Late allegation clouds mayoral forum

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Oct. 6—The second half of a two-part mayoral forum Tuesday was a lot like the first — albeit with a claim of a misogynistic insult.

During closing statements at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler alleged Mayor Alan Webber once yelled at her "not to get her panties in a twist" during a meeting between the two. Her claim drew an audible gasp from some of the audience members.

In a statement after the forum, Webber said he did not remember making the statement, but recalled a time when she told him he had offended her with something he said. He said he apologized at the time and told Vigil Coppler she was welcome to reach out to the City Attorney's Office to make a complaint.

Webber's campaign shared a copy of letter written by Webber and addressed to Vigil Coppler Feb. 18, 2020, in which he acknowledged Vigil Coppler told him he said something during a meeting between the two that she found "appalling."

In his Tuesday night statement, Webber said Vigil Coppler declined to make a complaint with the City Attorney's Office.

"She said it herself during the forum: it's election time," Webber said in the statement. "I wonder if that's why she chose to bring this up now?"

In a telephone interview after the forum, Vigil Coppler campaign manager Sisto Abeyta said the alleged outburst occurred when Vigil Coppler attempted to question some of Webber's ideas.

Abeyta said no one else witnessed the alleged statement, but added Vigil Coppler filed a complaint that "was blown off."

Abeyta shared copies of emails between City Attorney Erin McSherry, Webber and Vigil Coppler between September 2019 and July 2020 in which McSherry stated it would "not be appropriate for me to be involved" in a potential complaint against another governing body member.

McSherry further stated the City's Attorney's Office could not provide any legal counsel to Vigil Coppler or Webber if she intended to file a complaint, which McSherry instructed her to do, according to the email.

Tuesday night's dustup is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly contentious race. In a forum last month, Vigil Coppler alleged Webber instructed Santa Fe police Chief Andrew Padilla to stand down as protesters pulled the Soldiers Monument from its base in the Plaza last year.

At the time, city and police officials said a commanding officer on the scene made the call.

Vigil Coppler has provided no evidence of the claim, maintaining she heard it from an officer with the police department.

Webber and Padilla have denied her accusation.

The dramatic close to Tuesday's forum capped what was otherwise an informative discussion on the candidates' views on Santa Fe's troubled housing situation.

Many of the talking points in the first day of the forum Monday were repeated Tuesday night, with all three candidates highlighting how they would like to improve the permitting process for the city Land Use Department and support more construction of affordable housing.

Outlining her plan for growth, Vigil Coppler said she was in favor of using a portion of recreational cannabis revenue to fund the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund and was in support of removing any rules that allow affordably priced units to expire.

Vigil Coppler also said she also supported more dense construction around Santa Fe to help increase the number of units in the city.

"We are never going to achieve affordable housing if we don't tackle some of the old ways of planning for this city, the two just don't mesh," Vigil Coppler said. "You can't have less density and more affordable housing. It won't work."

She said she was in favor of taking a look at areas in the city that can support higher density buildings and plans to work with the City Council on that strategy. She said community members need to have a more open mind about ways to bring more affordable housing into the city.

Webber said he's already looking at studying the city's growth possibilities, highlighting a $200,000 study put into the 2022 fiscal year budget.

He also stated a need to augment city code and land use maps to be more accessible for development, so that Santa Fe grows "gracefully and more sustainable."

"I have said consistently that the future of Santa Fe will go through our Land Use Department," Webber said.

He highlighted that under his administration, a housing and livable neighborhood task force was launched, adding the city augmented its accessory dwelling unit ordinance to allow for the construction of casitas and approved a more stringent short term rental ordinance.

Webber stated his administration has put city-owned land up for donation to help entice developers to build housing without the cost of land acquisition.

He also stated he was in favor of taxing "luxury homes" — second homes from people who live out of state — at a higher rate to support affordable housing in Santa Fe.

The third candidate in the race, Alexis Martinez Johnson, said she was in favor of recycling old structures around the city for various uses. She said the city shouldn't allow the developers to "get the upper hand" when trying to build in Santa Fe.

"These developers want to build in Santa Fe, one of the greatest cities not just in New Mexico, but in the world," Martinez Johnson said.

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