Meet the new boss.
It’s Alan Webber, the 69-year-old Southwest transplant and progressive entrepreneur who pitched Santa Fe voters his business-world know-how and won the mayor’s office Tuesday.
The co-founder of Fast Company magazine and a longtime business adviser, Webber emerged from Santa Fe’s first-ever ranked-choice election with 66 percent of the ballots in the fourth round of the instant runoff, according to results posted only minutes before midnight Tuesday by the City Clerk’s Office.
Webber, taking the stage before about 100 jubilant supporters who remained at his election night party through the hourslong delay for final results, said with a laugh: “Well, that was worth the wait, wasn’t it?”
Intense public interest in the five-way contest to succeed Mayor Javier Gonzales translated into high voter turnout: 20,604 of the 54,152 registered city voters cast a ballot, 38 percent. That edged the 37.6 percent turnout of last year’s contentious sugary-beverage tax special election, when 19,920 voters cast ballots.
Webber, in winning his first elected office, led throughout the ranked-choice voting process, a first for the state of New Mexico, and one that kept voters on the edge of their seats late into the night.
In remarks after his win was announced, Webber thanked supporters, commended his opponents and campaign staff, and laid out an inclusive, optimistic vision for his term.
“Too many of our neighbors feel left out,” he said. “They feel the city doesn’t listen to them. They feel the city doesn’t keep honest books and doesn’t give them the services they expect and deserve. That changes starting tonight.”
Referring to what he had called his broad base of supporters, he added, “I’m asking all of you to take this big tent and make it our next chapter, the chapter we write together as we turn the next page in Santa Fe’s long and storied history.”
The top fundraiser in the history of Santa Fe city elections, Webber collected more than 39 percent of the first-round vote, including early and absentee votes, according to results his campaign culled from polling places spread across the city.
City Councilor Ron Trujillo earned 24 percent of the first-round vote, followed by school board member Kate Noble, with 22.5 percent.
Trujillo lasted into the final round, after Noble was eliminated, and Webber flew ahead to the decisive 66 percent mark.
“Congratulations to Alan,” Trujillo said shortly before midnight. “You know what, I wish Alan all the best in his administration.”
Webber will become the first mayor to occupy the role full time, owing to a charter amendment approved by voters in 2014 which established enhanced mayoral authority over top administrative personnel. Webber, with the sole authority to fire the city manager, city attorney and city clerk, will sit at the head of a more streamlined chain of command that is expected to yield greater influence over the day-to-day of city operations.
Another part of that voter-approved 2014 charter amendment: The mayoral salary will more than triple, from $29,000 a year to $110,000.
The so-called strong-mayor role is one for which Webber described himself as ideally suited, selling himself as the seasoned chief executive who could steer a reinvigoration of a city he said had been bogged down by bureaucracy, was ready to capitalize on the green shoots of entrepreneurial growth and could begin to ease its affordable housing crisis.
Fond of describing his policy initiatives in corporate-world terms, he often said his administration would emphasize improved “customer service” across the board, to city residents in all parts of town, not least the increasingly populated far southwest side, where he campaigned extensively.
“Starting tonight we are going to create a city government that is the most user-friendly, service-oriented in the country,” Webber said.
In a notably civil campaign that was nonetheless dominated by pointed barbs against the status quo in local governance, Webber had an argument none of his rivals could match: I don’t come from City Hall.
Three of his rivals — Joseph Maestas, Peter Ives and Trujillo — were city councilors. The other, school board member Noble, spent nine years as a city employee, including a stint as the acting head of a department.
Webber established himself as the field’s heavyweight from the get-go. In total, he lapped the field, with more than $315,000 in contributions — some $192,000 more than the next-best fundraiser in the field, Noble, and well in excess of what the three other privately financed in the field raised combined.
On top of that, he boasted his “big tent” of supporters and notable endorsers, among whom were new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller; a former U.S. secretary of labor; a former state attorney general; a retired state district judge; several retired city councilors; Councilor-elect Roman “Tiger” Abeyta; former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick; and Gonzales, the outgoing mayor. Webber also earned the endorsements of various labor unions.
On the campaign trail, Webber floated ideas that included an Office of Neighborhood Associations to ease contentious relations between housing developers and neighborhoods, and some sort of partnership with Stanford’s d.school, a design and experiential-learning institute, at the soon-to-be-vacant Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus.
He also proposed thinking differently about the basics of municipal services, from a reshuffling of the city organization chart to local-business vouchers rather than parking tickets for meter violators with out-of-state license plates.
Perhaps his most consistent argument was that City Hall was in need of better leadership overall. He frequently cited an audit conducted last year that found city financial operations at uncomfortably high risks of fraud.
“The audit was shocking,” said Markeeta Brown, a 63-year-old retiree at the Webber election night event, referring to the external fraud review. “I just thought, when I looked at the field of candidates, Alan showed up as a great opportunity to really turn things around.”
Webber, who makes a home on Upper Canyon Road, moved to Santa Fe from the East Coast some 15 years ago. He and his wife of more than 40 years, Frances Diemoz, have two adult children.
Originally from St. Louis, he graduated from Amherst College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Although the Santa Fe mayor’s race is his first electoral win, he served as adviser and speechwriter to officeholders in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan and Oregon. He also was editorial director of Harvard Business Review before, in the 1990s, co-founding Fast Company, a business monthly he and investors later sold for $300 million.
“He’s a proven leader,” said Valerie Espinoza, a member of the Public Regulation Commission who was one of Webber’s earliest endorsers. “He’s a communicator. He’s a guy you can trust to get things done.”
Staff reporters Robert Nott and Sarah Halasz Graham contributed to this report.
Contact Tripp Stelnicki at 505-428-7626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.