Question: In Santa Fe’s upcoming mayoral election, candidate A receives 560 votes, candidate B earns 680 and candidate C gets 265. Which candidate won?
Answer: It depends on how the voters ranked the candidates.
With the final voting day two months away, city residents are still getting to know the numbers and faces of the city’s Nov. 2 mayoral and City Council contests. There are plenty of options and, with another shot at ranked-choice voting, Santa Feans don’t have to choose just one.
Much ink has been spilled already; recriminations have followed accusations, especially at the top of the ticket.
The angst and anger fall into the city’s longstanding fault lines. Call them divisions—that’s what the politicians’ and would-be office-holders’ campaign staffs and vocal supporters call them.
The toppling of the Plaza obelisk on Indigenous Peoples Day last year, what preceded it and what’s followed have created ample opportunity to toss mud. And there are plenty of disagreements over what else is important and what Santa Fe needs to become a better, more unified city.
Speaking of those divisions, you’re in luck, Dear Reader: SFR passed high school math and offers here a refresher on the voting system, how to participate, sketches of the candidates in the handful of contested 2021 municipal races and where they stand on the issues. (Absent is District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who is running unopposed.)
The 2018 municipal election marked Santa Fe’s first foray into ranked-choice voting. There were some hurdles, and confusion remains about how it works, despite SFR’s sincere efforts to explain it and debunk the various wild-eyed court challenges against using it. Let’s try it one more time:
Consider the election math problem we posed above: Candidate A earned 37% of the votes, B won 45% and C received 18%. Without a clear winner who earns more than half of the votes, the candidate with the lowest percentage of votes is eliminated and those votes are distributed to candidates A and B, based on the voters’ second choices. In this scenario, 225 of those votes go to candidate A and the other 40 go to candidate B. The new percentages for round 2 show that candidate A is the winner.
Ranked choice voting kicks in for the seats with at least three candidates in the race: the mayor and District 1 councilor for this election. It’s not required to rank more than one candidate for each race, but doing so gives voters more of a voice in the final outcome.
Education: Bachelor in English, Amherst College
Occupation: Incumbent mayor of Santa Fe
Alan Webber often carries a quote in his back pocket. At the height of this year’s campaign, he shared one with SFR. He figures it speaks to his take on the divisions that have marked the election season.
“I have friends on both sides of this issue, and I always stand with my friends.”
Webber attributes the phrase to the long-dead US Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois—who both championed the Civil Rights Act and defended the Vietnam War to the bitter end—aligning his own political strategizing to the well-known senator’s. Webber adds: “I have friends who disagree with me on policy issues, but we talk about our disagreements and we work them out.”
With his first, mixed bag term coming to a close, Webber—the city’s first full-time mayor and a Canyon Road resident—has encountered plenty of disagreements.
He prefers to discuss his accomplishments, dividing them into two categories: pre- and post-COVID.
“The first two years we were building city government; we were hiring a great team, we were putting investments into place,” Webber says, pointing also to significant increases in housing units, water supply and the creation of the Alternative Response Unit, a team composed of a caseworker, paramedic and police officer, trained to respond to behavioral health issues.
Webber, who is serving in his first elected position after founding, then selling, Fast Company magazine before he moved to Santa Fe, tells SFR his administration worked toward “modernizing and professionalizing city government.”
The effort paid off when COVID hit, forcing most city services online.
The mayor is quick with another cliché in describing his e-government initiatives: “The time to fix the roof is before it starts raining.”
Webber considers himself a listener and a consensus-builder, saying he’ll use those traits to address what has been the thorniest issue of his term: the obelisk.
Last June, the mayor publicly called for the removal of the monument to Union soldiers who also slaughtered Native people. Now, he claims he had no direct hand in what happened a few months later, when activists took the obelisk down themselves and police stood down.
Its destruction, Webber argues, prevented wider unrest in Santa Fe over controversial monuments.
On fences, in newspapers, in yards, advertisements denouncing Webber’s handling of the painful subject have cropped up around town. The signs, distributed by Union Protectíva de Santa Fé, have drawn the mayor’s ire, resulting in an ethics complaint and an accusation against his opponent, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, of colluding with the non-political organization.
Vigil Coppler denies the claim, drawing this response from Webber: “If she doesn’t want to be associated with them, she should disavow them.”
