The runup to Santa Fe’s 2021 city election has left us feeling, in the words of the old theme song from The Addams Family, “all together ooky.” The mayor’s race has included name-calling from “Marxist” to “MAGA,” several rounds of complaints to the ethics board (none going anywhere), an anonymous campaign against incumbent Mayor Alan Webber and more public events than any single voter could possibly absorb.
The political enmity in the mayor’s race reflects citywide division over key civic issues such as: how the city should have dealt with its historical monuments controversy; the housing affordability crisis; the stalled Midtown campus project; and even upkeep of parks and medians. While many of these concerns predate the most recent administration, the stakes for all have been heightened by nearly two years of a pandemic that delayed, upended and in some cases reversed progress.
We dispute the notion circulated by some that Santa Fe is worse now than it’s ever been. Yet, there’s not a candidate for mayor who makes us universally excited and hopeful.
We’re also worried that the bitter taste from the last federal election cycle still has voters craving a palate cleanser. Pandemic and post-Trump lethargy appears to be playing a role in turnout thus far, with slow early voting and thousands of voters choosing mail ballots over in-person polling. At presstime, 10% of the city’s 60,634 registered voters had either asked for a ballot or cast one. (Not registered? Same-day voter registration ends Oct. 30.)
The three-way mayoral contest between Webber, JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Alexis Martinez Johnson appears on every city voter’s ballot, and each of the four geographical City Council districts has a seat up for grabs.
Lack of enthusiasm by potential candidates also marks this year’s ballot.
The most robust race comes for District 1 on the north side, with incumbent Councilor Signe Lindell facing three challengers. In District 2 on the east side, incumbent Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth is unopposed. On the Southside: in District 3, challenger Lee Garcia is hoping to unseat incumbent Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta; and in District 4, two candidates are vying for an open seat Vigil Coppler is vacating in her push for the top job.
For the two races in which there are more than two candidates, voters may also use ranked choice voting. If a candidate fails to secure 50% plus one vote, ballots are subject to an instant runoff using the rankings.
The election comes three and a half years into terms that began in 2018 thanks to a change in the timing of city elections when a state law moved them from spring to fall. The new four-year terms to which officials are elected begin Jan. 1, 2022 and end Dec. 31, 2025. The mayor’s salary is $110,358; councilors are paid $39,106.
We’ve watched all the forums, read all the surveys and spoken with the candidates before making these recommendations. Our choices reflect the belief that these are the folks best informed and suited to address Santa Fe’s infrastructure, government and civic needs as the city (hopefully) pivots to post-pandemic life.
Circling back to that ooky, Addams Family vibe we mentioned up top, here’s a bit of hope or, inspiration, if you will from SFR: Whoever voters choose should also remember Thing. In the black and white TV show that debuted in 1964 and ran for just two seasons (and experienced a recent revival with animated movie spinoffs), Thing, a disembodied “helping hand” with a mind of his own, showed up when members of the Addams Family needed him most. Councilors and the mayor would do well to consider the character as the people elected officials represent. Listen to them. Let them help you help us all.
We’ve said it before, because we just can’t resist Halloween puns during a fall election: Whatever you do, Santa Fe, the most scary thing would be to give away your voice. Please vote. Read more coverage at sfreporter.com/elections
Mayor: Alan Webber
Alan Webber uses the right words, shows up in the right places, has the right suit. He’s been an OK mayor and he’ll be OK again.
Santa Fe was lucky to have leadership in line with the governor’s office during the early, hard days of shutdowns and uncertainty. Remember the mayor of Grants and how he encouraged businesses to defy the state public health orders? Our mayor did not do that. Rather, Webber led the charge with consistent messaging on emergency proclamations, and put in place sensible policies such as getting as many city employees working remotely as possible and backing a mask mandate for public spaces with allies on the City Council, among other actions.
Webber can’t be blamed that COVID-19 waylaid much of his agenda, and the pandemic is a major reason why the Midtown development plan went sideways and why the city’s audit was late again, to cite two examples.
With so much uncertainty around what’s next, he’s the best choice. A second term for Webber would build on the steep learning curve for the job. He oversaw long overdue technical advances in hardware and software for more efficient government and pushed the pilot of an “alternative response unit,” which sends medical and social workers to non-violent and non-criminal 911 calls instead of relying solely on police.
He’s made room for interested voices at governing body meetings and has expanded the city’s livestreaming offerings to committee meetings. (Though we remain concerned about some of his less transparent leanings, including his fight against SFR’s attempts to make police discipline public.)
We still have critiques of Webber’s performance and expectations for the next four years.
He deserves credit for working to commit $6 million in city cash to the affordable housing trust fund, for example, but the housing crisis had begun long before he took office and actions like these could have benefitted Santa Fe when he began in 2018.
Long-term revenue for the fund would still beat periodic infusions. Voters in 2008 rejected the city’s last effort to get recurring revenue into the fund through a proposed transfer tax on high-end, luxury homes. Webber’s strategy now might succeed based on his connections and support at the Roundhouse, where he plans to lobby the Legislature to change the property tax structure to allow for a higher tax rate on non-resident property owners.
