Santa Fe mayor suffers setback in clash with fraternal group

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Santa Fe ethics board has dismissed efforts by Mayor Alan Webber to impose financial disclosure requirements on fraternal organizations that have criticized his handling of clashes over historical monuments and tributes.

Webber is seeking a second term in the November election amid disputes over monuments and tributes to New Mexico’s Spanish colonial history and armed conflicts of the 19th century.

Webber attorney Jeff Herrera argued Thursday that voters have a right to know more about spending by the groups that sponsored a newspaper ad and yard signs that were critical of the mayor, in the runup to the election.

Board members voted 4-0 to dismissed the complaint on several grounds. Board member Paul Biderman said city campaign disclosure requirements don’t apply to groups that aren’t primarily political organizations, and that allegations of collusion with a rival candidate were misdirected.

The incumbent mayor is vying against fellow Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler, a City Council member, and Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020.

Webber’s complaint took aim at the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe, an advocacy group for Spanish colonial heritage and pride, along with local chapters of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars — alleging that the groups bankrolled newspaper ads, yard signs and social media spots in coordination with Vigil Coppler.

Virgil Vigil, president of the Union Protectiva, said dismissal of the complaint was a victory for free speech as local Hispanic residents defend historial monuments and traditions.

He said the group’s advocacy campaign was launched prior to the election season, without addressing whether it actively supports Vigil Coppler.

“We started this process in June of last year, at that point nobody was running for office,” he said. “It has to do with respecting the city and the culture.”

A monument honoring Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers was toppled by a tumultuous crowd last year.

A counterclaim filed by Union Protectiva accuses the mayor of “bullying” and using city-sponsored recreational events to promote his reelection.

Conflicts over history in Santa Fe have escalated amid a national conversation about public markers paying tribute to historical figures linked to racism, slavery and genocide.

Indigenous leaders and some younger Latino activists say figures from the region’s Spanish colonial era shouldn’t be celebrated because they oversaw the enslavement of Indigenous populations and tried to outlaw their cultural practices.

During Webber’s tenure, Santa Fe discontinued an annual reenactment of the return of Spanish settlers 12 years after the Pueblo Indian revolt of 1680.