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New queries, old themes at Santa Fe forum

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SANTA FE – A different kind of candidate debate was held in the City Different on Thursday night, this one with beer, food catered by a vegetarian restaurant and music provided by a deejay and a live band.

No, the malt, munchies and melodies weren’t offered during the actual discussion. But a crowd of roughly 200 people was treated to the amenities before and after the forum, which lasted less than an hour.

The event, billed as PolitiMIX, was put on by MIX Santa Fe, a networking group made up of individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations.

Santa Fe mayoral candidates Patti Bushee and Javier Gonzales fielded questions presented by KVSF radio talk show host Julia Goldberg during the forum held at the Greer Garson Theatre on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

A third candidate, Bill Dimas, has opted out of all candidate forums leading up to the March 4 election.

The candidates weren’t subjected to the usual types of questions they’ve heard before at other forums, either. The questions were drawn from a list of survey questions that had been asked at other MIX Santa Fe events over the last two years. Among them were, “What’s your favorite kind of music?” “What was the last nonprofit group you donated either time or money to?” and an open-ended question that closed the debate, “What’s the freakin’ problem?”

Bushee answered the final question by saying the problem was that the community has aged and the city needs to do more to attract younger residents.

“We have to make sure we have jobs and things that appeal to young people to keep them in the community,” she said.

Gonzales said the problem was missed opportunities.

“We need people who have the courage to confront conflicts,” he said. “We have to bring people to the table and can’t miss opportunities to bring the community together.”

The format did provide the candidates an opportunity to deliver the messages they’ve carried throughout the campaign.

Gonzales, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, talked about creating an environment of “entrepreneurial vitality” in which the city can assist businesses by creating access to resources and marketing. He said Santa Fe could become the leader in the independent film industry, and he talked about creating a youth service corps where young people could develop skills while contributing to the community.

Bushee talked about building Santa Fe’s economy “one business at a time,” creating new art spaces and developing business on the south side of town. She also spoke about expanding on some of the efforts she’s led during her 20 years on the City Council, including connecting the city through public transportation and bicycle routes. She also said she’d continue to work to help low-income families, noting that, despite Santa Fe’s reputation as a rich city, 53 percent of its population lives below the poverty line.

At the end of the debate, Bushee invited Gonzales to have a beer with her out in the lobby, and he accepted.

The candidates also mingled with supporters and continued to answer questions from those still undecided about who would win their vote.

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