JoAnne Vigil Coppler
Education: Master in Public Administration, University of New Mexico
Occupation: City councilor, District 4 and real estate broker
“I want to take everything on,” JoAnne Vigil Coppler tells SFR, mid-lament on the nightmare that is parking downtown. “That’s why I’m running.”
Though Vigil Coppler has no plans to build another parking garage, she has plenty of other thoughts on local government.
One of her mantras, “What gets measured, gets done,” highlights how she hopes to run the city if she defeats Webber. Among her priorities: cleaning up and beautifying public spaces, improving homeownership opportunities and addressing the city’s growing unhoused population.
The construction permitting process needs fixing, too, she says. Constituents and businesses have come to her, exasperated over the long and burdensome process. Whether it’s “homeowners, just getting a remodel permit, up to a new commercial building project—it doesn’t matter how small a job, or how big a job it is.”
Vigil Coppler believes her experience in public administration—a subject she taught at UNM—will enable her to work with the Land Use Department to create timelines that will improve the permitting process.
As a former HR director with the city and Los Alamos County, she sees an unhappy city workforce.
“What’s more important to me, in my tenure on City Council, is that city employees be treated fairly.”
Webber spent over $310,000 to win the last election, a record, and Vigil Coppler says that makes a mockery of the city’s public financing system. Yet, she also says she chose to rely on private dollars to compete with him instead of the paltry $60,000 given to mayoral candidates who qualify for public financing.
“I’m not intending to be a millionaire mayor. I’m competing with the millionaire mayor, and that’s not the kind of example I want to set,” she says.
Alexis Martinez Johnson
Education: Bachelor in Environmental Engineering, New Mexico Tech
Occupation: Former environmental engineer
As Alexis Martinez Johnson canvasses outside the downtown post office off S. Federal Place, her twins, James and Vera, sit in the grass lawn blowing bubbles.
“I have my two beautiful children right here, I’m a mother, I’m an environmental engineering professional, I’m really concerned about our water resources, our wastewater management and our transportation services,” Johnson tells a resident signing her nominating petition.
The signature gathering has posed challenges, Johnson tells SFR. But later, she’d succeed in filing enough to see her name on the ballot.
“The more money that you have,” the larger a candidate’s “megaphone,” Johnson says. “It is very difficult to overcome the finances.”
The campaigning experience has centered equity issues for Johnson. She points to delays she encountered when requesting the appropriate forms—in English and Spanish—to get on the ballot and the lack of online options for gathering signatures, which Johnson says put her at a heightened risk for COVID-19 exposure.
“A lot of people want to Trump-splain me,” she says, adding that some have written her off because of her conservative views. “I’m here to represent voices and have an equitable campaign.”
Like Vigil Coppler, Johnson points to tension between the mayor and city employees, which she attributes to “a huge discord in regard to cultural values.” She doesn’t anticipate that bad blood will dissipate if Webber is reelected.
One area where Johnson thinks she can improve the city: housing.
“If you’re going to build apartment complexes and the developers are going to get a lot of tax-exempt services, they’re not going to have to pay certain things, who’s really getting the deal?” Johnson says, noting that the city requires developers to provide affordable housing for only five years.
Johnson lost the race for the state’s 2020 3rd Congressional District against Teresa Leger Fernandez, earning 41% of the vote—a surprisingly strong showing that pundits credit to her anti-abortion stance popular with voters in the north. She lives in the South Capital area.
Education: Doctorate in Education, West Virginia University
Occupation: Incumbent city councilor, District 1
It’s difficult to hold a continuous conversation with Councilor Signe Lindell on the patio of JW Windsor’s, as a seemingly endless stream of colleagues and constituents keep stopping to say hello. It’s evident Lindell is well known in this part of town as the District 1 councilor for the past eight years. Before that, she was a city planning commissioner. She wants to continue meeting her constituents and building those relationships.
“We need 84? Well let’s go get 840; that’s going to be fun,” Lindell tells SFR of her plan to gather 10 times the required signatures to make the ballot.
“It’s always relationships. You meet so many people and part of the deal is making everybody comfortable in the big tent,” Lindell explains. “You don’t always agree on everything but we have relationships where, when we disagree, we can get through it.”
Lindell touts her track record of handling constituent issues and attending community events as evidence of her commitment. Additionally, Lindell notes the steps the council has taken to expand affordable housing, crack down on short-term rental enforcement and provide services for those experiencing homelessness.
