Lee Garcia looks on as City Councilor Roman ‘Tiger’ Abeyta speaks during a candidate forum in October. Garcia ousted Abeyta in south-side District 3 in Tuesday’s election.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber cruised to another four years in the city’s top job Tuesday night, but he will have to navigate his second term without one of his strongest allies: City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta.

Abeyta was expected by many to be a shoo-in for a second term in his south-side District 3 seat but suffered a loss to Planning Commissioner Lee Garcia.

In an interview Wednesday evening, Abeyta said he was not surprised to see Garcia win.

“Lee Garcia was a great opponent,” he said. “He is a very active member of the community. He is on our Planning Commission. He does really good work at his tire shop. Either way, his district is going to get a good councilor.”

Webber lauded Abeyta’s work on the council, noting his role as chairman of the Finance Committee.

“He often brought new ideas to the committee and the governing body about ways to use our finances, and bonds we should think about floating, and that expertise is something that is invaluable,” Webber said.

He described Abeyta as a “mover for the south side and an advocate for all the projects that were committed to take place on the south side.”

Abeyta, who had campaigned alongside Webber before he was elected to his council seat in 2018, has been pivotal in securing funds for the long-planned Southside Teen Center that broke ground last month.

Webber said he also pushed for the city to bring more services to the south side, such as pothole mitigation and aid for at-risk teens.

“I think until we learn what Mr. Garcia has as his priorities,” the mayor said, “it feels like we really lost a strong partner in investing in the people and the resources that the south really needs.”

As recently as two weeks ago, Abeyta, who works as the chief financial officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Fe/Del Norte, said he intended to build on his 3 1/2 years in office, turning his focus to construction of a new south-side senior center, completion of SWAN Park and a few road realignment projects.

He also cited the start of Tierra Contenta’s Phase 3A, which will bring between 1,175 and 1,500 homes to District 3.

Fellow District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera, who in the past has touted Abeyta’s connections with local and state-level officials as a boon to the council, said it’s now up to him and Garcia to keep the momentum building.

“That will be part of [Abeyta’s] legacy as we continue,” Rivera said.

Garcia said in an interview Wednesday he’s also no slouch when it comes to making connections — and residents shouldn’t discount the ties he has built as a planning commissioner and a small-business owner.

He comes from a well-known Santa Fe family that owns Garcia Tires. Garcia, 45, runs one of the tire shops in his district, where Abeyta said he takes his vehicle.

Garcia said he was open to collaborating with Abeyta, Rivera, other members of the City Council and Webber over the next couple of months, as he prepares to take office.

He hasn’t yet spoken with the mayor, he said, “but I believe we have to work cohesively to protect and preserve our beloved history. We have a rich history and beautiful traditions.”

He would like to chat with the mayor about affordable housing, public safety, homelessness, workforce development and economic diversification, Garcia said.

Abeyta predicted Garcia would work well with Webber.

“One of the reasons I support [Webber] so much is he is dedicated to the south side, no matter who is the councilor here,” he said.

District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, who serves on the Finance Committee with Abeyta, said he was leaving some “big shoes to fill.”

“The south side is an area of our community that we need to focus attention on, and it is a big part of the equity work that we are doing,” she said. “Councilor Abeyta was a strong advocate of that area, and Councilor Rivera continues to be. I imagine Councilor Lee Garcia will step into the shoes.”

Unseating an incumbent is usually an uphill task, but Danny Maki, Abeyta’s campaign manager, said Tuesday’s election “was a perfect storm” for defeat.

He cited “the makeup of the district” and low voter turnout in nearly every election. “That’s where it showed that every vote counts,” he said.

“In the end, actually, democracy always wins, and there was a decision that was made,” Maki said.

Only about 1,760 District 3 residents voted in the election, which saw a total of about 18,000 city residents cast ballots.

Rivera said the issue has left every District 3 candidate scratching their head.

“I don’t know how to improve it,” Rivera said. “I don’t know if people are just complacent or if they aren’t connected in any way to what is going on.”

