We have a race.
City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler announced she is running for mayor of Santa Fe, confirming months of rumors and speculation that the first-term city councilor would attempt to unseat Mayor Alan Webber.
Webber announced earlier this month his plan to seek reelection in November.
“It’s gotten to the point where I think we can do better,” Vigil Coppler said. “We can be more united, and I think people want a change. I want to be the change that they want to see.”
Vigil Coppler, 66, was elected in 2018 to represent District 4 after previous stints working as court clerk for the state’s First Judicial District and deputy director of the New Mexico Supreme Court. She also worked as human resources director for the city of Santa Fe, Los Alamos County, and the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department.
Currently working as a Realtor, Vigil Coppler said she didn’t intend to use the City Council as a launchpad to the mayoral seat when she was elected and didn’t begin to seriously consider a run for mayor until around last year, when she began receiving calls from constituents about the state of the city.
The calls started to increase during the summer as the city attempted to tackle how to address potentially controversial monuments, she said.
In particular, Vigil Coppler pointed to an attempt by a state crew to remove the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza at Webber’s request and the city’s removal of a Don Diego de Vargas statue from another downtown park as a flashpoint moment that riled some of her constituents.
“In my whole years in public service, and I have had many, I have never seen anything like it,” Vigil Coppler said. “I think Santa Feans who have lived here a long time and others who got here as soon as they could, I think they were astonished. If someone can do that, what else is lurking?”
Vigil Coppler has been seen by many as a relatively consistent voice of opposition since Webber took office as the city’s first full-time mayor in 2018.
She voiced dissent as the mayor outlined his sweeping city reorganization plan last year, and she disagreed with the handling of the midtown campus redevelopment project and what eventually would become the CHART process — short for Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth.
The unceremonious exit of longtime City Clerk Yolanda Vigil also drew the ire of Vigil Coppler, who accused Webber of forcing Vigil out of the position.
Vigil Coppler said communication with Webber essentially has evaporated, with regular meetings becoming sparse, if not nonexistent, since November, and she characterized her relationship with him as “not easy” as of late.
The councilor dismissed the possibility that the drop in communication was because of the rumor that she intended to run for mayor.
“Frankly, I think it’s something else, but it’s a choice he makes,” Vigil Coppler said. “If you’re not on board with what he wants, you’re just not on board.”
Vigil Coppler said she is aware of Webber’s fundraising ability but is “not afraid” of raising money at a competitive level.
Webber was a fundraising juggernaut in 2018, setting Santa Fe municipal election fundraising records with approximately $315,000 in donations — $192,000 more than the nearest candidate. The incumbent also was championed by a number of high-profile supporters, including Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and former Santa Fe Mayors Sam Pick and Javier Gonzales.
“Money doesn’t vote,” Vigil Coppler said in response to Webber’s fundraising prowess.
“I know there is work to be done to fundraise, but the people I am running into are not fazed by that,” she said. “I feel like I have support, and I feel like people want change; they fully understand it comes with a price tag. But at the same time, when you really want something, you get it. And I think Santa Fe residents and beyond, they do not want to see a repeat.”
Vigil Coppler, a Santa Fe native, said a large amount of what the next administration will have to consider is recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
She said she intends to focus on affordable housing and government transparency and accountability. She noted the city’s recent inability to meet state audit deadlines as an issue.
“We have to address all the nuts and bolts of government,” Vigil Coppler said. “We have audits; we have to make sure we put a lot of effort into that. We have to have accountability. That is something I know is not there. We have a lot of people working on different things, but are they working together? I’m don’t think so.”
The bond between the city and union employees is another issue that needs to be addressed, Vigil Coppler said, as well as divisiveness in the wake of a contentious summer.
Vigil Coppler said she doesn’t see Santa Fe’s recent cultural clashes as an “us-versus-them” narrative.
“I know there has been some talk about that,” Vigil Coppler said. “I grew up here. I was born here. I participated in everything here — I am a former princesa, good heavens.
“We have always gotten along with everyone, and the divisiveness that has happened over the last year has really been unfortunate, but that’s not who we are.”
As of Saturday, Webber and Vigil Coppler were the only two candidates to announce their intent to run.
This year’s election will be held in November after a change in state law moving the municipal election from March 2022 to November 2021.