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.

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

(14) comments

Prince Michael Jauregui

Politicians, will be politicians: Highly questionable, borderline unethical and blatantly desperate - cheesy too.

KT Rivera

Water Waster Webber at it again. Ordering the pools closed then using fire department resources for a wet campaign event forcing folks to see him is in extremely poor taste, not to mention his continued lack of concern about our water. Once again, citizens are shaking their head wondering 'What is he thinking?" This guy still does not get it !!!

Joseph Lynch

The mayor's involvement notwithstanding...why would anyone waste water like this? This is a ridiculous event. Good grief Santa Fe.

Vince Czarnowski

Webber's modus operandi has always been to do things under the table and behind everyone's back. I hope the people of Santa Fe realize what kind of man this is and vote him out.

Christian Vanschayk

It seems Milan is hard up for yet another diatribe. This is so trivial it borders on pure silliness. Come on Milan, you're better than this.

Dennis Romero

Christian - Do you really think that a candidate for a political office using public funds in public employees inside candidates campaign is trivial?

Do you really think that a candidate for a political office using public funds in public employees inside candidates campaign is trivial? I respectfully disagree with you on that one. I think it is something that should not happen. That’s just my opinion.

Richard Reinders

Christian, respectfully it is the culmination of everything Webber does, he just keeps adding insult to injury.

A Ortega

It will be interesting to see if Webber and Signie campaign signs at the big to do ground breaking bathroom build on Water street.

Dan Frazier

This little controversy will certainly raise the profile of these events. Seems like a highly questionable use of water during a drought. If the kids want to play in the water, maybe they should play in the rain.

Cheryl Odom

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Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Unfortunately, Webber has proven to act like an errant child throughout his term. Milan along with many others gave the reins to him and he has done whatever he wishes including ignoring IPRAs, failing to submit audits, made both sexist and racists comments and treated the City and its people like his own little kingdom, causing destruction without remorse. The voters need to show up and vote him out. Do not listen to poll workers who erroneously made you list him on your last ballot. The municipal charter states voters can rank, their preferred candidates in order. You are not required to list him. You can list one candidate, two candidates or all three the choice is yours.

Tamara Lichtenstein

Thanks for this. Webber's actions don't pass the smell test by any stretch.

Chris Mechels

Since the ONLY thing Webber has ever been good at it PR, how can we expect him NOT to turn everything into PR?? He can't run on his record.

Problem is, we created this monster, by creating the "new mayor" design, which made the Mayor far too powerful, and attracted folks like Alan who has a lust for power. Our Governor is more of the same. Two terms for the Governor was a BAD idea.

Creating such positions, with centralized power and no effective oversight is just plain dumb, and we are paying the price. The lesson is, do the work, and create a responsible, accountable, transparent, system of governance. NM is too lazy to do that, so they hand power to some dude who makes promises, and does good PR.

Our media, like the NM Mexican, is part of the problem of course. They have gone with the "strong man" idea and belittle the opposition which points out the problems. Like the hatchet job Milan loves to do on the Republicans. He's feeding the problem. We NEED a strong political opposition, it makes for better government.

So, sober up, and stop just trying to sell papers by fanning the fire. Try responsible, fact based reporting to inform, not inflame, the public. Who knows, you may get to like it....

Mike Johnson

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