Even during a pandemic and the summer monsoons, Santa Fe’s city government still has the means to distribute announcements about community events.
Mayor Alan Webber, who happens to be running for reelection, opted for something more exotic than the norm. He highlighted himself as a featured participant in city events that initially did not include him.
Using a campaign email account, Webber’s camp sent a statement Wednesday about his plans for the next two Saturdays.
Under the logo “Alan Webber for Mayor,” it states: “Santa Fe Cool Downs! Join the Mayor and the Fire Department as they turn on the hoses for City-sponsored fun water play!
“… You’ll find fire trucks (and Mayor Webber!) ready to play at each of the following locations for these City-sponsored events: July 17: SWAN Park. July 24: Franklin Miles Park.”
Alexis Martinez Johnson, a rival mayoral candidate, was among many people who objected to Webber tying his political campaign to an event with city employees.
“I don’t like the optics. Why is the mayor using city firefighting crews and equipment for what he lists as a campaign event?” Martinez Johnson asked.
She filed a complaint Thursday against Webber with the city Ethics and Campaign Review Board.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, Webber’s other challenger in the fall election, said the mayor at a minimum has crossed an ethical boundary by attaching himself to firefighters in campaign appearances.
“It doesn’t pass the ethical test. Perhaps others can decide if it passes the legal test,” Vigil Coppler said.
Webber didn’t respond to questions I sent to him or to requests for an interview. His campaign spokeswoman, Sascha Guinn Anderson, said Webber was only trying to be helpful to residents.
“We sent the announcement out on the campaign email list to help promote the event and generate excitement,” Guinn Anderson wrote in an email. “There was a wetdown the week before and no one attended because they just didn’t know about it. Our campaign is helping to spread the word.”
In a followup email, she stated Webber’s involvement was in no way political.
“Our email says three times that it is a City-sponsored event — that’s three times in a very short email. It’s not a campaign event. We did not plan it, we are not involved in any part of it — we are only promoting it to help it succeed.”
Her explanations ignore the fact that Webber was mentioned five times in what he billed as a campaign announcement. Most notably, the mayor’s email listed him as a featured participant, right alongside the firetrucks.
The statement from Webber’s camp skirts another inconvenient truth. City government in a nonpolitical style regularly makes community announcements.
In fact, the city on July 8 sent an announcement about the fire department’s two upcoming events. The city release stated: “Bring the kids out to the parks on Saturday mornings, play on the fields and facilities, and cool down courtesy of our friendly firefighters who will unleash a really big hose for 20 minutes of slippery fun.”
That city announcement made no mention of Webber. It covered all details about the events without naming any politician.
Since Webber wasn’t initially listed as part of the fire department’s community outreach program, I tried to find out more about his involvement. I phoned fire Chief Paul Babcock in hopes of learning when Webber added himself to the two events.
Babcock didn’t respond. One way or another, the fire chief must answer to Webber. The last thing Babcock wants is to be in the middle of a controversy about the mayor using his firefighters as campaign props.
I also called the city firefighters union but received no comment.
Rank-and-file workers might be uncomfortable appearing with Webber as he campaigns. And what else would a mayor seeking reelection do as he meets voters whose kids want a good soak? The city’s only outdoor pool is closed for repairs this summer.
“He has an unfair advantage coordinating with the fire department, and he’s also taking advantage of taxpayers,” Martinez Johnson said.
Vigil Coppler, Webber’s main competition for mayor, said the events in the parks were supposed to be fun for kids, nothing more.
“I’m not surprised that the mayor felt it was OK for him to make it a campaign appearance. It doesn’t show good sense,” Vigil Coppler said.
Webber’s political staff made one concession only, stating it should not have put the campaign logo on its announcement promoting Webber’s appearances.
Saturday in the park. It has a whole new meaning in this campaign season.