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.