Education: Bachelor in Accounting, College of Santa Fe
Occupation: Real estate broker, Keller Williams
Roger Carson doesn’t have any grand illusions of politicians. At one point in a conversation with SFR, he equated them to the animals at SeaWorld.
“Every animal has a special talent, and it’s your job to figure out what that is,” Carson says. “And every candidate running for office has a special talent and, ideally, through this election process, people get to figure out who that is.”
He lists an in-depth knowledge of Santa Fe’s housing market among his talents. As president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors—a role he will vacate at year’s end—Carson maintains he’s uniquely suited to help tackle the city’s seemingly endless housing crisis.
His solution? Coupling the need for more units with sustainable growth that will ensure future dwellings support everyone who lives here.
“The school teacher is the classic [example],” he says. “These are people everyone wants in the community and yet we don’t build housing that they can afford and so there’s a disconnect.”
Carson maintains a particular fear of sprawl that has diluted Santa Fe’s housing brand—which he admits sounds “pejorative,” but nonetheless is central to the City Different.
Education: Santa Fe High School
Occupation: Owner, Santa Fe Recycles
One of Brian Gutierrez’s family traditions involves biking down to the Plaza in the summer with his wife and four children, getting ice cream and watching the long days fade into the night. When protesters felled the controversial centerpiece of the Plaza last October, Gutierrez tells SFR, his daughter was upset.
“Some people have said that the younger generation doesn’t care about X, Y and Z,” Gutierrez says of the divisive obelisk. “She had a connection there. To my family, it was more than just an obelisk, good, bad or otherwise.”
Gutierrez wishes more had been done to prevent the toppling, but he says, “Until you walk in those shoes you really don’t know what’s happening.”
A focus for Gutierrez’s campaign is basic city services that, he laments, have been in need of repair: smooth roads, clear medians, graffiti-free buildings.
Gutierrez’s vision involves relocating City Hall to Midtown Campus, which he says would provide more equitable access to local government while helping to develop the area around St. Michael’s Drive.
“Everything’s centrally located,” he says of his proposed move. “From there, Midtown grows organically because everyone wants to be next to City Hall.”
Education: Associate in Management, American Institute of Banking
Occupation: Former president, Land of Enchantment Federal Credit Union
Joe Hoback plans to win the crowded race by knocking on as many doors as possible in the northeast district. He equates his daily canvassing strategy to the way most people think about going to the gym: “I really need to work out today, I should really go,” Hoback tells SFR. “And then I go and I get into it and I get done, and I’m like, ‘It was good.’”
Hoback tells SFR he was pounding the pavement long before this campaign season.
“My first real job was delivering newspapers,” he says. “I’ve been working for the residents of District 1 since the ‘70s.”
Hoback’s history with the city—his grandmother started the Pink Adobe restaurant where he worked as a general manager—has shaped his experience.
Hoback wants the city to set an example by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour—an action he says the council can achieve by passing an ordinance, much like the living wage ordinance passed in 2003.
Roman “Tiger” Abeyta
Education: Capital High School
Occupation: Incumbent city councilor, District 3 and chief professional officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Fe
Abeyta was happy to hear he had an opponent in the District 3 contest for his re-election because it provides constituents with options—and the power to exercise their right to choose.
“The one thing I’ve always advocated for is greater participation and voter turnout in District 3,” Abeyta tells SFR. For his first council term, he faced no opposition for an open seat.
But he’s not conceding the western most district, especially not with everything he has planned in the coming months—most notably, the long-awaited teen center that many credit to Abeyta’s advocacy.
“District 3 as a whole, but specifically where the teen center is going, we have the largest concentration of young people,” Abeyta says, pointing to the collection of schools in his district. “It’s going to be a great place for teens to hopefully go and get resources,” while also providing young people with a place to socialize, says Abeyta.
Abeyta notes that urging the opening of the Southside library as an early voting site and promoting vaccination clinics in District 3 reflected his commitment to constituents.
He wants to build on his work with the Alternative Response Unit, the de-escalation team that takes low-threat 911 calls.
“We got to reimagine public safety,” Abeyta says. “We were putting too much of a burden on our police by having them do everything, from giving the simple traffic ticket...to dealing with the serious crime.”
