City Election: Ready, Set, Go
Santa Fe City Council races take shape and at least one longtime councilor is heading for the exits
You can read the article on the Santa Fe Reporter's website here.
Santa Fe’s City Council race begins in earnest on May 8.
That’s when candidates hoping to qualify for public financing can pick up the required paperwork.
At least two incumbents are already poised to run for another term, but there will also be at least one open seat on the ballot this year. After three terms, District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera tells SFR he will not seek re-election.
“Twelve years to be in office is a long time,” Rivera says. “Having new ideas and new blood is a good thing.”
Besides, Rivera adds, he has grandchildren now.
Rivera, a retired city fire chief, ran unopposed four years ago and his decision opens up a seat representing a district in the city’s southwest corner that includes much of Santa Fe’s new development. The district can be a sort of political wildcard. Though city elections are officially nonpartisan, residents in District 3 voted in 2021 to make Lee Garcia a councilor, ousting incumbent Roman Abeyta, an ally of Mayor Alan Webber, and installing the only Republican on the city’s governing body.
Each of Santa Fe’s four council districts elect two councilors who serve staggered four-year terms. One councilor from each district is up for re-election this November and voters will also select a municipal judge as well as decide on yet-to-be-determined changes to the city’s charter—the document that serves as Santa Fe’s constitution.
With four of eight council seats on the ballot, voters could get a chance to reshape Santa Fe’s governing body.
Across town from Rivera in District 2, freshman Councilor Michael Garcia announced May 2 that he will seek a second term.
The Triangle District resident has, during his first term, been something of a contrarian and thorn in the mayor’s side. That has been on display in discussions over the obelisk on Santa Fe Plaza (Webber backed a plan to rebuild it, Garcia proposed gutting that plan) and prohibiting developers at the Midtown campus from paying a fee to get out of building affordable housing on the site (backed by Garcia but panned by city staffers in an unusually dismissive memo to other councilors).
Still, Garcia bristles at the suggestion he’s carved a space for himself as the mayor’s opposition on the governing body. Instead, the councilor says he’s just asking questions.
“I see that as my role,” he tells SFR. “I try to look at every issue before the council from every single perspective possible.”
Garcia says he wants to focus during the next term on boosting the supply of affordable housing, protecting neighborhoods from gentrification and formalizing financial oversight in a City Hall that is still behind on audits.
That could include creating an office of inspector general for the city, he says.
Elected in a landslide during the 2019 election to fill the seat last held by Peter Ives, the Santa Fe High School and University of New Mexico grad represents a district that—following redistricting—stretches from Camino Carlos Rey across Midtown to Acequia Madre.
Garcia says he will use public financing to fund his campaign.
To qualify, candidates need to collect 150 donations of $5 each from voters in their district between May 8 and July 24.
To the west in District 4, first-term Councilor Jamie Cassutt tells SFR she will also seek another four years on the city’s governing body, but she will do so with private fundraising.
A Santa Fe High School grad with degrees from Lewis & Clark College and UCLA, Cassutt chairs the Economic Development Advisory Committee and says she wants to work in another term on the cost of living in a city where many residents are priced out.
“We are losing families because the cost of living is so high,” she adds.
That includes improving access to child care, “really looking at child care from an economic justice and gender equity standpoint,” she says.
Cassutt says she also wants the city to boost not just the availability of housing but also the availability of livable neighborhoods, with access to transportation options and basic needs like grocery stores.
Representing the south-central district that stretches from around South Meadows Road to Yucca Street, Cassutt came to office in 2019 in a three-way race for the open seat previously held by Michael Harris.
The seat occupied by District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal is also on the ballot this year. She told SFR in a text message on Tuesday night that she will announce her plans later this week.
Meanwhile, Alma Castro has already launched a campaign for the seat.
The owner of Café Castro has been involved locally in organizing and the arts.
Castro, who resigned from the city’s Arts Commission earlier this year in protest over a plan to rebuild the obelisk on Santa Fe Plaza, says she wants to ensure city government is more responsive.
“Every meeting I go to and every Zoom meeting I’m on, people continuously ask for more community input and to be heard,” she tells SFR.
Castro says she also wants to bolster education and job training in the community.
To make the ballot, council candidates must collect petition signatures from .5% of the registered voters in their district. Those interested in running for an office may also contact the city clerk at email@example.com. Check out a map of the City Council districts here.