Julie Ann Grimm

Mayor David Coss leveraged Tuesday’s “State of the City” address into a message about economic recovery, including the news that the Santa Fe Municipal Airport will again have direct flights to Denver International Airport beginning in December.

Airport Manager Jim Montman learned about two weeks ago that the twice-daily flights by Great Lakes to the Colorado hub would begin this year, he said, noting that the city has been without such a connection since 2007.

“It really, really benefits us,” Montman said. “Denver is by far our most requested destination of places that we currently don’t go to.”

Coss also used the seventh annual speech to talk about the need for new jobs in the city and for job training opportunities, as well as the necessity to create a united front among local policymakers.

Facing challenges to the Community Workforce Agreement, a pro-union rule on city construction projects that was recently adopted by the city and added to the city’s highest-in-the-nation minimum wage rules, the mayor pledged to stand by both efforts.

“We must remember that hard work pays off, that compromise can pay off, that fighting among ourselves does not move this community forward,” he said. “It’s time to understand that if we insist on arguing over small things, but that if we have the courage, the discipline and the tenacity to focus on the big things, we can build them together.”

He also made a reference to Gov. Susana Martinez and state lawmakers who have pushed the idea of changing a law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver’s licenses and made other overtures that he fears could negatively affect that segment of the population.

“While some continue to drive the wedge into the electorate over immigration and driver’s licenses, Santa Fe has stood for tolerance and inclusion,” Coss said. “While money and effort has been channeled into this wedge issue, New Mexico has led the nation in job losses this year, according to recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Santa Fe though, has continued to create jobs.”

Later, he hammered the point again, noting that before the state began issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants without Social Security numbers, one local high school had a special parking arrangement for unlicensed immigrant students who drove to school. “Santa Fe doesn’t want separate and unequal,” he said. “We want tolerance, unity and respect for all. We want integration and equality. We want all our youth, including our dreamers, to succeed, and we will fight for them every day at the Legislature.”

Just before the mayor took the stage at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, the crowd heard from Mayté Garcia, who tearfully talked about her experience after immigrating to Santa Fe with her family as a small child and what is was like to “lack a nine-digit number” that almost kept her from getting to go to college. Today, she said, she’s enrolled at The University of New Mexico and volunteers with Somos un Pueblo Unido.

“I love Santa Fe because it makes me feel like I’m part of it,” she said. “It strives for inclusiveness and respect no matter where we come from.”

Coss expressed pride in Santa Fe’s unemployment rate, which hovered around 7 percent in 2009 but now sits at 4.8 percent, according to the state Department of Workforce Solutions. He also highlighted job creation in the entrepreneurial sector, including from a small business called The Way We Grow that plans to expand its manufacturing business here next year.

As has been the theme in previous annual addresses from Coss, the mayor touted local crime-fighting efforts and said members of a new alliance of law enforcement and community leaders will begin meeting next week.

“I’ve heard from citizens the awful stories. I’ve talked to the young widow of a murder victim who is trying to pick up and go on with her life. I’ve seen the fear and anxiety on faces in this community, and I’ve heard many troubling stories,” he said. “There are so many things that we’d rather do than think about crime. But we must face the hard tasks and be vigilant, because having a safe community — this is the foundation upon which everything else stands.”

Tuesday’s announcement about new flights by Great Lakes Aviation was a surprise to many, although it was clear that City Hall reserved the news for the mayor’s speech.

In addition to the Denver flights, the airline also will provide service between Clovis and Santa Fe. That small town in southeastern New Mexico is critical in getting the Denver connection here, Montman said, because the Clovis City Council is accessing a federal subsidy for “essential air service.”

The corporate headquarters for Great Lakes is in Wyoming, but it serves a number of rural communities in the West and Midwest and carried about 413,000 passengers last year, according to a recent traffic report. The airline is already taking reservations for flights on the new route, with ticket prices between Santa Fe and Denver at about $100 each way on its 19-passenger planes. Montman said the airline expects to hire six full- and part-time employees for Santa Fe jobs.

In 2007, officials at the airline announced they were stopping their Santa Fe service, which had been in place for years, because of other route contracts that the company wanted to focus on. All scheduled flights are operated in conjunction with code-share agreements with United Airlines and/or Frontier Airlines at its Albuquerque, Denver, Las Vegas, Nev., Los Angeles and Phoenix hubs, the airline’s website says.

American Eagle Airlines operates daily flights connecting Santa Fe and Dallas-Fort Worth with regional jets. American Eagle also makes daily trips between Santa Fe and Los Angeles.

The full text of the mayor’s speech, as provided in advance by City Hall, is published at www.santafenewmexican.com.

Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 505-986-3107 or jgrimm@sfnewmexican.com.