Both candidates for Santa Fe City Council in District 2 say they want the people of the city’s eastside district to have more of a voice in city government.
“I want to assure people living on every single block – whether it’s on Canyon Road or Hopewell – that they have someone representing them who will be on City Council fighting for them,” says Michael J. Garcia, a Santa Fe native making his first bid for political office. “As a community organizer, I’ve seen it happen. Folks who are the ultimate deciders don’t necessarily listen to what people are telling them.”
Or don’t even let them in on the conversation, like when one New Mexico city built a teen center that was under-utilized because it was located in a place that wasn’t easily assessable to teens, said Garcia.
“Because of transportation barriers, teens had limited access and weren’t using it. Because they weren’t engaged in the process, resources weren’t put to good use,” he said.
Alysia Abbott is also a first-time candidate who worries about people’s voices not being heard. She’s concerned that, as a result, people have given up on the city government process.
“In District 2, 10% voted in the past election. That’s a terrible number,” she said. “People are not feeling their voices are being heard at an individual level. They’re saying, ‘why vote if my voice isn’t going to be heard?’ ”
Abbott, who operates Abboteck, Inc., her own archaeological services business, and has lived in the neighborhood near Harvey Cornell Rose Park for the past 20 years, says voter apathy due to the suppression of their voices and her interest in archaeology led her to decide to run for a seat on the City Council.
“I’m interested in cultural issues and to be engaged in Santa Fe is to be entrenched in culture,” said Abbott, who worked as a preservation planner for the city in the late 1990s and early 2000s under Mayor Larry Delgado’s administration. She has also provided her services to federal, state and tribal entities
Open council seat
Abbott and Garcia are running for the council seat being vacated by Peter Ives, who sponsored the controversial ordinance passed in June that lifted restrictions on accessory dwelling units, like guest houses and casitas. It was that debate that inspired Abbott to run for City Council.
While Mayor Alan Webber’s administration was pushing for passage of the ordinance as a means to increase the housing inventory in a town suffering from a severe housing shortage, many city residents were complaining about traffic, parking and density issues destroying the character of neighborhoods, especially in historic districts.
Abbott, who spoke out against the ordinance during public hearings on the matter, said the council made the wrong decision because it didn’t listen to people directly affected by the change.
“We can’t just say we’re going to find places to house people without considering the effect it would have on the neighborhoods,” she said. “People in the neighborhoods were trying to tell them, this is not a hypothetical. This is happening now.”
Asked how he would have voted on the issue, Garcia said he didn’t know, but he thought there should have been more discussion about it.
“I feel I, as a community member, would want to know more. I felt the community was not being engaged and it was a little rushed,” he said. “I would have assured that the community was fully engaged in the process and then I would have formed my opinion … . Even if it took multiple meetings to be assured their voice was being heard. That’s what brings faith to government.”
Garcia grew up in Santa Fe and now lives in the “triangle,” a part of town bordered by Cerrillos Road, St. Francis Drive and St. Michael’s drive, with his wife, whom he met in college and reunited with 10 years later, and two children. He says his decision to run for City Council grew out of his upbringing.
“Growing up, service to others and service to your community was a value that was instilled in me. My parents made sure that we were always giving back,” said Garcia, who has one younger brother.
After graduating from Santa Fe High, Garcia studied political science at the University of New Mexico with the intention of going on to law school and eventually going to work for a government agency. But then he served an internship in then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s office in Washington, D.C., and in the meantime applied to go to work for AmeriCorps VISTA, a national organization that works to alleviate poverty.
“Opportunities were starting to pop up for me in Washington,” he said, adding that he was faced with the decision of staying in Washington or coming back to New Mexico to work for AmeriCorps VISTA. “To be honest, it was an easy decision to make. I wanted to come back to the community that raised me.”
He never made it to law school. Garcia still works for AmeriCorps VISTA as a project manager and is based in his hometown.
Abbott describes her upbringing in Austin as “ordinary.” She graduated from the University of Texas, and it was graduate school at UNM that brought her to New Mexico. She met her husband, also an archeologist, on a project at Zuni Pueblo. They each got jobs in Santa Fe, and they have lived here ever since, now with a pair of dogs.
Aside from Councilor Chris Rivera, who is running unopposed in District 3, Abbott is the only City Council candidate not running a publicly financed campaign. Abbott decided to run only after the council approved the accessory dwelling unit amendment, giving her little time to even gather the required number of nominating signatures to get on the ballot, much less the required number of small donations needed to qualify for public financing.
According to the first set of campaign finance statements covering contributions and expenses through Sept. 25, Abbott had raised $875 for her campaign, nearly half of which came from her and her husband. She received a little more than $400 worth of in-kind contributions, which was used mostly to produce campaign material, like signs and bumper stickers. She had spent only $125 on campaign start-up related expenses by then.
As a publicly financed candidate, Garcia received $15,000 from the city to run his campaign. He had spent $3,374 through Sept. 25, most of it purchasing campaign materials, more than $1,000 on postage, and about $160 on materials and entry fee for the Santa Fe Fiesta parade.
Garcia acknowledges a DUI arrest, which was dismissed.
Both Abbott and Garcia are registered Democrats and have participated in most elections over the past 10 years, though neither has voted in a school board or Santa Fe Community College governing body elections during that time, according to voting records obtained from the County Clerk’s Office.
In addition, Abbott skipped voting in primary elections in 2010 and 2014, while Garcia didn’t vote in two special elections in the past 10 years – one in 2009 that proposed imposing an excise tax on high-end home sales in the city and the 2017 county-wide vote on increasing gross receipts taxes.