His leading challenger, city Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, BTW, was working as a real estate agent and was part of the group that actively opposed the real estate transfer tax.
It’s also great that Webber made a push two months before the election to give the lowest paid city workers a raise to $15 per hour, and we look forward to his support of future changes to the living wage ordinance that would apply to all workers.
Lastly, Webber must climb out of the rubble of the obelisk. He responded to and agreed with relevant cultural criticism last summer that monuments containing racist language like the Plaza obelisk and those dedicated to figures from conquest of Native people shouldn’t have a prominent place in Santa Fe’s public spaces. Bravo.
Neither his promise nor methodical approach, though, assuaged the angry crowd that pulled it down a few months later on Indigenous Peoples Day after city police stood down from the scene.
In the end, though, we still favor people over property and believe an outcome where no protesters or police were injured is worthwhile. The idea to commission a long game like the CHART process with real investment in listening means those who want to participate in future policy will have an unprecedented opportunity to do so. That’s the right move.
Vigil Coppler has been a counterpoint to the mayor throughout their shared time on the governing body, and her voting record shows some of her true allegiance, including to her day job in real estate. She has voted against reform to rein in short term rentals and against a citywide mask ordinance in line with public health guidance (though in defense of this vote, she has said during the campaign that she opposed the idea of asking city police to enforce a mandate and not the broad idea that masks should be worn). Her often contentious approach hasn’t enabled many of her proposals to get traction.
There’s also the matter of Vigil Coppler’s late-night public confrontation about a private moment in which she claims the mayor made a gross, misogynistic statement in 2019. It’s unreasonable to expect voters to parse out the facts considering the timing of her allegation—three weeks from the election. Webber has not owned up to the exact phrase, but he has noted that he apologized after the councilor raised a concern about “something I said.” Meanwhile, no one else has filed reports of sexual harassment against Webber that we could find. The allegation does not seem to have made a dent in support for the incumbent and it did not sway us toward Vigil Coppler.
The campaign from Alexis Martinez Johnson isn’t strong enough to move beyond the edges. For someone who cites her main experience for the position as her former job as an environmental engineer, for example, she doesn’t know much about the city’s major return-flow pipeline water project. The stones she threw—including words like “high rise,” and “millionaire” —landed short.
Change for the sake of change won’t serve Santa Fe. We say keep him.
District 1: Signe Lindell
Signe Lindell wants to be known as Santa Fe’s most fun councilor. Then again, when she says that, she is just trying to be funny.
We appreciate the gregarious Lindell’s sense of humor most of the time, but the real reason she gets our vote is that she’s proven dedicated to city leadership.
Lindell faces three challengers this time around, a dense bench that other districts of the city rarely see. Northside District 1 not only has the most registered voters, it regularly has the highest voter turnout as well. It’s an easy place to spot Santa Fe’s biggest problems, including wage disparity, housing costs and public safety challenges. It’s also the part of the city that holds much of the downtown tourism core.
Lindell identifies the city’s failure to recruit and retain workers in positions from the cop shop to the traffic engineering division as among the issues that need attention, along with ways to stabilize revenue in the face of fluctuating gross-receipts tax collections. This summer, she called for certain department heads to live in or near the city but withdrew the proposal after some pushback. Among her more successful ideas, however, was an alliance with Councilors Renee Villarreal and Carol Romero-Wirth to tighten rules on short term rentals adopted last December. The city has even taken a few enforcement actions as a result.
The closest challenger on her heels is likely Brian Gutierrez, the owner of a Southside towing company and the current chairman of the Planning Commission. Also running are: Joe Hoback, the former Pink Adobe owner who opposed the living wage ordinance when it passed but now says he’s “turned 180 degrees” to join the fight to increase the wage floor; and Roger Carson, the president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors who operates a sales firm with his wife.
Not one of the other candidates had a specific complaint with Lindell, except for Hoback saying he didn’t like the “erosion” of the city and that she’s too strongly on the side of Webber (as the pro tem, she doesn’t deny that; he supports Vigil Coppler). Both Carson and Gutierrez told SFR they wanted to run irrespective of their opponent.
Lindell served on the Planning Commission before she was a councilor and she’s been on the Finance Committee since 2014. She holds a doctorate degree and taught at Kent State University before she moved to Santa Fe in 1984. She’s running for a third term and we expect she’ll get it.
District 3: Roman “Tiger” Abeyta
Roman “Tiger” Abeyta’s commitment to the most important resource on the Southside matters. And we mean the human resource.
As chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Club, it’s not just his house that’s in the district, but his day job too. Just this month, the club will use a federal grant to open a teen center at the Santa Fe Place Mall that will help with a service gap until the city’s planned teen center facility is open in 2023. That officials broke ground this year was no small feat—a Southside teen center has been on the lips of lawmakers for too long.
Abeyta’s term on the council reveals his strong alliance with Webber—he credits the mayor for pushing the teen center over the finish line—but Abeyta has demonstrated a willingness to be more than a yes man, as recently as this month objecting to the mayor’s effort to push through raises. Abeyta gently advocated for delay and the rest of the council agreed with him.
