SANTA FE, NM (AP) – Progressive mayors are seeking re-election at the start of Tuesday’s elections in New Mexico’s largest city and fast-growing state capital, grappling with challenges from Hispanic candidates from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party.
The November 2 elections are a preamble to statewide and congressional competitions in 2022, where Democrats hope to expand their hold over all statewide offices, including the governor and super majorities in the House and Senate, and a suspension seat in Congress recapture. Voting begins Tuesday by mail and in the district officials’ offices, with early voting in additional locations beginning October 16.
In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber is using the campaign to promote a minimum income guaranteed program for parents attending community college. He vows to eradicate local hunger among children and to consider climate change as an existential threat.
Challenger and Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler – a councilor and native Latina daughter of Santa Fe with a long résumé in public administration – says Webber was at the expense of basic city services and recreational facilities, like a popular public swimming pool that collapsed during the pandemic.
In Albuquerque, the incumbent Mayor Tim Keller is facing resistance from the more conservative ranks of his own party because he has concerns about curbing crime in the city. Among his challengers are two-time Democratic District Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who supported a move by then-President Donald Trump to send new federal law enforcement officers to Albuquerque.
Albuquerque-based political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the two mayoral elections illustrate tensions within the Democratic Party. The discord could fail two highly educated white male incumbents – both with Harvard Business School ties – in a strongly democratic and Hispanic state with persistent currents of cultural conservatism.
“There is a lot of potential for wedges and there is currently a huge gap between the progressive wing of the party and the more conservative wing of the party,” said Atkeson. “You see that in both mayoral elections where someone says, ‘You know, we have to focus on services, as opposed to all this gigantic stuff that has nothing to do with our local government.'”
The ballot papers are impartial, so multiple candidates from the same party will be admitted.
Among the Republicans, the conservative radio station and talk show host Eddy Aragon is running for the top job in Albuquerque and describes a city plagued by economic insecurity, drug addiction and mental health problems.
In Santa Fe, Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson is running for mayor’s office as a political underdog after losing a run for Congress last year. The number of registered Democratic voters in the Santa Fe area is more than 4 to 1 greater than that of Republicans.
Santa Fe mayoral contest is overshadowed by simmering conflict over historical monuments, with election challengers calling the city’s response inadequate when a stormy crowd toppled a downtown memorial depicting Union soldiers who died fighting indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers .
The memorial, which bore an inscription referring to indigenous peoples as “savages,” was a point of civic pride among local fraternal orders and was reviled by many Native Americans for glorifying military campaigns against their ancestors.
Webber helped use federal pandemic aid for grants for private businesses. He has also labeled his opponents untrustworthy for opposing a 2020 pandemic ordinance that required face masks to bolster state policy.
Vigil Coppler says she is in favor of masks, but found the city’s ordinance clumsy and ineffective. Johnson broke the ordinance last year and was fined.
In Albuquerque, Keller hopes to extend a political winning streak that took him from the legislature to the statewide chartered accountant of New Mexico before winning the mayor’s post in 2017.
Concern about city crime heightened this summer when Albuquerque marked a grim milestone – a record homicides that are more likely to come before the end of the year.
Keller has tried to defend his record by saying his government has developed plans and programs that focus on root causes such as addiction and poverty.
Alluding to his progressive leanings, Keller also believes that the Albuquerque Police Department is adequately funded and that more money needs to be spent on prevention programs and behavioral health services. More than 45% of Albuquerque’s general fund budget is already devoted to public safety.
Homelessness and affordable housing were also an issue in New Mexico’s largest city, where the mayor admitted in a recent debate that the number of people living on the streets more than doubled during his first term in office. He blames the pandemic.