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Santa Fe City Council candidates heading into home stretch

The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce sponsored a city councilor and mayoral forum at the Collected Works bookstore on Thursday night.

The evening opened with short speeches by the two city councilors who are running unopposed, Ronald Trujillo representing District 4, and Carmichael Dominguez of District 3. Trujillo, among others throughout the evening, inexplicably lauded Thornburg Mortgage, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last spring, as an example of a Santa Fe business success story.

District 1 incumbent Chris Calvert pandered a little bit by declaring Collected Works to be "the epitome of the kind of business we want in Santa Fe." One of Calvert's opponents, Doug Nava brazenly made sure that everyone knew that he uses the correct pronunciation of "SANTa fe."  Russell Simon, also running for a District 1 council seat, expressed his appreciation for not having to share the stage with the two unopposed councilors, a move he called "good planning."

Rebecca Wurzburger, District 2 incumbent, declared that she is running for re-election for the same reasons she originally ran for the council in 2002. That makes one wonder what she has accomplished over the last eight years. She claims to have drafted 50 successful pieces of legislation from affordable housing to water sustainability. Wurzburger also frequently mentions her work with Angelou Economics to draft The Santa Fe Economic Development Plan. Her opponent, Stefanie Beninato, wasted no time getting a dig in at Wurzburger, accusing the incumbent of hiding her council votes on at least two separate occasions.  Beninato said she decided to run after finding out she was not alone in having several bad experiences in relation to city government.

The candidates were asked why Santa Fe has only 37 residents for every city worker, a ratio far more bloated than Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Rio Rancho. This caught many of the candidates off guard. Doug Nava announced that he was "astounded by those numbers." Chris Calvert took exception, saying "we have to compare apples to apples." When it was mentioned that the City of Santa Fe provides far more services than the other cities, the moderator challenged the candidates to give examples. Calvert mentioned transit services, and Russell Simon said that Santa Fe has an airport, which is not common for a city with the population of Santa Fe. The rest of the candidates were conspicously silent.

Then came the time for the incessant lip service paid to local businesses. Despite the city's budget relying on the notoriously erratic Gross Receipt Taxes (GRT), Stefanie Beninato said that the city needs to keep GRT down, as the cost drives businesses away. Russell Simon said that Santa Fe is not suffering due to the nationwide economic downturn, but because the city is a "one or two trick pony," lacking diversity. Wurzburger said that tourism is not what drives Santa Fe economy (despite the $603 million tourists dropped on the city last year?), but local businesses and that is where the focus of the city government should lie.

The next question, ridiculously transparent, asked whether the candidates believed that Santa Fe's Living Wage should be tied to the city's dropout rate. Did they support the idea of restricting earning the Living Wage to those with a high school diploma, GED, or are at least 18 years of age? In other words, the Chamber of Commerce was saying, "We don't want to pay $9.50 an hour to some 16 year-old dropout punk. Agreed?" None of the candidates explicitly took the bait, although Wurzburger came close with her opinion that we should put 12 and 13 year-olds to work at apprenticeships for slave wages. Beninato said it is impossible to live in Santa Fe and earn less than $10.00 an hour. Calvert concurred, saying that people who work in Santa Fe should be able to afford to live in Santa Fe.

When asked what the candidates would do to raise revenue, Simon pushed his idea for a community-owned electric utility, which would be a revenue raiser and the reverse of the phantom privatization menace haunting the People's Republic of Santa Fe. Wurzburger announced her intention to put 10,000 College of Santa Fe students to work in green jobs and the film industry by 2014. Beninato wants to promote the alternative healing community in Santa Fe, and tossed out a vague idea of creating an institute in town to study peace. She also put forward her idea for an Alternative Dispute Resolution Office that could be used instead of litigation in court. Beninato ran up against her time limit nearly every time she spoke.

There was a lot of dismay expressed at the state of the Railyard. Nava mentioned that tourists are simply picked up by buses that whisk them away to the Plaza. Simon ranted about the "pay and display" meter system for parking at the Railyard, which he termed "idiotic." Beninato complained that the Railyard was supposed to be for locals, but instead REI and Verizon have set up shop. Wurzburger said simply, "We have to completely re-visit this," a refrain heard all too often from the City Council.

Simon and Calvert expressed their shared desire to attract Google's experimental super-duper high speed wi-fi to Santa Fe. This led to a review of the comical objections to wi-fi in Santa Fe. Incumbents Calvert and Wurzburger basically said that in their positions as councilors, they have to at least listen to the wacky locals before proceeding with whatever decisions they wish to make. Beninato was more sympathetic to the "electromagnetically sensitive" in Santa Fe.

Doug Nava at one point proudly declared that in his position as tax examiner, he has the "cleanest desk in the state," because when he is done with his work it gets put away. He was the most forthcoming in his admissions that he doesn't have all of the answers. Nava said that the nature of the job of City Councilor is to always be doing your homework, and that he is here "to build bridges...not fences."

Russell Simon plugged his diverse professional experience, and his success as a manager of homeowner associations. He is often blunt in his opinions, and being a former journalist covering City Hall, he knows how to play the game.

Chris Calvert seems to be a consistent echo of the style and personality of Mayor David Coss. The letter carrier with a doctorate comes across as mild-mannered and articulate, careful not to ruffle any feathers, at least in public.

Stefanie Beninato is the most animated and feisty of the candidates, with a clear axe to grind with the city. She is the crusader, out to expose the culture of corruption that has a vice grip on Santa Fe.

Rebecca Wurzburger reeks of new money. Of all the candidates, she is the one who carries herself with the strongest air of entitlement. Behind the scenes, she no doubt works hard for the privileged citizens of her district.  She is also the only council candidate to completely ignore my requests to complete a Q and A.


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