Santa Fe’s municipal election isn’t until November 2021, but it’s not too early for a race to break out.

City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler isn’t shy about her ambition to be mayor.

“I am encouraged and giving the race great consideration,” she said over the weekend.

Vigil Coppler’s recent clashes with Mayor Alan Webber foreshadowed her public acknowledgement that she might be after his job.

Webber proposes adding three departments to city government, a change he says would improve efficiency.

Vigil Coppler and two other councilors are skeptical. She has been the most outspoken, questioning everything from how Webber conceived his idea to the wisdom of implementing a significant change during a pandemic.

Vigil Coppler and the other councilors raised enough questions to stall Webber’s proposal for at least two weeks.

Few expected the delay, but it was a win for the public. At least Webber will have to go through the hollow exercise of providing a financial analysis of his proposal. After that, his reliable backers on the eight-member City Council will close ranks and give him what he wants.

It’s the sort of rigged deck that has frustrated Vigil Coppler and heightened her interest in running for mayor.

Beating Webber wouldn’t be easy. If he seeks reelection, any challenger would have to raise a barrel of money to oust him.

Webber collected more than $315,000 for the mayoral election in March 2018, a record total that helped him defeat four opponents.

Changes in state and city law have moved the next election up a few months. That leaves less time for a challenger to become competitive financially.

Mayoral candidates can choose to run a publicly financed campaign. But that system caps a candidate’s funding at $120,000, a pittance compared to the amount Webber would raise privately.

Anyone serious about knocking out Webber would have to go the private route.

With money in the bank, a well-informed challenger such as Vigil Coppler would have a chance to unseat him.

Webber ran as an outsider in 2018, a key component in his victory. He was the only one of the five mayoral candidates who had not worked for the city government or served as a city councilor.

Webber made hay over City Hall’s inefficiencies and scandals, including misspending part of a $30.3 million bond issue that was supposed to be used for parks and trails.

It won’t be so easy for Webber in a reelection campaign. He has a record of his own now, and it works against him.

The police department has lost evidence in two high-profile felony cases, a murder and the rape of a child. Webber blamed a retired police sergeant for the failure in the rape case, absolving himself and his police chief of responsibility.

Scapegoating is easy, but it doesn’t inspire confidence in a politician.

Webber also initially defended a city plan to quietly hand raises of 10 percent or 15 percent to three dozen city employees chosen for a special detail. Vigil Coppler, then a rookie on the City Council, exposed the deal as a violation of city rules.

Enlightened by Vigil Coppler, Webber backtracked. He canceled the raises and forced out his city manager, who had known about the special pay increases before Webber was elected.

Discord over Webber’s plan to add three departments to the government is the latest controversy.

Vigil Coppler and fellow City Councilors Renee Villarreal and Michael Garcia have been smart to question the mayor’s plan. It carries inherent risks for city residents.

A government that gets bigger — more layers and more bosses — is usually less responsive.

Plus, Santa Fe’s population is stagnant, and the economy is in decline because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. These factors make Webber’s rush to increase the number of city departments all the more objectionable.

Webber would be most vulnerable in a one-on-one race. The more candidates who jump in, the safer he would be. A large number of challengers would only siphon votes from one another.

Throughout spring and summer, some in Santa Fe have claimed the city’s ranked-choice voting system carried Webber to victory last time. This is a myth.

Webber would have swept to victory in the old system of a plurality to elect the mayor. He gained no advantage from the crazy ranked choice method, which he also dominated.

Ranked choice voting made the mayoral candidates homogeneous. Most were afraid to criticize a rival for fear of losing second- or third-place votes in the ranking system.

That wouldn’t be the case in a showdown between Vigil Coppler and Webber.

They don’t share much common ground. The campaign trail might become the exception.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(24) comments

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Milan was Webber's biggest cheerleader encouraging him to run. Webber waived around the McHard report like a flag until he was in office...then has done nothing about the issues! He made his administration as top heavy as a state government yet accomplished nothing. How's that shiny penny Milan? Will you carry his flag again in the next election or have you come to see him as the devisive racist he truly is?

Mark Ortiz

I'm just as concerned if not more with his classism. I ran some #'s from his campaign finance statement from last mayoral race. Individual donations. Max donations of $2,500; 37 total, 14-out of state, 2-Abq, 1-Galisteo, 20 from the east side of Santa Fe, ZERO from dist. 3 and 4. Donations from $1000 to max, 34 total. 22 from east Santa Fe, 12 out of state. ZERO from dist. 3 & 4. And maybe to your point Amber, of these 71 donations totaling over $145K, not one Latinx. Look, I don't necessary feel by default a "generational native" will do better by Santa Fe. I have some issues with faux nativism weather it's Trump's USA or Santa Fe's Conquistador descendants, of which I am one, but I'm also the great great grandson of a Buffalo Soldier and Pueblo Indian. Hey, some feel Abeyta is the true puppetmaster. BTW either go by Roman or Tiger. Do we always have to put you nickname in "quotes" Maybe just do Tiger, like Cher or Madonna. Anyway, I'm voting for Councilor Vigil Coppler. We do need to prepare ourselves for 4 more years of Webber. To quote C.R.E.A.M by Wu Tang, "Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me

C.R.E.A.M.

Get the money

Dollar, dollar bill y'all" We gotta vote Mayor Gentrification out and with 38% voter turnout, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Stefanie Beninato

It always gives me a laugh to see the Trujillos as Catholics against Hate. I guess they forgot their membership in Santa Fe Power--a xenophobic if not racist organization--you remember the comments about a Black CA legislator from this group?