Education: Master in Business, University of Phoenix
Occupation: Owner, Garcia Tires
Lee Garcia’s father, Guadalupe Garcia, started fixing his neighbor’s tires on the side of their house in Chimayó in 1974. Demand was so high, he had to open a brick and mortar storefront to meet it. The younger Garcia says customer service is key.
When SFR meets him on a recent day, he’s helping a customer at the front counter, even though he owns three tire shops.
“I lost a few employees and now I’m working in the business again,” Garcia admits.
Garcia has had staffing troubles and notes the parallels between his situation and that of the city, which he says also suffers from a dwindling workforce.
The deficit of employees, he says, prevents the city from meeting residents’ needs. With his experience in business, Garcia thinks he can change that.
“Yes we are for-profit, but we provide a service to our community that is so vital,” Garcia says, pointing to the work his business does with the city, county and state to demonstrate the unique perspective he would bring to the council. “We provide tires to the Fire Department for the city, we install the tires for the trash trucks.”
Garcia says the city could benefit from a more business-like approach, while providing more training for municipal employees: “I think as a governing body...we need to focus on our base structure of organization from management to all the way down. It starts with good leadership.”
Education: Master in Educational Leadership, Grand Canyon University
Occupation: Director of special education, Santa Fe Public Schools
“If there’s any quality that you can have as a leader, it’s empathy,” Chavez says of her new role with the school district as director of special education. She says the position is less demanding than her previous job: principal of César Chávez Elementary School—but there’s a catch.
“The further you get from students, the harder those changes are,” Chavez says.
Whether she’s at work, raising her two children or walking the neighborhoods of District 4 to canvass, Chavez says people often ask her, “Why do you do so much?” She tells SFR she wants to set an example for her children and community.
“My mom would always tell me, ‘As long as you’re capable, you do.’”
Chavez hopes to bring her keen awareness of inequities to the council as representative of the Southside, pointing to the disparate amount of affordable housing between the east and south sides of the city.
“I think it shows how disconnected we are as a community, because if we were a community we wouldn’t be functioning that way,” she says. “I totally believe in the idea, ‘It takes a village.’”
Education: Capital High School
Occupation: Management analyst, New Mexico Department of Health
Rebecca Romero kicks at a slew of goatheads, saying they’re a sign of unmaintained baseball fields and what she calls neglect by the city at Franklin Miles Park.
This public space leaves room for improvement, Romero tells SFR, especially when compared to the baseball fields in Alto Park. “They’re really nice,” Romero adds. “Well, they’re downtown, they’re downtown. And that’s the problem.”
Romero wants to bring more city employees to the Southside to help clean up the parks.
“The city is so short staffed, and that’s my big concern right now is we need to get our city employees back into the office. We need to get them fully staffed,” Romero tells SFR. “We need to set an example…'Look, as a city we do care.’”
While walking the neighborhood just west of the park, where she grew up, Romero speaks with constituents concerned about an apartment complex being squeezed between Cerrillos Road and the quiet streets off Siringo Road.
“See how they just stuck them behind buildings?” Romero says of the swelling development in District 4 and how that will impact residents, who tell her: “‘Nobody listens to us. Nobody wants to take our comments into consideration and we’re having a hard time getting opinions out there.’”
Last week - The county clerk verified that each of the 12 candidates collected the required number of voter signatures to make the ballot.
Sept. 9 - Mayoral public forum hosted by the American Institute of Architects at Restaurant Martin at 11:45 am. Register at aiasantafe.org/calendar/
Sept. 13 - Mayoral public forum hosted by Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce via Zoom at 5:30 pm. Register at facebook.com/SFHCC/
Oct. 4-5 - Public forums for mayoral candidates hosted by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition at The Lensic and online. Each evening program begins at 6 pm. Business and economic issues are the topic on Oct. 4; housing on Oct. 5. Register at web.santafechamber.com/events/
Oct. 16 - Alternate site early voting begins at seven locations including the Southside Library, Christian Life Church and county fairgrounds in Santa Fe. Final day of early voting when residents can register and vote in person with the county clerk.
Oct. 19 - Deadline to register to vote by mail and request an absentee ballot. Ballots may be dropped off at the county clerk’s office and the alternate sites for early voting.
Oct. 30 - Final day of expanded early voting.
Nov. 2 - Election Day. In-person polling places are open from 7 am to 7 pm.