The mayor’s race also may have affected Abeyta’s race, Webber said.

He said mayoral candidate JoAnne Vigil Coppler campaigned heavily in District 3, and her views are more in line with Garcia’s, which could have been a factor at the polls.

Garcia said he believes south-side residents showed they wanted change.

“We worked a campaign with a wide net and listened,” Garcia said. “I think that really was the bottom line.”

Abeyta doesn’t have plans to seek another office any time soon, he said. Instead, he will focus on the kids and families at the Boys & Girls Clubs.

But Webber doesn’t expect him to remain out of the limelight for long.

“I promise you we are not going to let Councilor Abeyta disappear,” the mayor said. “He may not be on the City Council, but he is not out of commission yet.”

(14) comments

Jim Montevallo

"Big shoes to fill" says Carol? Ho ho, that is rich! Does this mean Lee will need to speak at council meetings? Not disappear for long stretches? Have an opinion once a year other than what the mayor wants?

Hope it doesn't mean he has to fill City Hall with family members unqualified for the job let alone at an exorbitant salary.

There are a lot of shoes we don't want filled, especially with so many foots in mouths.

For any councilor who rubber stamps this mayor, expect a lot more vigorous contention in 2023 than was shown this time. Roman was merely the first.

We've learned. A lot.


Lloyd Dobber

It's easy to blame his association to Webber, but Webber actually won. Roman does many things extremely well for certain. He also started losing touch and becoming vain. He ignored his constituents concerns and acted pompous. He went after fire fighters regularly his overall demeanor in meetings was arrogant and abrasive.

There are many things to take from this situation, the least of which would be working with the current mayor to make the city better.

Paul Campos

By far, Roman Abeyta was the best candidate for city council. He is smart, knowledge and skilled in getting things done. Roman started a lot of big projects and i hope for the sake of the South side that they are completed. Garcia has a lot to learn!

Joe Brownrigg

District 3 has always been at the bottom of the heap when it comes to voting. People here, for many reasons, just don't vote.

Rather than continue the divisive banging of Webber, what would be the result if we (1) started voting and (2) focused on specific issues...speaking to them and working for them.

Thomas Gonzales

Abeyta will probably be hired back on Webber's staff.

Mark Ortiz

Or maybe Webber will create a Batman like spot light but with a Tiger when he needs help pulling his head out....

Tiffany Thomas

and this wins the internet today! [batman][lol]

MC Gurule

As Webber stated “Abeyta is a mover for the south side and an advocate for all the projects that were committed to take place on the south side.” What are the all the projects? Rivera or Abeyta have never held a forum with their district to discuss any of the “projects” they are working on. As a south side resident, it is essential that our District 3 Councilors communicate with their District and keep us informed as to what is happening as well as listen to our issues and needs. You would be surprised how many District 3 residents would like to be involved in advocating for the south side. The south side DOES need a lot of attention since this is where most of the new housing and businesses are going up.

Angel Ortiz

Congratulations to Mr. Garcia. Hopefully he can bring about change to the City Council and our community

Henry R.

How very sad, that only 1760 of 18000 registered voters took the time to vote. It’s quite disheartening that there are so many uninformed and or unconcerned citizens. I thank Abeyta for all the hard, often thankless work that did for his district. I wish Garcia success and hope that he can do well for the Southside of Santa Fe.

Mark Ortiz

Henry, this has been the rot of our society for decades now. "Until the 1960s, it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades, and lost further ground to “core subjects” under the NCLB-era standardized testing regime."

Here's a great article , https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/forgotten-purpose-civics-education-public-schools

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]Mark well stated we all have a civic responsibility to be engaged.

Stefanie Beninato

18,000 voters represented 30 percent of the eligible voters. What you need to see is how many registered voters are in Dist 3 above the 1760 people who voted.

Richard Reinders

Hopefully Garcia will be a voice for the people and not one of Webbers minions, and also I hope he brings hope for the culture and traditions that made Santa Fe what it is.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.