The first candidate forum for Santa Fe’s mayoral election will be held Monday, but one of the three hopefuls doesn’t plan to attend – or any of the other forums to be held in advance of the March 4 election.
Bill Dimas says that the forums more often than not are sponsored by special interest groups and partisan political organizations and include “planted” questions from the audience intended as softballs for favored candidate and to ambush others.
In another campaign development Friday, Javier Gonzales, one of Dimas’ opponents in the mayoral race, announced that a “surprise guest” will appear at a campaign event today.
While a silhouette of the mystery guest embedded in Gonzales’ email announcement appears to resemble incumbent Mayor David Coss, Gonzales would not confirm or deny whether Coss is indeed the mystery man. Coss, who is not seeking re-election after serving two four-year terms, has yet to publicly endorse a candidate in the mayoral race.
Gonzales’ announcement said Saturday’s “guest” will be with the Gonzales campaign “for the long haul.” Coss did not return a phone message on Friday.
Dimas, in a letter provided to the Journal on Friday, characterized his decision to forego head-to-head forums with Gonzales and City Councilor Patti Bushee – the third mayoral candidate – as a way to communicate more directly with voters.
“After much thought, I have made the decision not to participate in these special interest forums,” Dimas wrote. “I’m sure that I will be criticized for this position, but it’s my intention to speak directly to voters.”
The year’s first mayoral candidate forum will be held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, in the Southwest Conference Room. It’s sponsored by the Santa Fe Neighborhood Network.
Dimas says he plans to communicate his message to prospective voters by meeting with them one-on-one or in small groups at his campaign headquarters and by going door-to-door through neighborhoods. He also invites people who have questions about his stand on issues to call him directly.
“I’ll tell anyone where I stand on issues, what I plan to accomplish as Mayor and my vision for the future of Santa Fe,” he said.
Dimas’s opponents in the mayoral election both said they planned to attend as many of the candidate forums as they could.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but the opportunity for me to share my vision for Santa Fe and hear back directly from voters is invaluable,” Bushee said. “Forums also provide a record to see if campaign rhetoric matches up with (a candidate’s) actual record as an elected official.”
“Certainly it’s up to Bill to decide what he wants to do,” said Gonzales, a former county commissioner and former head of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. “But I do feel that if you want people to know your ideas, regardless of the environment, you make yourself available.”
Many forums ahead
Neither Bushee nor Gonzales knew exactly how many candidate forums there would be prior to the election, though Bushee estimated there were between eight and 10. Both said they frequently receive inquiries from various groups about attending such events.
ProgressNow New Mexico will be holding a mayoral debate on Jan. 13 at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, according to its executive director, Patrick Davis. Another mayoral candidate forum, sponsored by the Democratic Party of Santa Fe County, is scheduled for two days later at the Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road, which is also the address for Gonzales’ campaign headquarters.
As for Gonzales’s surprise guest at today’s campaign event at the same location, his campaign announcement states, “If you believe in equality … if you believe in preserving our environment … if you believe that all work is honorable and people deserve to make a living wage … I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
Those phrases could serve as a flattering introduction for Coss, who has advocated for same-sex marriage, immigrant rights, restoration of the Santa Fe River and increasing the city’s “living wage” during his tenure.
When asked if the current mayor would be his guest at this morning’s event, Gonzales wouldn’t say. “We all promised we wouldn’t say anything until then,” he said.
Dimas, in his letter, said the mayor’s race so far “has become very negative in nature with attacks and allegations,” referring to back-and-forth salvos between Gonzales and Bushee over various issues. Dimas said he will never “run a negative campaign against any of my opponents.”