Cover Stories

Fresh Frame

Mayor Alan Webber rolls to a second term; he’ll have a different City Council to work with

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber will have a chance to do it all again after voters elected him to a second term Nov. 2.

Early unofficial results show Webber earned 55% of votes, winning the race outright without invoking the city’s ranked-choice voting runoff rules. The victory contrasted his first election in 2018, when ranked-choice voting among five candidates went into a fourth round before he was declared the winner.

City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, who chose not to run for re-election for her council seat in favor of seeking the top job, received about 35% of votes, according to returns updated around 11:45 pm on election night; Alexis Martinez Johnson got 10%.

“Elections are always about the future and Santa Fe’s future is bright and full of promise,” Webber said during a victory speech at Hotel Santa Fe. “We’ve heard on the doorsteps of our residents and phone calls...what our residents want: affordable housing and a sustainable environment, jobs and economic opportunity for our workers and their families, parks and recreation for our neighborhoods.”

Webber rolled to victory amid moderate voter turnout, with fewer than 20,000 people casting ballots in the mayor’s race, according to early, unofficial results.

>> Read about the City Council races here

Over in the South Capitol neighborhood, yellow “Vote Here” signs created an autumnal scene amidst the orange and white pumpkins spilling from every corner of St. John’s United Methodist Church. A steady stream of primarily District 2 voters filed into the polling place Tuesday morning as a supporter flapped an “Alan Webber for Mayor” sign on the corner urging passing motorists to come cast their ballot.

In the mayoral race, few of the voters SFR spoke with utilized the ranked choice voting system—the city’s third go at it. The decision not to select more than one candidate was best summed up by District 2 voter Eileen Tenn, who tells SFR, “I didn’t want to elevate someone that I didn’t like.”

Martinez Johnson is the only mayoral candidate this year who has promoted voters to rank her in the number two position, while her two competitors have remained mostly silent on the voting process—likely because both know their bases, as Tenn made clear, didn’t want anything to do with the other camp.

Tenn, who voted for Webber, tells SFR, “I like his forward thinking about business and I think we need to focus on those kinds of resources.” Tenn adds distracting issues marred the mayoral race. “I think the things that came up in the election, like the monument, were ridiculous,” she says, referring to the toppling of the obelisk on the Plaza last year on Indigenous Peoples Day. Webber came under fire after he first called for the monument’s removal, then chastised protesters who tore it down.

Doug McClellan, another District 2 voter, says he felt differently about the obelisk: “I disagree with the handling of the monument issue.” But that didn’t sway McClellan to give a vote to Webber’s opponents. “I still think he’s more qualified than the other two.”

District 2 voters Josh and Mitra Devon also opted out of ranked choice voting. Both recently moved to Santa Fe from Denver, because “I love the culture here, the people here,” Mitra Devon says. She adds that they both cast ballots for Vigil Coppler, “I don’t want it to change here into something it’s not.”

A lively party for Vigil Coppler was underway at the Santa Fe Country Club as results came in.

At 10 pm, after Webber had made his victory speech, Vigil Coppler told SFR “it’s not over until it’s over,” adding that final results weren’t yet in.

“I’m feeling good,” Vigil Coppler said. “We understand not all the votes are in so I’m not making a judgment either way. I feel like we ran a really good campaign and I think that we brought up the issues that are important to Santa Fe and Santa Feans. I don’t think we’re going to know for a while tonight.”

Shortly after talking with SFR, Vigil Coppler addressed the crowd of about 50, saying, “There’s a heck of a lot more votes to count,” and thanked her supporters.

Mike Henderson saw a friend outside of Montezuma Lodge around lunchtime on Tuesday and asked for some last minute election advice. The friends wanted to choose a candidate who represented “something we were here to vote for, which was someone who would give us more freedoms and protect our sovereignty, we’re talking in relation to this whole mandate for vaccines and things.”

He says, based on this issue, there was only one clear choice, “That’s why we voted for Martinez [Johnson].”

Patty Karlovitz has never missed an election in the 25 years she has lived in Santa Fe. The publisher of the magazine Local Flavor tells SFR, “In both cases, the other candidates, I didn’t want them.” Rather than rank the other candidates, Karlovitz says, “For me there was a very clear line,” and a vote for the incumbent.

“As many mistakes as he has made, and he has made a lot, he still has, I think, the clearest, most logical way of looking at things,” Karlovitz says.

But Karlovitz didn’t hold back criticism of Webber. “I can’t wait to see tell him how disgusted I am at how this city looks,” she says. Even though Vigil Coppler made basic city services, including park maintenance, a frequent talking point throughout the campaign, Karlovitz explains that the councilor failed to provide specific solutions: “It’s not enough to identify a problem. I can identify a problem, that’s easy.”

Of all the voters SFR chatted with on Tuesday, Michael Kaye comes the closest to kind words for Webber: “He’s really got a hard row to hoe. I think he’s doing his best.” Kaye, who is retired but volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, also opted out of ranked-choice voting, instead ranking his preferred candidates multiple times: Webber and Lindell. (This approach to “ranking” results produces the same outcome as voting for only one candidate.)

