SANTA FE, N.M. — Entrepreneur and Santa Fe Mayor-elect Alan Webber said local government in the nation’s oldest state capital is at an important transition and must adapt to the pressures of being an “world-class” destination.
Santa Fe voters elected Webber, the founder of Fast Company Magazine, on Tuesday. He prevailed as a newcomer to political office in a five-way race against a local school board member and three men on the city council.
Webber will be the first to lead Santa Fe under a new strong-mayor system, with a nearly quadrupled salary of $110,000. He’ll have greater direct authority over the city manager, city attorney and clerk’s office.
He was supported by business interests, unions and prominent New Mexico politicians including a revered former district court judge and the Democratic mayor of Albuquerque. His campaign raised more than $315,000 — the most of any candidate.
“The idea of the strong mayor is we need to really adapt the structure of city government to the changing nature of the city’s growth and development,” Webber told the Associated Press. “The city is simultaneously a small community, very intimate, and also a world-class destination.”
While campaigning, Weber pointedly criticized the management of city finances.
Other challenges include finding tenants at an abandoned city-owned university campus and addressing cultural strife over an annual pageant of costumed Spanish conquistadors.
Tuesday marked Santa Fe’s first ranked choice election in which voters could rank each candidate from first to last on the ballot, in order of preference.
Webber gained a majority of votes after four elimination rounds.
In the first round, he led the field but fell short of a majority. So the last-place finisher was eliminated and voters’ second choices were applied to the remaining candidates. The process was repeated until Webber won a 66 percent majority.
The ranked choice voting method has spread to 12 progressive-leaning cities across the country, from San Francisco to Portland, Maine. In June, Maine will become the first state first to let voters rank candidates in a statewide primary election.
Maria Perez, director of the election reform group FairVote New Mexico, mounted a legal challenge that forced implementation of ranked voting in Santa Fe this year— a decade after it was approved by voters.
She said the method “requires that the winning candidate reaches out beyond his or her base.”
Incumbent Mayor Javier Gonzales, a prominent Democrat and the city’s first openly gay mayor, chose not to run for a second term. Last month he dropped out of the campaign for lieutenant governor. He has denied allegations of decades-old sexual assault, characterizing the allegations as slanderous and a part of political attacks by his critics.