SANTA FE, N.M. — Asked what he thought his legacy would be after serving two four-year terms as mayor of Santa Fe, David Coss, partly known for his humility, struggled with the answer.
“Oh, gosh,” he said, before saying a few words about his efforts to restore the Santa Fe River as a living river and increasing the living wage.
Then he interrupted himself.
“You know, I just tried to be a good mayor, and I’m proud to have been the mayor of such a progressive and historic city,” he said.
A former director of the state Environmental Protection Division, reviving the river is a project close to his heart. It’s a complicated issue he says is exacerbated by climate change. While much has been done to improve the situation, he says it’ll never be Boulder Creek.
“When you think ‘living river,’ you have to look at the whole watershed,” he said. “You can bring the water table up, you can slow runoff, but there’s a lot more work to do.”
As for the living wage, an increase to $10.66 an hour went into effect a week before Coss left office. Days later, the county followed suit by voting to match the wage outside the city limits.
It was a nice parting gift for Coss, who has made that issue a hallmark.
Asked how he would answer critics who argue the increase is too much and bad for businesses, Coss said that, adjusted for inflation, the $10.66 per hour is almost exactly what a teenage David Coss was making when he was working at Fred’s Texaco in 1970.
“So I would say, what is it we have against low-wage workers that we think they should be doing worse now in 2014 than we did in 1970?” he asked. “The second thing I would say is get over yourself. The living wage was first implemented almost 10 years ago. It’s been studied by the Bureau of Economic Research, and there’s been no change in unemployment, no change in business startups and no change in businesses closing … . Let’s move on, because there are bigger things we can do for our economy.”
How about the 4,000 jobs Coss promised to bring to Santa Fe when he ran for a second term?
Coss claimed that roughly 3,000 jobs were created, despite a sluggish economy, and there would have been more if not for Gov. Susana Martinez and Republicans at the national level purposely “messing up” the economy out of spite for President Obama.
“If Susana filled a thousand (state government) jobs that she’s left vacant for four years, it would have made a world of difference in the job prospects in Santa Fe,” he said, also blaming her for “destroying the film industry” until the Legislature fixed it.
Coss said the ingredients are still in place for Santa Fe’s job market to improve. He said Greer Garson and Santa Fe studios are now operating at full capacity, and pointed to other gains in the creative and hospitality industries. He said the new theater coming to the Railyard would help attract more businesses in that part of town, plans to develop broadband technology for affordable high-speed Internet access would enhance business development along the St. Michael’s Drive corridor and a solar energy project about to launch at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center presented a bright future.
“These are things that we worked on and got funded, and they’re going to be happening now,” he said.
Monday, Coss’ last day as mayor, was also the last day on the job for his longtime friend, now former Police Chief Ray Rael.
Coss said Rael did a superlative job restoring order at the police department and reducing property crimes during his three-year tenure. He complimented Rael for adopting the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program designed to help people addicted to narcotics, which on Tuesday took a hit when Gov. Martinez vetoed some of the funding the city was relying on. Coss also praised the support he got from Rael on issues relating to immigrant driver’s licenses and gun safety legislation.
Rael also implemented a five-day workweek for police officers that Coss said helped reduce property crime by increasing neighborhood patrols. The police union, however, is pushing to go back to a four-day workweek.
Asked if he was concerned that property crimes could increase if the union got its way, Coss said he had confidence that the new mayor, Javier Gonzales, whom Coss endorsed, wouldn’t let that happen.
“I’m sure he won’t do anything that will make it more risky for citizens in terms of public safety. Mayor Gonzales is going to explore that with the union, and I think he should,” he said.
Coss, 59, said he hasn’t ruled out pursuing public office again, perhaps as a state representative. He ran for that post in 2012, but lost the Democratic primary to now-Rep. Carl Trujillo.
For now, he’s ready to take a break from public service and relax with his wife, Carol Rose. They’re planning on taking a road trip next week to California in his much ballyhooed new, red Camero to visit friends and relatives. He also wants to take in some St. Louis Cardinals baseball games this summer and already has plans for a fishing trip this spring with his old pal, Ray Rael.
Certainly, he’ll miss working for the city.
“I’ll tell you what really hurt is having to turn in my parking pass,” he said.