What’s more important in Santa Fe’s mayoral election, the shattered Soldiers’ Monument or all the endorsements for one candidate or another?
My instinct is it’s the monument. There was only one obelisk on the Plaza, and it was destroyed by a mob that attacked without resistance from the police department.
Most voters are hard-pressed to remember any mayoral endorsements from as recently as last week.
But they haven’t forgotten the ugliness of last October. Criminals with red paint, chisels, hammers, ropes and chains defaced and then smashed the obelisk. The violence happened in light of day.
Mayor Alan Webber is leading in endorsements, but the obelisk is still his albatross to carry.
True, Webber caught his main challenger, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, overstating his role in the police surrender of the Plaza. Vigil Coppler said Webber gave the order to cede the historic area to criminals, making it easy for them to destroy the 152-year-old obelisk.
There is no evidence the mayor participated in his police command staff’s decision to let lawbreakers do as they pleased. For Vigil Coppler, it was her first blunder of the campaign — an unforced error that gave comfort to Webber.
Vigil Coppler had ample reason to criticize Webber, but she went further than the facts allowed. In doing so, she gave Webber an opening. He seized it to tell Vigil Coppler she didn’t know what she was talking about.
Vigil Coppler would have been wiser sticking to the known record. It can only help her win the election.
A day after criminals tore down the monument, Webber publicly traded softball questions with his police chief, Andrew Padilla, about how the violence on the Plaza came about. The mayor announced he agreed with the police pullout.
Webber said it was wiser for police to let criminals have their way than to risk injuries in a confrontation.
Webber’s rationalization in support of the police department standing down has never been persuasive.
Had police officers been a strong presence on the Plaza before and during Indigenous Peoples’ Day, they could have prevented any violence. Webber’s political problems also would be smaller and less emotionally charged.
The out-of-towners who arrived in hopes of causing mayhem would not have been smug had they faced a police force that was properly deployed and well-disciplined.
Police are sworn to protect and serve the public. They did neither when it came to the Soldiers’ Monument.
Instead, police permitted intruders with no interest in Santa Fe’s well-being to break laws and rip down historic public property. Webber says it was smart strategy.
That is the story Vigil Coppler needs to tell. There’s no need for any guesswork with a record that clear.
Vigil Coppler could have stressed another hard truth. The criminals were emboldened by support from members of Webber’s political base who wanted the monument removed, if not destroyed.
Webber intended to accommodate them. He tried but failed to remove the monument under cover of darkness months earlier. His reasoning was it might be a flashpoint for violence, ignoring that a capable, committed police department can keep the peace.
Because the police were nowhere to be found as the Plaza violence escalated, most of the criminals who destroyed the obelisk escaped.
Only eight were charged by District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, and she’s let seven of them slither into a secretive mediation program.
The other defendant would have received the same unwarranted leniency if only he’d had a lawyer.
Webber himself was no fan of the Soldiers’ Monument. He has oversimplified what it stood for, saying the obelisk was racist because an original panel praised soldiers who fought “savage” Indians.
Webber ignored that the monument, like history itself, was far more complicated than its critics admitted.
Most panels on the obelisk celebrated Union soldiers who stopped the Confederate Army’s advance in New Mexico.
Other cities yanked down Confederate statues. Webber wanted to remove an obelisk that in part paid tribute to soldiers who fought to preserve the union during its most tenuous time.
The mayoral campaign has five weeks to go. Issues abound. There’s the quality or lack thereof in basic city services. There’s an external audit of city finances that, without adequate explanation from Webber’s administration, has not been submitted to the state auditor. The delay threatens to extend into the start of early voting.
And there will be Indigenous Peoples Day — the one-year anniversary of mob rule on the Plaza. It’s still an open wound in a city about to elect a mayor.