Following several conversations with a senior official in the Governor’s Office, the mayor of Chama on Wednesday canceled an annual fireworks event that typically draws thousands.
The New Mexican reported Wednesday the village of Chama, near the Colorado border, had planned to hold a Fourth of July fireworks event that in the past drew crowds of 8,000 people from across the state and country.
But following pointed conversations with Victor Reyes, legislative director for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Chama Mayor Bill Elbrock canceled the event.
“It was a tough decision for me to make in light of how much the community enjoys it and the businesses that profit from it, from the people being in town,” said Elbrock, a Democrat, during a phone call Wednesday. “I felt that this was probably the best thing to do in light of the current situation with COVID.”
Santa Fe also canceled its annual fireworks show on its own. Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, meanwhile, are still planning to go ahead with fireworks displays.
Elbrock said he asked the Governor’s Office why Albuquerque should be able to hold the city’s fireworks show July Fourth but not Chama. He said he thought if Albuquerque could do it safely, so could the small village.
“But they didn’t seem to think it was so … so I went ahead and put out that order canceling the fireworks,” Elbrock said.
An order Elbrock signed Wednesday said he canceled the show out of “great concern” over the pandemic “and the inability to effectively enforce COVID-19 safe practices as issued by the state of New Mexico.”
A day earlier, Elbrock said he was considering whether to go forward with the show after conversations with Reyes. The mayor initially denied having spoken with the Governor’s Office about the issue.
The mayor on Tuesday expressed skepticism the event would lead to significantly more COVID-19 cases, as diagnoses are already on the rise in Rio Arriba County. Elbrock said tourists are still coming to Chama every day.
The event had been listed on the New Mexico Tourism Department’s website until Tuesday evening, but it appeared to have been removed as of Wednesday.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office, said Tuesday the show would be “an unacceptable health risk” and potentially “a flagrant violation of the public health order.”
Sackett said in an email Wednesday, “I am very glad to hear that the Mayor now understands that the event would have put the health and safety of his community at risk.”
She declined to say whether any additional conversations with Reyes or other senior staff in the Governor’s Office persuaded Elbrock to change his mind.
Despite describing Lujan Grisham as a “friend,” Elbrock seems to have a history of challenging the Governor’s Office over COVID-19 orders.
While Elbrock did not flagrantly disobey public health orders, as Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks did when the fellow small-town mayor ordered city employees to go back to work despite the ongoing pandemic, Elbrock signed a letter with 18 other mayors from across the state, including Hicks, challenging imposed business restrictions.
Hicks’ defiance spurred a New Mexico Supreme Court order mandating he comply with ongoing state public health orders and a hefty $60,000 fine for a pawn and gun shop that also rebelled against the public health orders by reopening.
“We must open up our state for business, as carefully as necessary but as quickly as possible,” the mayors’ letter said. “Lives depend on it.”