Cover Stories

Council Split

An upset, an easy victory and a new face mark Santa Fe City Council races

Voters offered a mixed bag in the Santa Fe City Council races Tuesday night, choosing one candidate for a third term in a landslide, rejecting a popular incumbent in another race and adding newcomer Amanda Chavez to the dais.

Read about the mayoral race here

Chavez—a teacher, principal and now school administrator—will assume her first public office with a vote of confidence from her district, where she picked up 75% of early, unofficial returns. That was good enough to handily dispatch Rebecca Romero and replace JoAnne Vigil Coppler to represent the Southside District 4.

“I’m excited,” Chavez tells SFR after the results came in. She received the highest percentage of votes among all Santa Fe candidates on the ballot.

“We felt very confident the whole time. We really emphasized the importance of hearing from the community and as their public servant that is going to be my priority in setting up systems to truly hear what they think our city needs to be.”

Election night turned out significantly more grim for District 3′s Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, an executive with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Fe and close ally of Mayor Alan Webber, who fell to tire shop owner Lee Garcia by 53% to 47% in his bid for a second term.

Garcia tells SFR late Tuesday he was on the edge of his seat as election returns trickled in late, with returns showing him ahead by about 100 votes as of press time in his first run for office.

“It’s looking promising,” he says. “My initial reaction is just about showing everyone that anybody can run. There is public campaign financing out there. We need more people to take up the challenge and I think that sets a great example.”

The race with Abeyta was “clean,” he says, noting both candidates avoided mudslinging. “In a democracy we don’t need to do that…We talked about the community and what the needs are and we let the people go out and voice their opinion and that is with their vote.”

There was no upset in the crowded, four-candidate race in District 1. Voters chose incumbent Signe Lindell for a third term with 61% of unofficial results. Brian Gutierrez got the next highest number with 20% followed by Joe Hoback with 13% and Roger Carson with 6%.

Several voters who chatted with SFR outside Montezuma Lodge on the idyllic Election Day say they knew who they wanted in office and didn’t bother ranking the other candidates. District 1 was the only City Council race in which the city’s ranked-choice system could have been a factor, but with Lindell’s big lead, the instant runoff wasn’t needed.

Micah Sulich, another District 1 voter who recently graduated from New Mexico Tech, says his primary concern this election cycle was the overabundance of short-term rentals in the city.

“Half our neighborhood is Airbnbs,” Sulich tells SFR. “Everyone’s throwing parties, it was noisy, it was not fun to live nearby. I mean, it just ruined the neighborhood.”

But none of the candidates spoke to Sulich’s concerns, he laments.

“Honestly, of all the candidates, it was choosing the least worst for me,” Sulich says, adding that he cast one vote in the mayor and councilor races and didn’t bother ranking any others.

In District 2, in the north and east regions of the city, Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth sailed to a second term with no opposition.

Around 5:30 pm, a line of about 100 people meant a 40-minute wait to vote at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds.

District 4 resident Mariquita Baca voted there for Chavez for City Council. Baca says her background in education—Chavez is the director of special education for Santa Fe Public Schools and former principal of César Chávez Elementary School—was the biggest factor for her.

“I like that she’s putting kids first,” Baca says.

The campaign for Romero, the state government management analyst who ran against Chavez, likely took a hit in mid-October, when her 2006 guilty pleas to felony counts of embezzlement, forgery and credit card fraud came to light.

Education factored heavily for District 3 resident Adam Werber, too.

Werber voted for Abeyta. Along with education, an open space on South Meadows Road that’s been the subject of recent controversy was a major issue for him. The county earlier this year entered a sale agreement with affordable housing developer Homewise, upsetting many Southside residents.

Werber, who says he talked with Abeyta about the open space and the councilor “seemed open to listening to our situation,” didn’t vote in the last city election, but chose to do so this cycle “to make a difference.”

The pandemic weighed heavily in Angel Avila’s mayoral choice and that rippled into her choice for councilor. Avila is an Air Force veteran and social worker who now works with veterans.

“I like how he handled the pandemic,” Avila says of Webber. A District 3 voter, Avila had intended to vote for Lee Garcia, she says, until she received a flyer showing him pictured with Vigil Coppler.

“That turned it for me,” she says. Her opposition to Vigil Coppler, Avila said, stemmed from learning that she had voted against the city’s mask mandate and had referred to rental properties as “not real homes” (the latter refers to comments Vigil Coppler made during a discussion on affordable housing). “I’m a social worker,” Avila says. “Home is home.”

Half an hour from the close of polls, a few dozen people were still in line at Christian Life Church on Siringo Road.

Tony Lopez, a District 3 resident, tells SFR he voted for Garcia because public safety is the most important issue for him.

“We don’t have enough police,” Lopez says. “I think that’s a terrible thing and I think that people have to be protected.”

As the sun cast its last rays across El Camino Real Academy, poll worker Siiri Sanchez tells SFR Election Day at the District 3 polling place has been steady, but calm. She says this is her first time serving as a poll worker, which she took on to “see how the bones of [the voting system] are working...and to see the particular checks and balances we have here.”

She points to the need for accountability in election systems, explaining that each ballot goes through three points of checking.

“We should be open to be checked,” Sanchez says, adding that election transparency helps improve voters’ confidence.

Julia Goldberg and Bella Davis contributed reporting.

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