Mark Ortiz

Vigil Coppler for Mayor 2020

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][smile][thumbup]

Nicoletta Munroe

Ask the question, "Are we addressing the issues at this time or are these leaders letting our town degrade?" We lost the College of Santa Fe in 2012 to a technical school company. We lost the Sanbusco Center, an antique, and a community hub, to a charter school. We lost the historic Defouri bridge that was widened. Whomever is our mayor is required to stand for our values. I stand for preservation and conservation. I am against medical marijuana. I do not approve of some of the recent development in our community. I do not approve of LANL. I would place a moratorium on new development to conserve water. I do not approve of ridge top homes. We need leaders who will stand for the people, not business.

David Martinez

Let's dump ranked choice voting while we are thinking about muni elections.

Khal Spencer

Vigil Coppler would provide a pretty solid contrast with Mr. Mayor. And, it would be good to have someone from the 3rd or 4th Council District running. Sometimes I think the folks down there get badly overlooked and that leads to some needless animosity, such as the sugar tax fiasco.

At any rate, we need competitive elections where there is a real, distinctive choice for voters. Hopefully, we will get one.

Richard Reinders

Coppler has the cultural perspective that is so important to Santa Fe and the experience of city council and she doesn't give into every decision with Webber like most of the council. She would be perfect

Katherine Martinez

Such as a Republican candidate, for instance?

Paula Frank

The concept of "strong mayor" does not seem to be a good fit for Santa Fe. It doesn't make sense that the only qualifications to run for mayor are that one is at least 18 years of age and resides in the city of Santa Fe, yet they would receive a 6-figure salary and have executive power over those with much more specialized education and experience. For someone with only a bachelor's degree in English and experience in journalism to oversee a city budget of 400 million dollars as well as the additional responsibilities that are now part of the mayor's job description, is disservice to the citizens of Santa Fe. Time to go back to the previous salary and function of the position of mayor.

Khal Spencer

Well, Ms. Frank, its a democracy. If people vote for someone with few or no qualifications other than having a pulse, the people get what they deserve. I don't like it either but if we don't like who is sitting in the Governing Body, we only have to look in the mirror to know who to blame.

Khal Spencer

And on that note, the name Jerome Block comes to mind. That was on a public utilities commission, IIRC, so maybe there was a good reason to demand a technical background. Would be interesting to see if some cities have ever demanded minimum qualifications other than age, a pulse, and residency for a general elected council but that would surprise me.

Paula Frank

Interesting discussion. I don't think we really want to exclude or discourage anyone from participating in public service and we definitely appreciate those that do. It definitely seems that one would be more effective if they followed a career path that gives them working knowledge of government, city planning, budget and finance, etc. as well as preparing them for leadership roles. It's difficult to watch someone gain on the job experience at such an attractive salary afforded by the taxpayers. Even if it involves making such basic decisions such as whether or not to allow a permit for a fireworks show in a downtown public park during a drought with forest fires burning one peak over from our watershed.

Khal Spencer

Trying to respond to your last comment. I agree that we should be looking at people with a track record of success. Unfortunately, too many politicians have been running on a platform of not being a politician, i.e., not having experience holding office. Kinda like "well, surgeons don't have a great record of curing cancer, so I'm gonna let my auto mechanic drill a hole in my head instead".

George Carlin's "why I don't vote" skit comes to mind, but I think there are still good people out there who want to do a good job in government, but that doesn't mean it is easy.

Paula Frank

There is certainly a vast spectrum of success (depending how its measured) with politicians. There are surely many who have done well in politics without relevant education or experience as well as those who haven't, and conversely those who were not successful in spite of a shining resume of education or experience.

In this instance I think the main issue is that prior to our current mayor, the position was part time with a salary around 30k. Making the position "strong" gives the mayor a salary around 120k, with increased responsibilities including managing those with more specialized experience and education with the possibility of not knowing exactly what they do or by which guidelines they operate. Rather than calling him a "strong mayor", I would think the term "whimsical" is more appropriate.

You're right, it falls on us to address this discrepancy. I suggest going back to the prior job description and salary for mayor, it might alleviate the feeling of being gypped in this last election.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Kathy Fish

My money's on City Councilwoman Renee Villarreal. Always professional and driven by her values, this Santa Fe long-time local holds great promise. She isn't afraid to question the status quo, to demand evidence and explanations, and to put the people of Santa Fe first. I hope she'll consider running - I'll be the first to donate and canvass. Renee all the way!!!!!

Carlos Vasquez

[thumbup][thumbup]

Greg Dennis

The claim that "a large number of challengers would only siphon votes from one another" is not true under ranked choice voting. If a supporter of one challenger prefers another challenger second, they indicate so on the ballot. It would only be under the former plurality voting system that votes could be split.

Richard Reinders

Webber has defeated himself before this has gotten started, with his disconnect with the culture and lack of connection to the community. Santa Fe is not interested in another Portland or Seattle, the people want what has been here for 400 years a deep history of Native and Spanish Culture. Webber never understood the relationship between the Native and Spanish culture good or bad is commingled in history and any issues between them is their issue to deal with not his.

Diana L Vigil

Thank you Richard.

Kathy Fish

Assuming Webber is out of the running is a dangerous game. Remember when we did that with Donald Trump? Webber's got money and elite backing, and there's no telling what he might do. Let's be cautious and not get complacent.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Amen Mr. Reinders, he has been more decisive for Santa Fe than anyone. It is sickening to the mestizos (Native/Spanish mixed) who live here.

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