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Zozobra Chief Quits

SANTA FE, N.M. — Ray Valdez, who has overseen the burning of Old Man Gloom for the past 22 years, has stepped down from his position after a host of complaints burst from the ashes of this month’s event.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, which puts on the annual event as its major fundraiser, accepted his resignation in a board meeting on Saturday, according to Ray Sandoval, who will take over Valdez’s duties. The position is not paid.

A Rio Rancho attorney who has been part of the Zozobra burning since childhood – he has the title of pyrotechnician for the event – Sandoval said Tuesday he will move to Santa Fe soon, where he plans to meet with city officials and members of the community, who have raised concerns about the traditional burning of Zozobra.

The new same-day ticket price of $20 drew complaints this year, as well as the fact that strollers were not allowed on the grounds. There also are critics who say the pre-burning ritual of dance and fireworks has become too long and elaborate and too much non-traditional music is used.

In short, many people said they no longer felt it was a community event directed toward local residents, but a production put on for visitors.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said last week that the event needs “less pageantry, more family.” His comments echoed an online petition, which had 1,057 signatures as of Tuesday and urges: “Make Zozobra a family and community event again!”

“We want to tell the public we heard their concerns and want to make the event the best it possibly can be,” Sandoval said Tuesday.

When contacted by phone, Valdez first declined to comment, but then said that he has been “slandered, insulted and defamed” and that “I’m very proud of having produced Will Shuster’s Zozobra for the last 22 years.”

Now 47, Valdez said he started overseeing the burning of Zozobra in 1990, but, when asked if he would miss it, he said, “Not really.”

Heather Burke, a Santa Fe native who started the petition on signon.org, wrote: “Zozobra used to be a fun family event for many people here in Santa Fe. Between skyrocketing ticket prices and the loss or distortion of most of the traditions associated with the event, it has become a mockery of all of the things we used to love about it. We want this to be an event that our children can enjoy as much as we did growing up!”

Sandoval said he plans to meet with her, as well as Meow Wolf, a Santa Fe arts organization that has suggested some ideas for revising the ceremony. “We want to do that fairly quickly, while the event is fresh in everyone’s mind,” he said.

The dissatisfaction with the Zozobra burning this year appeared to be aggravated by a long wind delay that kept the giant puppet from going up in flames until after 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 6. Valdez and Sandoval said the high winds also affected the pacing of the ritual, as Sandoval had to make on-the-spot calls about when to set off fireworks.

Tuesday, Sandoval also explained that the post overseeing the event has been restructured. While Valdez was executive producer, Sandoval said he will be a committee chair who will oversee various departments of Kiwanis members putting on the event, such as pyrotechnics, logistics and more.

Final numbers aren’t in yet on revenues raised from this year’s event or attendance, Sandoval said. Last week, Valdez said 13,500 to 14,000 tickets were sold this year.

Money from the event goes to The Eliminate Project, an international project to eliminate maternal and prenatal tetanus, as well as to local scholarships and grants to non-profits, Sandoval said.

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