Will the 2020 election ever be over?
At the time of this writing, at least a few Republicans were planning to object to Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race when Congress is scheduled to accept the electoral college results this coming Wednesday.
President Donald Trump, the election loser who continues to proclaim himself the winner despite all evidence and court rulings to the contrary, is predicting something “wild” in the streets of Washington on the same day. There’s also talk of the flailing Trump managing to get a special counsel installed to investigate his unsupported election fraud claims, even as Biden’s presidential term gets underway.
So, the ghosts of 2020 will linger for at least a little while longer. But here in Santa Fe, we can’t let ourselves get too distracted by any ongoing craziness in our national politics. Hey, as of Jan. 1, we’re in a fresh, new election year.
Under the most recent election scheme approved by the Legislature, municipal elections previously scheduled for March 2022 will now be held in November 2021. On the ballot in Santa Fe will be the mayor’s race and contests for four City Council seats. The first city elections in November of odd-numbered years took place in 2019, but this year’s will be the first to include a Santa Fe mayoral race.
The incumbents whose seats are on the 2021 ballot are Mayor Alan Webber and, for the council, District 1’s Signe Lindell, District 2’s Carol Romero-Wirth, District 3’s Roman “Tiger” Abeyta and District 4’s Joanne Vigil Coppler.
Santa Fe’s politics are shifting these days, and how this plays out in this year’s municipal election will be interesting to watch. One thing that won’t change is that just about every candidate will identify as a progressive. But what’s progressive or liberal these days, at least on local issues, is up for debate more than it has been for a long time.
Throughout the 1990s and well into the 21st century, the progressive stance in Santa Fe was defined largely by questioning development projects, in particular how new development might affect existing neighborhoods or Santa Fe’s historic character. The city’s progressive establishment was skeptical of many kinds of commercial projects and especially high-density residential development in the vicinity of single-family neighborhoods.
A high-end assisted-living facility facing a major thoroughfare was considered obscenely out of place with an adjacent affluent neighborhood and was shunted off to the south. A large, but impressively designed, apartment complex on Agua Fria was rejected as overbuilding and in conflict with the old road’s semi-rural character.
But now, over just the past few years, development of apartments and other more dense housing options – such as casitas and guesthouses on single-family lots – has become a major priority of city government in a bid to serve the progressive goal of creating more affordable housing, a critical need in Santa Fe. Yesterday’s anti-development progressives have been criticized as elitist “neighborhood restrictionists.” The old guard, meanwhile, sees City Hall as selling out to development interests, overcrowding the city and ruining Santa Fe’s character.
Will 2020 candidates for City Hall seats come down definitively on one side or the other of this debate? Or will they try to walk a middle ground and say, more or less, that every development plan needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis?
A side issue here is whether some Santa Fe neighborhoods are considered more special than others when it comes to development. In other words, does city government unfairly push more dense development to the South Side or Midtown because the more affluent areas simply won’t stand for it?
The hot-button issue of the year will likely be the fight over historic monuments in Santa Fe, which came to a head when protesters pulled down the Soldiers Monument obelisk on the Plaza on Indigenous Peoples Day in October. Advocates for traditional Santa Fe culture and others are upset that the police pulled back and let the vandalism take place, and that Webber had already had a statue of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas removed from Cathedral Park. He also had advocated for removal of the obelisk, which featured a panel celebrating soldiers who fought “savage” Indians, although the “savage” part had been chiseled out by a vandal decades ago. Plans for a formal community dialogue on race and history are in the works, but it’s unlikely that these difficult issues will be resolved before November’s election, meaning candidates will be expected to have something intelligent to say about a way forward.
A big question is whether anyone can seriously challenge Webber, who raised more than $300,000 for his campaign in 2018. He surely has retained much of the support that led him to an easy victory back then. But there’s disgruntlement in some quarters about his handling of the monuments controversy and, more broadly, whether he connects with old-school Santa Fe; a lost-evidence scandal in the police department on his watch; and his addition of some high-paid positions at City Hall. Whether any of that translates to a groundswell of support for one of his critics or anyone else remains to be seen.
The main thing to hope for is that there will be options for voters. Too often in local elections, there’s a shortage of candidates willing to take on the responsibility, hassles and public scrutiny that comes with running for and serving in public office.
So, make a New Year’s resolution to take a break from the national political wars and start paying attention to local politics. There’s more than enough going on in Santa Fe’s public life to keep you interested and engaged as the 2021 elections approach.