SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe residents cast ballots Tuesday for a new mayor who will wield greater authority and get a nearly quadrupled salary.
Five candidates were on the ballot for the first time under a “ranked choice” system, after a decade of implementation delays. The 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.
“It gives the next mayor a bigger mandate,” said Maria Perez, director of the election reform group FairVote New Mexico, which mounted a legal challenge that forced implementation of ranked voting. “It also requires that the winning candidate reaches out beyond his or her base.”
The next mayor will command greater authority over the city manager, city attorney and clerk’s office. The salary is increasing from $29,000 to $110,000 after voters approved a strong-mayor form of government.
At the ballot box, Santa Fe voters ranked party candidates from first to last, in order of preference.
A candidate who gets a majority of first-place votes is the winner. If no one wins a majority, the last-place finisher is eliminated and voters’ second choices are applied to the remaining candidates. The process repeats until someone gets a majority.
Candidates included three current city council members: attorney Peter Ives, state transportation worker Ron Trujillo and former Espanola Mayor Joseph Maestas.
Trujillo, a three-term council member, helped galvanize opposition to a defeated 2017 ballot initiative that would have taxed sugary drinks to fund early childhood education.
Fast Company Magazine founder Alan Webber has garnered both union and business-community support with his background as an entrepreneur, raising more campaign dollars than any other candidate.
Santa Fe school board member Kate Noble, who previously worked for the city on housing and economic development programs, ran with the endorsement of the National Education Association of Santa Fe.
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.
David Maidenberg, 68, a retired grant writer, voted Tuesday, weighing each’s ability to “modernize city operations.” Outside the public-school polling spot, sign-waving supporters for at least three mayoral candidates crowded the sidewalks.
He said the ranking system requires more thought on the part of voters — and move considerate behavior among candidates.
“It makes you think things through,” he said. “It seems to produce more of a civil election.”