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New Mexico cities vote on retaining progressive mayors

November 1, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2018, file photo, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks during a news conference at ABQ Studios in Albuquerque, N.M. Progressive mayors are seeking re-election to New Mexico’s largest city and fast-growing state capital as voting begin Oct. 5, with Latinos from the conservative wing of the Democratic Part challenging the status quo. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)
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FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2018, file photo, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks during a news conference at ABQ Studios in Albuquerque, N.M. Progressive mayors are seeking re-election to New Mexico’s largest city and fast-growing state capital as voting begin Oct. 5, with Latinos from the conservative wing of the Democratic Part challenging the status quo. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)
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FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2018, file photo, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller speaks during a news conference at ABQ Studios in Albuquerque, N.M. Progressive mayors are seeking re-election to New Mexico’s largest city and fast-growing state capital as voting begin Oct. 5, with Latinos from the conservative wing of the Democratic Part challenging the status quo. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Voters in New Mexico’s largest city and the state capital of Santa Fe are weighing whether to reelect progressive mayors who grappled with the coronavirus pandemic or back challengers from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

Tuesday’s local elections are a preamble to statewide and congressional contests in 2022, when Democrats hope to prolong their hold on all statewide offices including governor and super-majorities in the state House and Senate, and possibly reclaim a congressional swing seat.

Tuesday marks the final day for in-person voting, with a 7 p.m. deadline for absentee ballots to arrive at voting centers, clerks’ offices or drop boxes. The elections extend to city councils, school district boards and tax initiatives for local education spending.

In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber has promoted his handling of coronavirus safety, pandemic aid and efforts to expand affordable housing.

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He touts a pilot program that provides a guaranteed minimum income to parents attending community college and has openly aligned himself with Democratic mayors in fast-evolving capital cities such as Phoenix and Austin.

Challenger and fellow-Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler — a city councilor, real estate agent and Latina born in Santa Fe — is highlighting her long career in public administration, overseeing a state district courthouse and personnel divisions in city, county and state government.

She also has cast herself as a guardian of respect for the city’s cultural traditions, in an election contest overshadowed by conflicts over historical monuments. Election challengers are lambasting the city’s response as inadequate when a tumultuous crowd toppled a stone pillar in downtown Santa Fe dedicated to Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers.

A Hispanic fraternal order has sued Webber, who is white and non-Hispanic, over proposals to permanently remove the monument, while Webber unsuccessfully sought disclosure of the group’s financial backers. As mayor, Webber helped broker an end to the city’s annual costumed reenactment of the return of Spanish colonial settlers in 1692 after an Indigenous rebellion, a rite that was criticized as inaccurate and offensive to Native Americans.

Elected in 2018, Webber become the first to lead Santa Fe under a new strong-mayor system, with a six-figure salary and greater direct authority over the city manager, city attorney and clerk’s office.

Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson is running for mayor in Santa Fe as a political outsider, after losing a bid for Congress last year.

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In Albuquerque, first-term Mayor Tim Keller is confronting questions about his ability to contain crime. His challengers include two-term Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who backed a move by then-President Donald Trump to send more federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque.

Among Republicans, conservative radio station owner Eddy Aragon is running for the top job in Albuquerque, describing a city afflicted by crime and economic insecurity.

Keller has tried to defend his record, saying his administration is coming up with plans and programs that focus on the root causes, such as addiction and poverty.

Concerns about crime came to a head this summer when Albuquerque set a record for homicides within a calendar year, with many months remaining. That tally continued to grow ahead of the election, and one neighborhood was riddled with bullets after gunfire erupted at a weekend party and injured four people.

Despite support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other liberal Democrats, Keller failed to win endorsements from key unions representing police and first responders.

Homelessness and affordable housing also have been issues in New Mexico’s largest city, where Keller has conceded that the number of people living on the street has more than doubled during his first term in office. While he blamed the pandemic, he also touted his administration’s response to fallout from the virus.

Albuquerque voters also will weigh in on a contested $50 million bond measure that would help pay for a new stadium. New Mexico United for All — a political action committee bankrolled by the New Mexico United soccer team — has been the biggest fundraiser and spender in the city election.