Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler found herself at a crossroads.

As the end of her first term on the Santa Fe City Council inched closer, Vigil Coppler says, she realized she had three options: get out of politics, take a shot at becoming mayor or run for reelection.

The last of those options was a nonstarter for Vigil Coppler, who says she would rather lose her spot on the council than spend another four years working behind the current administration.

“I would be spinning my wheels for another four years,” Vigil Coppler says. “This mayor has not treated me well, in many ways. I don’t want four more years of that for me. In a council seat? No.”

Vigil Coppler’s frustration with Mayor Alan Webber, a regular feature of City Council meetings even early in both of their terms, is unmistakably evident as the mayor’s race nears its climax in November. The race is becoming increasingly bitter — framed by charges and countercharges, negative ads, and comments that reveal a depth of enmity, not just disagreement.

For her part, Vigil Coppler, 64, has accused the mayor of blocking her out of city discussions, taking credit for council- and state-level decisions and fomenting tensions between herself and the administration. At the same time, she says she sees herself as a stronger manager — a skill set she believes is sorely needed under the city’s relatively new “strong mayor” system of government. Webber is Santa Fe’s first strong mayor.

Vigil Coppler says she believes her 25 years in various public service roles make her uniquely qualified to serve as the city’s next chief executive, happy to offer her résumé to anyone who asks.

It’s a long one: Prior to retiring as court director/clerk for the First Judicial District Court, she also worked as a human resources director for the city of Santa Fe, Los Alamos County, and the state Taxation and Revenue Department.

She also served on the transition team for two New Mexico governors — she likes to remind people she offered current Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham her job as the director of the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department under then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

After her career in government came to a close, Vigil Coppler worked in real estate and also served in a variety of other roles, including chairwoman of the labor relations board for Northern New Mexico College.

She says she ran for the City Council to put her diverse skills to good use.

Vigil Coppler says she wants to return “trust” back to City Hall, including mending fences between the city and the union that represents most city employees. It’s a task she sees herself as ideally suited to handle based on her human resources background.

But in a city where many voters gauge candidates by their ties to the land beneath their boots, Vigil Coppler has tethered her campaign and message to Santa Feans not on policy, but on emotion and roots.

A former Santa Fe Fiesta princess, Vigil Coppler was one of five siblings, raised in Santa Fe primarily by her mother, Margaret Vigil.

Her mother, who worked as director of the state’s barber board, and her father, Benito Vigil, who worked at the nonprofit HELP New Mexico, divorced when she was in eighth grade.

She recalls a relative quiet upbringing, filled with plenty of friends and long walks along local arroyos. But when she was 15, her family experienced a tragedy when her younger brother, Gerry, was struck and killed by a motorist outside E.J. Martinez Elementary School on the last day of school. He was 12.

“I will never forget that,” she says.

The motorist was never apprehended.

Vigil Coppler graduated from Santa Fe High School in 1972 and attended Eastern New Mexico University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Vigil Coppler says she quickly learned as she was studying for her psychology degree she likely would need to go for her master’s degree.

That wasn’t in the cards at the time, so she returned to Santa Fe. She initially struggled to get work, but she ultimately found a position exploring human rights abuses through the Federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

As she started working in human resources, she learned her degree in psychology could still be put to good use.

“It really helped; it helps me today,” she says. “Coupled with communications — I also minored in communications — those two things together helped me work really well with people.”

While working in Los Alamos, she went back to school, eventually receiving her master’s degree in public administration from the University of New Mexico.

Divorced, Vigil Coppler has an adult son who works as a firefighter for the city.

Though she acknowledges the romanticism about a Santa Fe some people remember, she also notes the city cannot remain stuck in the past and has to start laying the groundwork for the future.

Like rivals Webber and Alexis Martinez Johnson, Vigil Coppler says the city must address its affordable housing problem. At a recent candidates forum, Vigil Coppler called the city’s land use code “antiquated” and unsupportive of organized growth.

“We have to have housing for everyone,” Vigil Coppler says. “It’s the right thing to do, and people do need to live in our city.”

But affordable housing doesn’t always mean rental properties, and Vigil Coppler has taken some flack for comments surrounding the difference between homes for purchase and rental housing.

As the city discussed a resolution that would pave the way to donate a vacant city-owned lot for housing development, Vigil Coppler referred to purchased homes as “real homes.”

Webber slammed the comment during the City Council meeting and in campaign correspondence the day after.

Vigil Coppler says the comment was taken out of context and that she was attempting to note homeownership, as opposed to renting, was “the American Dream.”

