencies to tackle myriad city problems through the lens of community health.
For voter Jared Gunn, it was indeed her ideas and not her criminal record that swayed his vote. Gunn retired from his work as a chemistry teacher at Santa Fe High in 2008, and is president of the New Mexico Book Association. He says that while he hasn't experienced homelessness, there are people in his life who have, and this has put housing at the top of his list.
"We have some problems here with homelessness and affordable housing and I think she would be most amenable to dealing with it," Gunn tells SFR. "I also really like where she stands on other health issues, and she's female; I always like to vote for women."
One practical thing Cassutt-Sanchez wants to start right away is offering childcare at City Council Meetings. She also wants to pass regulations requiring that all workers receive paid sick leave, an issue that quickly sprang to the forefront of the council race after Bernalillo County passed a similar ordinance in October.
DISTRICT 2 LANDSLIDE
Michael Garcia's enthusiastic emphasis on community involvement may have won him the race. Through every round of debates and forums, Garcia hammered home his message: The community needs a stronger voice in city government, and he's the guy to deliver.
Standing outside the Santa Fe County Fair Building on Rodeo Tuesday afternoon, he echoed the point again.
As he waves to voters, Garcia tells SFR that he could barely sleep the night before the polls opened, and woke up Tuesday "feeling like a kid on Christmas morning."
"If I win, I can't wait to make the community feel like City Hall is theirs," he says. "That's always going to be my priority—figuring out how to involve the community in all aspects of city government."
At the beginning of the race, Garcia's statements about how exactly he plans to do so were fairly vague. However, as the weeks went by he's included specifics such as hosting quarterly town halls and a pitch to move City Hall to the Midtown campus to more closely reflect the demographic center of the city and make the functions of local government more transparent and accessible to everyone, not just those living and working downtown.
He's also placed an emphasis on sustainability and environmentally responsible development policies.
His messaging worked. Unofficial results reported by the Secretary of State's office show that Garcia won with 67% of the 3,486 votes cast in that district.
"I loved the idea that the city council has the opportunity to get more diversity," says District 2 constituent Mary Ann Shaening about her choice to vote for Garcia. She says she thinks his most appealing stance is all about housing.
"That's what so many of us are really most concerned about, I also think he will work collaboratively with others and that's something people value," says Shaening.
Standing outside of the Santa Fe County Fair Building, voter Tony Lopez tells SFR he voted for Garcia because "he's well educated, he cares for his community and has done lots for his community already."
"Besides," says Lopez, "affordable housing needs to be addressed."
Garcia celebrated his win by first thanking his wife, his family, and "the community for believing in me."
"I think it reaffirms that we as a community need to really ensure that voters' real community voice is not only taken into consideration, but real action [is] taken … and addressed in our city governance …" Garcia tells SFR before leaving the county building with his wife.