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Early voting, PAC spending up as Santa Fe voters head to the polls

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Signs urge support for the three mayoral candidates in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Signs urge support for the three mayoral candidates in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — As a hotly contested mayoral contest headed toward the finish line, the City Clerk’s office reported Monday that more than twice as many Santa Feans voted early for today’s (Tuesday’s) municipal election than when the mayor’s job was most recently on the ballot four years ago.

Also, spending by political action committees and other groups, already a big issue in the mayor’s race, increased again as the final pre-election campaign finance reports were filed Monday.

Two political action committees and a national AFL-CIO affiliate reported spending $57,700 through Sunday in support of former state Democratic Party chairman Javier Gonzales’ mayoral candidacy.

That’s nearly as much as the $60,000 in taxpayer dollars that Gonzales and the other two candidates, City Councilors Patti Bushee and Bill Dimas, each received for their campaigns under Santa Fe’s public campaign financing system.

According to the city clerk’s office, 2,309 people voted early this year as compared to 1,116 in 2010 when Mayor David Coss, not seeking re-election this year, won a second four-year term.

Absentee voting was also up, though to a lesser degree. This year, 921 people cast absentee votes, while the number was 793 in 2010.

“I think the candidates were getting word out to vote early,” City Clerk Yolanda Vigil said.

The pre-election day vote totals also may have something to do with the intensity of the mayoral campaign featuring three well-known candidates. It appears to be a close race, though there’s been no independent polling to provide an unbiased check on voters’ views.

Bushee, a landscape business owner who has served on the council for 20 years and lost a mayoral bid in 2002, and Gonzales, vice president of a national commercial real estate firm and also a former county commissioner, have been competing for support among Santa Fe’s large percentage of progressive voters.

One contested point, still the subject of fliers and emails over the weekend and Monday, concerns which candidate is most committed to the city’s $10.66 an hour minimum wage.

Dimas, a former magistrate judge and police officer who has staked out a position as the most conservative candidate in the field, has been a lone wolf during the campaign, opting out of all public candidate forums.

He also has separated himself from the others by saying he’s willing to consider a cap on the minimum wage and calling for a back-to-the-basics approach emphasizing city services. He criticizes the City Council’s penchant for taking positions on topics like gay marriage.

Perhaps the most high-profile issue has been the participation of outside groups which have spent big to help Gonzales — although he’s said repeatedly he didn’t ask for or want their help.

PAC spending

The 2014 campaign is the first Santa Fe mayor’s race taking place under the city’s public campaign financing system. In return for $60,000 in public funds distributed to each qualifying candidate, the candidates agreed to forgo accepting any private contributions.

However, two pro-Gonzales political action committees and Working America, an AFL-CIO afflilate based in Washington, D.C., have poured money into the race.

Gonzales’ opponents and the Common Cause good government group have criticized the PAC spending as defeating the purpose of public campaign financing, intended to “level the playing field” and keep big money out of local races.

Gonzales, while saying he had nothing to do with the PAC support, has defended their right to participate in the election. There is no legal prohibition on spending by outside groups like PACs.

As of Monday, Santa Fe Working Families PAC — with virtually all of its money from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and whose treasurer is an Albuquerque political consultant — reported spending $26,664 on behalf of Gonzales through Sunday, while Progressive Santa Fe PAC has spent an additional $3,257.

Working America, which filed its report late Monday night — reportedly missing the 5 p.m. deadline because of problems caused by storms in Washington — said it had spent $27,810 to support Gonzales.

Almost all of the Working America money went to pay campaign workers from Albuquerque and for van-pooling them to Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Working Families attacked Bushee leading up to Election Day, using a barrage of mailers to accuse her of flip-flopping on labor issues. Bushee responded that her record had been distorted.

Last-minute dispute

Voters also will decide four City Council races today.

On Monday, District 2 candidate Rad Acton objected to an attack mailer over the weekend by opponent Mary Bonney, alleging Acton’s participation in neighborhood opposition to plans for expansion of Atalaya Elementary School had cost the school district $1 millionin extra costs. Acton emailed that he co-chaired a task force on the project that was a collaborative process and that resulting changes were “a win-win” and cost neutral. He was backed up by School Board member Steven Carrillo. A Journal report from September quotes a district official as saying the changes did not add to the costs of the $13.5 million project.

There are also nine amendments to the city charter on the ballot. Those include a “strong mayor” proposal to make the job full time, provide a salary of $74,000 and give the mayor more power; a separate measure to allow the mayor to vote on all matters before the City Council, not just to break a tie; and establish an independent audit commission.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today.

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