She also has taken some heat recently for her decision to vote no on a citywide mask ordinance early in the COVID-19 crisis.

Vigil Coppler says she was never against masks — she says she had to wear them in the 1990s as she fought a battle against cancer — but against unenforceable rules.

She says she wants to bring the “fun” back to government, not a common description for the sometimes molasses-like pace of city meetings. She fondly recalls meetings run by former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick, who has endorsed Webber in the race. She described Pick as a master of running government business with a bit of humor.

“I really believe in having some levity in what we do because government work, government meetings, it can be very dry,” she says.

Vigil Coppler’s smile turns to a glare as she notes some of the overarching issues she says face Santa Fe and its residents — income inequality; a lack of attention to general services; and the elephant in the room: cultural unrest swirling around the destruction of the obelisk last year and the formation of the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process.

She’s remained critical of a decision by Webber and state officials to attempt to remove the obelisk from the Plaza under the cover of night in June 2020, and she’s been even more critical of a decision to have police stand down as protesters used a rope and chain to pull down the obelisk from its base on Indigenous Peoples Day last year.

At a recent forum, Vigil Coppler claimed Webber asked police to stand down. It’s a charge Webber has adamantly denied, calling it a police decision.

Vigil Coppler said she received her information from an officer within the police department, but she has not provided any proof. Still, she has not backed away from the contention.

“When there is destruction of public property, you don’t stand down,” she says.

As the race nears its conclusion, Vigil Coppler faces another crossroads, though this one is out of her hands. Voters will make the decision about her electoral fate. But she remains direct, confident.

“I know I can do a better job,” Vigil Coppler said. “So why not me?”

(17) comments

Jeff Varela

"Her campaign issued a response to this that you should watch. She and Councilor Michael Garcia were asking the bill's sponsor how the bill could be enforced. It couldn't and had so many conflicts so she voted against it, noting that the Governor's Order would cover the Public Health Need." Makes good common-sense to me. Vote for the Councilor who has the knowledge, experience and wisdom to run the City of SF. Let's move forward and get beyond 4 years of lost time.

Heather Nordquist

Mask mandates are tough to enforce. One only needs to look at the actual citation numbers to see that. I'm sorry, but Santa Fe masks up due to culture, not a mandate. As for Webber, I can't imagine that fiscal failure is still ok with you and you will vote based on the mandate, which, BTW, she changed her vote on later. We need someone that can oversee providing basic services and submit an audit on time.

Charlotte Rowe

with such a shallow approach she will likely get what she wishes for - losing her seat and being out of Santa Fe politics.

Augustin de la Sierra

From the article: "Vigil Coppler, 64, has accused the mayor of blocking her out of city discussions, taking credit for council- and state-level decisions and fomenting tensions between herself and the administration."

Councilor Vigil Coppler's not wanting to continue as a City Councilor because of how Webber treats her certainly got my attention. Webber's actions sound like they very nearly (or actually) undermine the institution of the City Council.

I do not agree with Councilor Vigil Coppler's mask vote. But I listened to what she said. Her assessment of the situation was reasonable and not off the wall IMO. Also she has made other contributions (while City Councilor) that distinguish herself positively from the mayor and other councilors.

Ms. Vigil Coppler, thank you for serving on the City Council and now, running for mayor. I know it's hard. You still have my vote.

Henry R.

I unfortunately, do not feel good about any of the choices we face for Mayor. The part that bothers me about this article is where Joanne Vigil Coppler fondly remembers Sam Pick; I remember him well too during his time as Santa Fe's Mayor; he was a good business man and promoted Santa Fe Tourism to the hilt; also it was only tourism businesses and large business people that prospered during his terms. It was not until Debbie Jaramillo that something actually came to fruition regarding affordable housing and small business assistance. While many did not always agree with her tactics or assertiveness, she did actually care about and help all of Santa Fe.

William Mee

I cannot vote in the election. But being surrounded by the City of Santa Fe is Agua Fria Village: where the 2020 plan of the San Diego Public Works Director was to push through a "Grid" traffic network through our Traditional Historic Community; we are still in a water rights Adjudication since 1971; where we are denied sewer and water connections despite a City-County Joint Powers Agreement allowing it; where the 2012 Annexation by the City, still hasn't been resolved, and is currently in a 2018 default by the City---we really need to pay attention to who is the "Strong" Mayor. I had some initial contacts with Mayor Webber and thought he would "do things." I would write official letters on behalf of Agua Fria Village on a Sunday afternoon and send them by email and and within 15-20 minutes the Mayor had responded with CC's to the people in the departments needed to respond. 12-18 months would pass and the directors would leave and I would contact the replacement and they were instructed that this was not a priority. So I determined that Webber will tell you anything you want to hear and is for all intensive purposes, a "lip-service man."

