Santa Fe City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler found herself at a crossroads.
As the end of her first term on Santa Fe City Council neared, Vigil Coppler said she realized she had three options: retire from politics, attempt to become mayor, or run for office. re-election.
The last of those options was a non-starter for Vigil Coppler, who says she would rather lose her place on the board than spend another four years working behind the current administration.
“I would run my wheels for another four years,” says Vigil Coppler. “This mayor hasn’t treated me well, in many ways. I don’t want four more years for myself. In a council seat? No.”
Vigil Coppler’s frustration with Mayor Alan Webber, a regular feature of city council meetings even early in their two terms, is unmistakably evident as the mayoral race nears its peak in November. The race is getting more and more bitter – framed by accusations and counter-accusations, negative ads and comments that reveal deep enmity, not just disagreement.
For her part, Vigil Coppler, 64, accused the mayor of blocking her out of city talks, taking credit for decisions made at council and state level and fomenting tensions between her and her. administration. At the same time, she says she sees herself as a stronger manager – a skill set she says is sorely needed in the city’s relatively new “strong mayor” system of government. Webber is the first strong mayor of Santa Fe.
Vigil Coppler says she believes her 25 years in various public service roles make her uniquely qualified to serve as the city’s next chief executive, happy to offer her resume to anyone who requests it.
It’s a long time: Before retiring as Director / Registrar of the First Judicial District Court, she also worked as the Director of Human Resources for the City of Santa Fe, Los Alamos County and the Tax Department and of state revenue.
She was also part of the transition team of two New Mexico governors. Bill Richardson.
After his government career ended, Vigil Coppler worked in real estate and also held a variety of other positions, including chair of the Labor Relations Board of Northern New Mexico College.
She says she ran for city council to put her various skills to good use.
Vigil Coppler says she wants to restore “trust” to city hall, including fixing fences between the city and the union that represents most of the city’s employees. This is a task that she considers herself perfectly suited to assume based on her experience in human resources.
But in a city where many voters assess candidates by their ties to the earth beneath their boots, Vigil Coppler has tied his campaign and his message to Santa Feans not to politics, but to emotion and roots.
Former Princess of Santa Fe Fiesta, Vigil Coppler was one of five siblings, raised in Santa Fe primarily by his mother, Margaret Vigil.
Her mother, who worked as the director of the state barber council, and her father, Benito Vigil, who worked for the nonprofit HELP New Mexico, divorced when she was in eighth grade.
She remembers a relatively quiet upbringing filled with many friends and long walks along the local arroyos. But when she was 15, her family experienced a tragedy when her younger brother, Gerry, was hit and killed by a motorist outside EJ Martinez Elementary School on the last day of school. He was 12 years old.
“I’ll never forget that,” she said.
The motorist was never apprehended.
Vigil Coppler graduated from Santa Fe High School in 1972 and attended the University of Eastern New Mexico, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Vigil Coppler says she quickly learned while studying for her psychology degree that she would likely need to go for her masters.
It wasn’t in the cards at the time, so she moved back to Santa Fe. She struggled to find work at first, but eventually found a position exploring human rights violations. through the comprehensive federal law on employment and training.
When she started working in human resources, she learned that her degree in psychology could still be put to good use.
“It really helped me; it helps me today,” she says. “Coupled with communications – I also have a minor in communications – those two things have helped me work very well with people.”
While working in Los Alamos, she returned to school and eventually earned her Masters of Public Administration from the University of New Mexico.
Divorced, Vigil Coppler has an adult son who works as a firefighter for the city.
While she acknowledges the romanticism of a Santa Fe that some people remember, she also notes that the city cannot get stuck in the past and must start laying the groundwork for the future.
Like rivals Webber and Alexis Martinez Johnson, Vigil Coppler says the city needs to tackle its affordable housing problem. At a recent candidates’ forum, Vigil Coppler called the city’s land use code “outdated” and not conducive to organized growth.
“We need to have housing for everyone,” says Vigil Coppler. “It’s the right thing to do, and people need to live in our city.”
But affordable housing doesn’t always mean rental property, and Vigil Coppler has criticized comments about the difference between houses to buy and rental units.
As the city discussed a resolution that would pave the way for the donation of vacant city-owned land for housing development, Vigil Coppler called the homes purchased “real homes”.
Webber criticized the comment at the city council meeting and in campaign correspondence the next day. Vigil Coppler says the comment was taken out of context and that she was attempting to note that homeownership, as opposed to renting, was “the American dream.”
She has also taken some heat recently for her decision to vote no on a city-wide mask ordinance at the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
Vigil Coppler says she was never against masks – she says she must have worn them in the 1990s while battling cancer – but against unenforceable rules.
She says she wants to bring the “fun” back to government, which is not a common description of the sometimes molasses pace of town meetings. She fondly remembers the meetings hosted by former Santa Fe mayor Sam Pick, who supported Webber in the race. She described Pick as a master of government management with a bit of humor.
“I really believe that we have to have a certain lightness in what we do because the work of the government, the meetings of the government, it can be very dry,” she said.
Vigil Coppler’s smile turns to shine as she notes some of the basic issues she says Santa Fe and its residents face: income inequality; lack of attention to general services; and the elephant in the room: the cultural turmoil around the destruction of the obelisk last year and the formation of the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process.
She remained critical of a decision by Webber and state officials to attempt to remove the obelisk from the plaza under cover of night in June 2020, and she was even more critical of the ‘Regarding a decision to have the police withdrawn as protesters used a rope and chain to remove the obelisk from its base on Indigenous Peoples Day last year.
In a recent forum, Vigil Coppler claimed that Webber asked the police to step down. It’s an accusation Webber categorically denied, calling it a police decision. Vigil Coppler said she received her information from an officer in the police department, but she provided no evidence. Yet she did not shy away from the controversy.
“When there is destruction of public property, you don’t give up,” she said.
As the race draws to a close, Vigil Coppler faces yet another crossroads, although this one is out of his hands. The voters will decide his electoral fate. But she remains direct, confident.
“I know I can do a better job,” said Vigil Coppler. ” So why not me ?