Fiesta de Santa Fe comes next weekend. School is in session. It’s starting feel like fall.
And this year, for the first time for Santa Fe, that means local elections are approaching.
Under a state election reform measure, Santa Fe’s mayoral and city council races, as well as campaigns for school board seats, have been moved from March in even-numbered years to November in odd-numbered years. Election day 2021 is Nov. 2. Early voting is about six weeks away, starting on Oct. 15.
Except for a bit of low-level jousting in the mayor’s race that features incumbent Alan Webber, City Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler and former Republican congressional candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson, public electioneering so far has been minimal.
One Santa Fe City Council race has already, in effect, been decided. District 2 incumbent Carol Romero-Wirth has no opponent.
In the other council races, the candidates, as of late last week, are:
• In District 1: Two-term incumbent Signe Lindell; Joe Hoback, former president of the Land of Enchantment Family Credit Union; and Brian Patrick Gutierrez, owner of Mr. G’s Pro Tow, who serves on the city Planning Commission.
• In District 3: Incumbent Roman “Tiger” Abeyta and challenger Lee A. Garcia, also on the Planning Commission and whose family runs Garcia Tires.
• In District 4, where Vigil Coppler has stepped down to run for mayor: Amanda Camille Chavez, former Cesar Chavez Elementary School principal and now special education director at Santa Fe Public Schools; and state Department of Health employee Rebecca A. Romero.
It’s time for the candidates to start talking and for voters to start listening. Some of the candidates have websites or Facebook pages up for public perusal.
Santa Feans may be distracted by the plethora of national and world issues that crowd news spaces: withdrawal from Afghanistan; how Texas’ anti-abortion law will play out nationally; horrible weather-related disasters in Louisiana and California; and the continuing, tough-to-shake COVID-19 pandemic.
But, of course, there’s also plenty to talk about when it comes to local political issues.
Front and center may be Santa Fe’s explosion of apartment building that has taken place under Webber. Is it the way to go to fill a chronic need for what’s usually called “workforce” housing in Santa Fe? (The Journal North generally supports the idea, by the way). Or will all the new rental units exceed the capacities of Santa Fe’s water and traffic systems, force unwanted residential density into some neighborhoods and change the city’s character for the worse? Candidates need to say whether they believe old Santa Fe should continue, limit or stop the building boom.
The big cultural issue in play is, of course, how Santa Fe handles its historic monuments and the ethnic divisions they can inspire, a problem still simmering since protesters pulled down the Plaza’s Soldiers Monument obelisk during protests on Indigenous Peoples Day 2020. Will resentment in some quarters over the obelisk demolition on Webber’s watch, after police officers stepped aside to avoid violence, significantly hurt the mayoral incumbent?
Candidates also need to talk about what to do with the city-owned Midtown Campus and delays in its redevelopment, attacking homelessness and related issues, including neighborhood impact and the ever-present, mundane, but nagging, issues of street maintenance and weed control. Public safety, while not in the crisis mode that Albuquerque’s murder rate has generated there, is always an important topic in local politics.
Even face masks to slow spread of the coronavirus, generally not much of an issue in Santa Fe, where masking is well accepted, might come up if things get down and dirty. Vigil Coppler was one of two councilors to vote in June 2020 against requiring masks in public settings, saying the mandate was unenforceable. Johnson was cited the following month while campaigning for Congress on the Plaza without a mask and later pleaded no contest to the charge. Webber supported the mask mandate.
One other question concerns whether Santa Fe’s ranked-choice voting will be much of a factor in the city races with more than two candidates, including the mayoral contest. If Webber fails to get a majority vote in the first round, could Santa Fe’s conservative minority have a major impact if, say, Johnson’s voters went en masse against the liberal incumbent with their second-choice votes?
We all need to start paying attention and getting to know the candidates (who, by the way, deserve credit for putting themselves out there for scrutiny and giving voters choices).
The election is coming fast. Get ready for it as best you can.