Brian O’Keefe waited outside Montezuma Lodge with Tilly, a dog he’s fostering until she finds a new home. But O’Keefe isn’t planning for any of the mayoral candidates to find shelter in City Hall.

“I’m not going to vote for mayor,” he tells SFR. “I don’t feel Mayor Webber has a grasp of how the city operates.” As for the other two candidates, he adds, “I don’t see real initiative, new ideas, new concepts” from them.

The candidates also took turns directly and indirectly hurling barbs at one another via the city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board, which dismissed complaints filed both against and by Webber. Vigil Coppler also alleged Webber made inappropriate remarks to her in 2019 when she accused the mayor during a livestreamed debate of having told her not to get her “panties in a twist.” Webber has maintained he does not remember using the words, but also apologized for “something he said.”

Webber led the pack with private fundraising, breaking his own record for the most expensive Santa Fe mayor’s race in history by amassing a war chest of over $461,000 from donors near and far as of a Nov. 1 report. Vigil Coppler raised less than half that amount, reporting $153,378 this week. Martinez Johnson trailed with just over $21,000.

City voter turnout appeared to hover around 30%, according to early unofficial returns posted on the secretary of state’s website. Of 60,633 voters, 18,098 cast ballots for mayor. About 9,333 of those votes came before Election Day from both mailed ballots and early in-person voters, the county clerk reported. The turnout is significantly lower than the city’s 2018 municipal contests, when 38% of registered voters pulled the lever.

Councilor Signe Lindell—the incumbent in District 1 who won her bid for a third term—spent most of the day with a campaign sign on the sidewalk in front of Gonzales Community School.

She says this year’s voter turnout—which she considers impressive—is a sign of the times.

“I think any year there’s a mayoral [race], we get a bigger turnout but I also think there are issues people care about and I think the mood of the country is voting,” Lindell tells SFR. “It’s easy to vote in Santa Fe, and we’re seeing, all over the country, measures to stop people from being able to vote easily, so I think we cherish that.”

Lindell was outside for one of the few Election Day snafus in Santa Fe, when the power went out for about 20 minutes at Gonzales Community School around midday.

Carmela Winneberger, a Southside resident, voted for Vigil Coppler. The destruction of the obelisk last summer and the city’s response weighed heavily for her.

“I think the city is in pretty sad shape,” Winneberger says. “I wasn’t too happy with what happened on the Plaza with the obelisk. It was pretty sad and I don’t think it’s right to take down statues.”

SFR spoke with several other voters at Gonzales a few hours before the polls closed.

Judith Benkendorf, a resident of District 1, voted for Lindell and Webber. She considered a host of issues, including housing, abortion and the environment.

“Those are all very important to me and things that Mayor Webber has already stuck his foot into very successfully and he needs to be able to leap,” Benkendorf says.

She opted not to rank candidates, but her husband, Norman Marks, chose to for the mayoral race, with Webber first.

“My sense is that it can be more powerful with either more candidates or more intense competition around issues perhaps, but I’m proud to be a citizen where we have access to ranked choice,” Marks says. “In the long run, I think it’s something positive for the city.”

The voters chose Webber to push toward that positive future.

In his first remarks to supporters after the results came in on Tuesday night, Webber said: “Our challenges are many, but our resources are unlimited. They are the resources of the people of Santa Fe, the courage, the resilience, creativity, energy and love of an entire community.”

Also on the ballot in Santa Fe: a general obligation bond to cover remodeling and construction costs for schools and a mill levy, which pays for upkeep and maintenance in school buildings. Voters overwhelmingly supported the measures, with 79% and 73% in favor, respectively; neither the bond nor the mill levy changes the current tax rate.

In Albuquerque, Mayor Tim Keller easily rode to reelection, earning 56% of the vote and avoiding a runoff with Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales or right-wing radio host Eddy Aragon, according to early, unofficial results.

Gonzales finished a distant second, with 26%; and Aragon barely got a sniff, with just 18% of the more than 117,000 voters who cast ballots in New Mexico’s largest city.

Like in Santa Fe, a seemingly endless flood of ethics complaints and allegations of misconduct marred the race for the top government job in Albuquerque. Gonzales, whose time as sheriff has been marked by an old-school Drug War approach to the job, was found to have forged signatures in an attempt to qualify for public financing. Then, he accused Keller, with no evidence, of having an extramarital affair with a subordinate and covering up corruption at City Hall during a televised, 11th-hour debate.

Albuquerque voters also rejected a $50 million bond proposal for a new soccer stadium, where the wildly popular New Mexico United would have played. Keller supported the bond, but it drew the ire of neighborhood groups and plenty of voters—the proposal failed with 65% giving it the thumbs-down. But they approved a dozen other bonds, including one for $25 million for public safety.

Julia Goldberg and Bella Davis contributed reporting.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.