Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler announced her intention last month to run for mayor, joining Mayor Alan Webber as the only two candidates to publicly announce their intent to run in the Nov. 2 election.
The announcement sets the election stage, pitting Vigil Coppler, a longtime Santa Fe resident and first-term city councilor with ties to multiple rungs of city and state governance, against incumbent Webber, an entrepreneur with big and progressive ideas on how to reshape and improve city government.
In a heated race, with much of the debate surrounding the city’s future, the question remains: Will there be a third or potentially more mayoral candidates?
It’s too early to provide a definitive answer, but former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick said a third candidate’s impact should be gauged by how large of a local figure the candidate is.
Pick served as mayor in separate terms, from 1976-78 and again from 1986-94, and he pointed to the 2018 election as a year when three very well-known candidates — Webber, Kate Noble and former City Councilor Ron Trujillo — ran and provided for a competitive race.
He added he hasn’t heard of any additional candidates throwing their hat into the ring, but he noted there is still plenty of time for a hopeful to come to a decision.
“It’s a little early. It could happen,” Pick said. “But I haven’t heard anyone who would be somewhat of a high-profile figure. You also might have a gadfly who decides to run, but it looks like it’s going to be a two-person race of what I consider real players.”
The deadline to file to run in the mayor’s race is July 7.
While it might be unlikely, former City Councilor Patti Bushee said she would like to see a robust list of options for Santa Fe voters to consider.
She agreed with Pick that it might take a while before Santa Feans hear any rumblings of additional candidates.
Money is a big factor in those decisions, said Bushee, who served five terms on the City Council representing District 1 and was a former mayoral candidate. She noted some candidates might be hesitant due to the amount of money it takes to compete in a municipal election, especially with Webber’s proven ability to raise funds.
Santa Fe allows candidates to tap into public campaign dollars. But many, like Bushee, find running a publicly funded campaign isn’t viable if all candidates aren’t using the same framework.
“You can’t even find candidates that will run publicly funded now because they know they have to compete,” she said. “It’s frustrating to see because I truly believe that will level the playing field.”
Trujillo was the only candidate in 2018 to take the public financing option, and he finished second in the city’s first ranked-choice mayoral race after four rounds. School board President Noble was a close third.
Webber opted to raise funds privately, garnering $315,000 in donations — almost $200,000 more than his nearest challenger, Noble.
Trujillo said the large amount of funds needed to compete in Santa Fe elections creates a disadvantage for those who aren’t big-money candidates.
“The will of the people is to keep big money out of politics,” Trujillo said. “That is why they set up the public financing option. It was the will of the people. When you are able to fundraise like Alan is, being that he has all these contacts throughout the United States and around the world, it makes it a disadvantage.”
Noble said she would like to see candidates in future elections pledge to use only public financing, but that would only work if every candidate agrees.
She wanted to use public financing in 2018, Noble added, but she knew that to compete, she had to go after donations.
“If a candidate has to make a choice between public financing and being viable, they need to choose being viable,” Noble said. “Because frankly, what else are you doing?”
Before making her announcement, Vigil Coppler noted she didn’t believe a publicly funded campaign was the way to go. She was reticent to provide details on her fundraising strategy but said she intends to create a robust fundraising platform.
She said she is not afraid of Webber’s fundraising ability.
Trujillo said he has heard rumors of a potential third candidate but that he hopes the race remains between Webber and Vigil Coppler, the latter of which he said he is supporting in November.
“Technically it would split the fundraising pool, but you can donate to any candidate you want,” Trujillo said. “That person can donate to JoAnne; they can also donate to a third or fourth candidate as well. But to me, if a third or fourth candidate gets into the race, you do have ranked choice, but you are still splitting the vote.”
Noble said more candidates wouldn’t exactly lead to a bottleneck of donations, but a more competitive race could lead to more competitive donations across the board.
“You are not dividing up a pie,” Noble said. “It’s not a linear equation. It depends precisely on who the candidates are and how competitive the race.”
Still, Bushee agreed with Trujillo. She said she would like to see big money out of local elections, adding that a crowded candidate field already benefits the incumbent.
“He has those kind of deep-pocket connections,” Bushee said. “You turn those forces onto a little mayoral race, and you have a different scenario.”
Bushee also noted she would like to see an analysis of how ranked-choice voting impacted voters’ decision-making in 2018. The instant-runoff framework allows for someone who may be considered an underdog to win, she said.
“If they get a second chance, they also might have a better opportunity,” Bushee said. “Either way, it’s going to be interesting this election cycle. I am open to new candidates and change.”
Former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer said big money could play against a candidate. She noted voters might have an issue with where donations are coming from.
Webber, who has spent time on the East and West coasts, received a considerable amount of donations in the last election from outside the state, as well as local unions and businesspeople.
Vigil Coppler was born and raised in Santa Fe and is seen by many as the “local” candidate, who might be able to draw interest from longtime Santa Feans.
But what if another candidate who has a similar background decides to run?
Heldmeyer said it always depends on the candidates and their campaigns.
“Every campaign is different,” she said. “Some people run campaigns on some money and a lot of volunteer support; others run on mostly money. We’ll have to wait and see it play out. People will do different things to attract voters, and sometimes it’s successful, and sometimes it’s not.”