SANTA FE, N.M. — A candidate forum involving two of the three hopefuls for Santa Fe’s next mayor got a little testy Tuesday night.
Patti Bushee twice took exception to something opponent Javier Gonzales had said during the forum held at the downtown library and put on by the League of Women’s Voters of Santa Fe County, compelling her to respond in order to “set the record straight.”
When asked their opinion on the Buckman Direct Diversion project, Gonzales noted that Bushee cast a vote against one measure involving the project in 2009 and that it took a tie-breaking vote by Mayor David Coss for it to pass.
Though Bushee had already responded to the question, she forfeited time allotted for her closing statement to “correct the record” on what she called a “ridiculous misrepresentation” of her vote.
Bushee said she has supported the project since day one and voted against it one time because she didn’t want to “stick it” to people who would have had to pay an 8.2 percent increase on their water bills for the next five years.
She said there were multiple votes involving the Buckman project and she had voted in favor of every other one.
“Read the minutes and correct your thinking,” she said tersely to Gonzales.
Gonzales was offered an opportunity to respond, and did so only by saying, “The record is clear.”
Earlier in the forum, after each had answered an audience-submitted question about what can be done about the lack of services on the south side of town, Bushee responded to another Gonzales statement.
Gonzales had chastised the city council, which Bushee has served on for the past 20 years, for a lack of foresight over annexation that brought an additional 13,000 people into the city on Jan. 1. He said the annexation created an imbalance of representation where people in District 3 were being shortchanged on the one person, one vote rule. He said one of his first orders of business if he were elected mayor would be to form a committee to address redistricting.
“This council has known for two years that property was going to be annexed and hasn’t done a thing to address it,” he said.
Though she had already responded to the question, Bushee took a few seconds before the next question was asked to point out that the council had addressed the issue when redistricting took place two years ago.
Bushee got a mixed reaction from the crowd of about 130 people when each candidate was asked to clarify what set them apart from the other candidates, including city councilor Bill Dimas, who has decided not to participate in any of the candidate forums.
Bushee admitted that she’s not the best politician in the mayoral race. “But I am the best public servant,” she said, adding that she has helped shape the community conversation over the past two decades and has a proven record of being an effective councilor by taking on important issues and getting measures passed.
She then brought up the controversy surrounding several political action committees supporting Gonzales, who has signed on with the city’s public campaign finance program, allowing candidates to tap $60,000 of taxpayer money provided they eschew financing from outside sources.
It came to light last week that three political action committees, or PACs, have so far spent more than $20,000 in support of Gonzales’ campaign.
“No political machine is behind me. I’m PAC-free,” Bushee said, drawing reaction from the crowd.
She later added, “I don’t work for special interests, I don’t work for corporate interests, I work for you.”
Gonzales, who has insisted that he’s running an independent campaign and doesn’t want or need the help of PACs, responded during his closing remarks.
“What she calls special interests, I call a teacher. What she calls a corporation, I call a garbage collector,” he said.
More than once Gonzales referred to the endorsements he’s received from seven current or former city councilors, as well as Mayor Coss, all of whom have served with Bushee on the council. He said the city needs a mayor with the capacity to collaborate with various entities, including surrounding pueblos, tribes and the state Legislature. He pointed to his experience as a county commissioner and as a member of the board of regents of New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico State universities.
“I have the experience to develop a collaborative environment,” he said.
Bushee emphasized the relevance of her experience, having served on the council for so many years. She also noted her experience in working for the state film office, the Office of the State Engineer and as a small business owner.
“I get calls weekly from people wanting to open small businesses about how to get through the red tape,” she said, adding that she would continue to do so as mayor. “You will not have to fight City Hall, City Hall will fight for you.”
While the two candidates differed on some issues, they agreed on several. They both said they were against mandatory minimum sentencing, in favor of increasing the living wage, and that the police department was in need of a change in leadership.
And while there were a few barbs delivered during the forum, there were some light moments, too.
When asked if they could speak Spanish, Gonzales began speaking it fluently but paused at one point, apparently searching for proper phrasing. He then pointed to his father in the audience and said in English, “Well, if you would have taught me how to speak it right,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
Bushee, whose fluent in the language having studied it in college and spending a year in Spain, also drew a laugh when she added that she also knows how to dance Flamenco.
The municipal election will be held March 4.