A group of residents led by the president of a group that bills itself as Santa Fe’s oldest Hispanic cultural organization is exploring an effort to recall Mayor Alan Webber.
The mayor, who has been at odds with Union Protectíva de Santa Fé over his decision over the summer to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from Cathedral Park, is facing fresh criticism — and a potential recall — over the city’s handling of a protest Monday that led to the toppling of the historic obelisk in the middle of the Santa Fe Plaza.
Amid a nationwide reckoning about racial injustice, Webber in June called for the removal of the controversial war monument in the center of the city, which was dedicated in part to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.” But efforts to remove the obelisk stalled, prompting protesters to take matters into their own hands and tear the monument down with a rope and chains.
“This guy is incompetent,” said Union Protectíva de Santa Fé President Virgil Vigil. “A lot of people think he’s inept, but he’s definitely incompetent.”
Vigil, who got into a heated argument with the mayor last month over the removal of the de Vargas statue, accused Webber of trying to pass the blame and said the mayor should be held responsible for the destruction of the obelisk — one of the reasons he said the mayor should be ousted from office.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment or questions about the recall process.
“Thankfully, no one was shot, no one was killed,” Webber said during a Facebook Live address Thursday morning.
“Thankfully, no one was injured seriously,” he added. “Two officers were injured trying to stop the violence from happening on the Plaza. … Other officers on the ground decided in their command role that it was safer for the community, for the police, to withdraw and come back later than to stand in there and exchange blows and maybe see the escalation of a serious problem as we’ve seen in other communities.”
But a recall could prove challenging.
The city charter states “no elected official shall be subject to a recall election … within the last year of each term of office.” Webber’s term ends in November 2021, giving proponents of a recall little time to launch the effort.
In addition, a recall petition will be deemed sufficient only if it’s signed by at least 33.3 percent of the “actual voters” in the last mayoral election, including at least 15 percent of the “actual voters” for mayor from each council district.
Proponents of the proposed recall met Thursday with City Clerk Yolanda Vigil, who provided them a copy of the city charter, as well as the state statutes regarding recall elections. Yolanda Vigil, no relation to Virgil Vigil, told the handful of proponents that she was waiting for an opinion from the City Attorney’s Office to answer their questions, including how many signatures they would need to collect.
Terry Rivera, who also attended the meeting with the city clerk, said Webber has divided the city.
“We never had problems with our Native American brothers and sisters,” she said, adding the protesters who knocked over the obelisk didn’t appear to be locals.
“They’re outsiders coming to create problems and division, and the mayor has allowed it,” she said.
Melissa Mascareñas, past president of the Santa Fe Fiesta Council, accompanied the group to meet Yolanda Vigil outside City Hall and said she supported the recall. Mascareñas was part of the group that signed an agreement in 2018 to end the Entrada, a long-running but controversial Fiesta de Santa Fe dramatization that some viewed as revisionist history and a celebration of colonization.
“I honestly feel like we’ve been slapped in the face as a Hispanic people because we gave up a lot,” she said. “But what we gave up was not enough because here we stand with our city torn apart.”
Virgil Vigil, who also criticized recent vandalism of the Cross of the Martyrs, contends the mayor violated his oath of office by “ignoring” his duty to protect historic property from destruction.
“The people are very upset,” he told the city clerk. “There are a lot of messages on social media saying, ‘Replace the mayor.’ Well, social media doesn’t cut it. We have to do this officially, and that’s why we are here to officially ask for the procedures to remove this mayor because he is unfit to hold office.”
Santa Fe police, meanwhile, are seeking another suspect involved in the destruction of the obelisk on the Plaza Monday afternoon.
A man caught on video surveillance obtained by the police department is suspected of breaking down a rail barrier set up by city crews. Once the obstacle was broken, the man, who wore a yellow shirt and had long, dark hair, moved the barrier to be used as a ladder for others to access the monument.
Video footage shows the suspect spray-painting the monument and later pulling on the straps that brought down the 152-year-old obelisk.
Police on Monday arrested two men at the scene. One was charged with a felony count of battery on a peace officer and a misdemeanor count of resisting an officer, and the other was charged with two misdemeanors: resisting an officer and criminal trespass.
The two men, identified as Dylan Wrobel, 27, and Sean Sunderland, 24, were arraigned Tuesday before Santa Fe County Magistrate Judge Donita Sena. Both were released from jail on $2,500 bonds.
On Wednesday, police used video surveillance to identify another man suspected of initiating damage to the obelisk. Police say the man, who was sporting a mop of orange hair, a pink scarf or bandanna and a blue mask, climbed on the obelisk just before 1 p.m. Monday, removed a chain and tow strap from his backpack and then attached them to the monument.
Those tools were later used to topple the obelisk, police said.
Anyone who has information on the identity of any of these suspects is asked to call Capt. Anthony Tapia of the police department at 505-955-5286 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, Santa Fe Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those involved.
The case remains under investigation.
Staff writer Robert Nott contributed to this report.