As the three candidates vying to be Santa Fe’s next mayor faced off Monday evening in their first forum ahead of the Nov. 2 election, incumbent Mayor Alan Webber defended himself against his rivals’ allegations he ordered police to stand down last year as protesters toppled the Plaza obelisk.
“To be absolutely clear, there was no order from the mayor to stand down,” Webber said at the virtual forum, hosted by the Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler and former congressional candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson had claimed the order came from the mayor, though city and police officials said at the time a commander on duty issued the call for officers to leave the Plaza amid a skirmish during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally. Shortly after officers left, the protesters took down the 152-year-old Soldiers’ Monument in three sections.
Eight people have been charged in the destruction of the obelisk, and two others initially faced charges tied to the earlier skirmish. Seven of the defendants qualified to participate in a pre-prosecution restorative justice program through the District Attorney’s Office. One case filed after the program was approved is pending, and one man’s charges were dropped. A remaining defendant has not qualified for the program.
Vigil Coppler said she heard Webber made the call to stand down from someone within the police department.
“It is clear that order came from the mayor,” she said. “We just saw our culture, our meaning, our tradition, what we used to mean on the Plaza just fade away, and no one has really been punished for that.”
Webber fired back. “I would expect Councilor Vigil Coppler to know more about how the city works than to say something as blatantly false as that,” he said. “The mayor does not order the police chief or any police officer to stand down. That is simply false and inaccurate.”
Republican candidate Martinez Johnson, who spent a lot of the hourlong forum differentiating herself from the two Democratic candidates in the nonpartisan race, said she never would have allowed “activists from outside of Santa Fe” to commit crimes unchecked.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Martinez Johnson said, referring to the Indigenous Peoples Day protesters. “No matter if you want the obelisk to stay or to go, I am talking about outright lawlessness. … I don’t care what any political party you are from, lawlessness is wrong.”
The forum served as the best look yet at Martinez Johnson. Other than filing an unsuccessful ethics complaint against Webber over his campaign’s promotion of a city event, she largely has flown under the radar.
Webber used the event to tout his endorsements Monday from U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich.
The forum also provided an opportunity to get a sense of the candidates’ thoughts on other cultural issues as well as economic issues facing the city, including how to provide support and housing for a workforce that is facing an increasingly tight residential market.
Each candidate was given one minute to answer questions given by chamber President David Fresquez.
All candidates cited a lack of housing and child care as barriers for employers and employees.
When asked how the city could help lower its unemployment rate — 7.8 percent as of June, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — Webber said he supported a living wage of $15 an hour. He also touted the city’s participation in the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income program, which is being implemented at Santa Fe Community College.
Under the program, 100 student parents at the college will receive a $400 monthly stipend for one year.
Webber noted his administration’s disbursal of federal COVID-19 assistance funds, which Vigil Coppler said was a City Council effort.
Vigil Coppler also said she supports a $15 minimum wage — the city’s current hourly minimum wage is $12.32 — but added the city should work with small businesses and support vocational training in Santa Fe schools.
Martinez Johnson said the key to providing more job opportunities is keeping businesses open by working with business owners.
She also mentioned a need for mentorship of aspiring entrepreneurs.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Martinez Johnson said.
Vigil Coppler cited homelessness as one of the major issues facing Santa Fe and said she would promote a strong city network to assist and track people without housing.
She also said the city is affected by social divisions.
Martinez Johnson said crime was the city’s largest concern.
“Everyone around here should be aware that a giant monument in the middle of our Plaza came towering down in the middle of the day by a mob,” she said, referring to the obelisk.
Webber said COVID-19 has put a spotlight on long-simmering issues in the city, such as income inequality. His administration has housed more people struggling with homelessness than any other city administration, he added.
“We are making progress,” Webber said. “We have a strategy.”
Vigil Coppler took on Webber’s handling of basic city services, saying his administration has not prioritized them. The Parks Department has remained understaffed, she said.
Martinez Johnson noted any city issue that occurred under Webber also happened during Vigil Coppler’s council term. Moving forward, she said, the city needs to outline its priorities.
Both Webber and Vigil Coppler, who represents the City Council’s District 4, were elected in 2018.
“What we have here are two individuals who have not got it done,” Martinez Johnson said. “When you talk about ‘I will,’ you have had this chance already.”
Webber said over 4,000 potholes were filled since March 2020, and the city has approved $3 million in new funding for street services. He also said additional attention has been put on parks and other recreation areas, and to address an abundance of weeds along city medians, to further support tourism, the city’s strongest economic source.
He called the fiscal year 2022 budget “the most progressive budget” the city has ever seen when it comes to taking care of basic services.