Robert Fields

An anti-mask mayor in Santa Fe? I agree with Liz Lendvai — Absolutely Not! (which was also how Coppler reportedly stated her vote when the SF City Council voted on a mask mandate - “absolutely not”)

I prefer mayors who don’t put their constituents’ lives at risk.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/vigil-coppler-for-mayor-absolutely-not/article_4ff88d44-981a-11eb-ace3-d3258d0a20e0.html

William Mee

Her campaign issued a response to this that you should watch. She and Councilor Michael Garcia were asking the bill's sponsor how the bill could be enforced. It couldn't and had so many conflicts so she voted against it, noting that the Governor's Order would cover the Public Health Need.

Robert Fields

You enforce the regulation the same way you enforce any regulation. Do you think speeding, littering, or any other similar regulations shouldn’t be on the books too? What makes other regulations enforceable but not this one.

Coppler is anti-mask and should not be mayor. Yes, for now in Santa Fe and other parts of the state covid is again receding but another variant could set us back yet again. If Coppler was to become mayor and another covid variant was to hit that required masks, she would still try to claim it was unenforceable.

In a pandemic, especially when some in the population refuse to protect others, we may need behavioral regulations to contain an outbreak. With covid still out there and still mutating, it’s not impossible we could need masks again in the future but we can’t count on Coppler to make that happen.

Besides, though you and she want to claim it’s unenforceable, just having a law on the books keeps honest people honest. Even if it was ignored by some it wouldn’t be ignored by all and with covid that saves lives.

William Mee

The Police Chief was suspiciously absent from that meeting???? Plus his formal "recounting" of the activities of the Obelisk incident just two weeks ago and subsequent resignation all leave people with QUESTIONS.

Robert Fields

Though you try to bring the obelisk into this, that isn’t why I reject Coppler. I haven’t looked into her position on the obelisk. Her stance on masking is a matter of life and death, however, and that’s reason enough for me to vote for Webber instead of Coppler.

Richard Reinders

That was early on before any real data, even Biden and Fauci have stated masks are not needed and walk their comment back, matter of fact just before Biden mandated the jab he said you don’t need mask if your vaccinated and also walked that back. This is not JVC statement on masks today now she has more data.

Robert Fields

Richard, you conveniently leave out the timing which is crucial to understand why.

When mask requirements were being relaxed it was because hospitalizations and deaths were dropping after vaccines came available and people were getting their shots. This was when the alpha variant dominated which wasn’t as infectious.

Early summer is when the much more infectious delta variant began moving through unvaccinated populations and masks were needed again to tamp the new, more infectious variant back down.

When Coppler made her no mask vote, not as many had their shots and masks were needed to control the virus.

Context is very important and you always seem to leave it out. Apparently you don’t understand that there are variants out there with different levels of communicability. The original and alpha variants are essentially gone in this country and now we have delta. We can have others too if they grow in since others already exist. These are all “covid” virus but for these purposes you need to think of them like different viruses because they are. Very similar, but different enough that we have to treat them differently.

Please keep up.

MP Paul

During Vigil Coppler’s tenure on City Council she demonstrated sound management judgement and provided critical/analytical input so desperately needed in out governing body. Unfortunately most of our city councilors today are simply turning up at council meetings and rubber stamping Webber’s agenda, no matter how misguided. Vigil Coppler was not a councilor that “floated with the stream”.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a dissenting voice under Webber’s administration, as Webber doesn’t allow or engage people with differing points of view. The results of Webber’s dictatorial approach in a democracy have been divisive and a resounding failure. Santa Fe’s services have been neglected and are in shambles, and Webber has attempted to cram down our throats his social policies.

The relief I felt when Trump was voted out of office will be similar to seeing Webber voted out of office. Santa Fe leadership is not on the right track. It’s time for new leadership and Vigil Coppler has the track record and experience.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]

Scott Miller

Mayors come and mayors go but the employees Union at city hall is always there. They can’t stand Webber and have no doubt used passive aggressive tactics to sabotage him. We need a mayor who can elicit Union cooperation. Vigil Coppler is that person.

Richard Reinders

So far I see JVC as the most qualified with her back ground working with government and a master degree in Administration. The Mayor has to be on the same page with the employees Union to operate the city effectively. Unifying the city rather than trying dividing it should be the focus.

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