He’s an alliance builder, and the council needs that kind of glue. As chairman of the city Finance Committee, Abeyta wants to advocate for bond issues that would allow the city to catch up on deferred maintenance and even pay for priorities such as public safety and affordable housing. Borrowing money against the gross-receipts tax revenue had been a regular way for the city to fund projects, but when it ran into trouble after a 2008 parks bond, Abeyta says the council was slow to bring back the idea. Abeyta would like to ask voters to approve one or more bonds in an election next year. We can bet that the spending plans will give the Southside its due.
Before his 2018 election to the council, Abeyta had a long career at Santa Fe County, eventually serving as land use director and then county manager for four years. Giving up a motivated leader with a wealth of government experience for a political novice is a big risk for District 3 on the city’s southwestern corner, which is also why we wouldn’t choose Lee Garcia over Abeyta in this race.
Garcia, who owns a chain of tire stores, has experience in private sector business that has to respond to market forces. He supports incentives to reward customers who save water and reduce consumption through their own conservation efforts, and we think that’s a good idea. His interest in job creation is based in the real world and he deserves congrats on his first run for office.
District 4: Amanda Chavez
Amanda Chavez already has a big job. She’s a teacher who worked her way through the ranks and academia to become a principal at César Chávez Elementary, then recently deputy director of special education for Santa Fe Public Schools. But in her own words, she’s “on a leadership track” and she’s ready to do more. We think she can.
Chavez is articulate and passionate, and a born and raised southsider with two children. (If elected, she’d join two other parents of young children on the council, a shift that can only help governing body see the reality for families in the city.) When she says she wants the city to work harder to figure out how to help teens and support their mental health, we believe her.
The publicly financed candidate says she’s committed to outreach and “practicing empathy” that will bring more people to the city’s policymaking table, and wants the city’s support of after-school programs and other education efforts to intentionally address trauma.
The District 4 seat is open after JoAnne Vigil Coppler served one term and stepped aside to run for mayor. The southern and central core district includes the city-owned Midtown campus as well as the newest hospital and the massive Las Soleras project.
The second candidate in the race, Rebecca Romero, doesn’t have equivalent credentials or seem to have nearly the vision Chavez has; as the Santa Fe New Mexican reported last week, she’s also got a criminal record that shows a lack of judgement.
Chavez served for six months on the Planning Commission but decided to step down when she set her sights on the council seat. Even that short experience was no doubt instructional for her, and she’ll need that as she represents the southwestern district where there’s no question development will be a big player during the next four years.
The Santa Fe Home Builders Association survey asked whether Chavez supports “amending current codes to allow greater flexibility in height restrictions, making accessory dwelling units permissible, and, in general, allow for more intensive use of properties in existing and future neighborhoods.” She does, and she also recognizes that developments need to minimize “strain on the environment” and move toward less car dependency.
Also on the Ballot
Santa Fe Public Schools GO Bond and Mill Levy: Yes
The general obligation bond pays for school construction and remodels and the mill levy—also known as the public school buildings tax—pays for school maintenance and upkeep. Voting yes on both measures would not change the tax rate, as the bond renews two property taxes funding public school properties that have been in place at the same level since 2015 and 2016.
The school board appoints members of a Community Review Committee to evaluate the district’s building needs and priorities. The committee used the Facilities Master Plan and community input to develop a list of building projects for the GO Bond, and presented this to the board in February. The board votes on the final list.
In-person early voting and same-day registration continues from noon to 8 pm through Friday Oct. 29 and 10 am to 6 pm Saturday, Oct. 30 at:
Santa Fe County Fair Building, 3229 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe
Southside Library, 6599 Jaguar Drive, Santa Fe
Christian Life Church, 121 Siringo Road, Santa Fe
Max Coll Corridor Community Center, 16 Avenida Torreon, Eldorado
Abedon Lopez Community Center, 108 Camino de Roberto, #108, Española
Pojoaque County Satellite Office, 5 W. Gutierrez, Ste. 9, Pojoaque
On Election Day:
Registered voters may cast ballots from 7 am to 7 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 2 at any of the county’s voting locations. Ballots are generated based on a voter’s address; only those who live within the city limits will see candidates for municipal offices. Voting locations within and near the Santa Fe city limits include:
La Tierra Fire Station, 6 Arroyo Calabasas Road
Montezuma Lodge, 431 Paseo De Peralta
Atalaya Elementary, 721 Camino Cabra
Gonzales Community School, 851 W Alameda St.
St. John’s Methodist Church, 1200 Old Pecos Trail
Salazar Elementary, 1231 Apache Ave.
Chaparral Elementary, 2451 Avenida Chaparral
Christian Life Church, 121 Siringo Road
Santa Fe County Fair Building, 3229 Rodeo Road
El Camino Real Academy, 2500 S Meadows Road
Nina Otero Community School, 5901 Herrera Drive
La Cienega Community Center, 136 Camino San Jose
Turquoise Trail Charter School, 13 San Marcos Loop
Amy Biehl Comm School, 310 Avenida Del Sur