Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on candidates in the March 6 election, in which four Santa Fe City Council seats and the mayor’s position will be on the ballot.

Incumbent Santa Fe District 2 City Councilor Joseph Maestas is running for mayor, opening a political door that three candidates to replace Maestas walked through.

Running in the district, which covers the affluent east side and more diverse areas north and south of St. Michael’s Drive, are small-business owners Nate Downey and Joe Arellano, and public policy lawyer Carol Romero-Wirth.

Environmental career

Downey has made a living out of his passion for sustainability and the environment. He started his landscaping company Santa Fe Permaculture not long after graduating from St. John’s College in 1991 and a design consulting firm, PermaDesign, in 2010. Both firms focus on ecofriendly and nature-conscious design. He also served as chairman of the former Permaculture Credit Union from 2002-2004.

Though Santa Fe Permaculture eventually grew to a 16- to 20-employee-company, Downey says he downsized to focus on a growing family and write two books, both about water conservation. He has two sons, 15-year-old Liam and 12-year-old Keenan, and is married to the city government’s River Watershed Coordinator Melissa McDonald.

Downey said he doesn’t anticipate any conflict of interest with his wife’s city job if he’s elected because the council doesn’t have supervisory oversight of municipal employees. He said if there were a project for which McDonald’s office would need council approval, he would recuse himself.

The New York City native moved to Santa Fe from Denver, where he had worked for former Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1988. A campaign colleague recommended he attend St. John’s after Hart’s run for the Democratic nomination crashed when news broke about an extramarital affair.

It was working on Hart’s campaign and moving here that Downey says made him understand the “social aspect” of the environmental issues he had always cared about.

Citing permaculture’s core principles, Downey said, “You can’t expect the earth to be cared for if people’s basic needs aren’t met, they’ll destroy the earth, and you can’t expect people’s needs to be cared for if the earth (and) the resources on which we depend don’t exist.”

Until now, his local political activity has been mostly behind the scenes helping Green Party candidates, including during the Greens’ local heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. He was campaign manager for two-term former City Councilor Cris Moore and congressional candidate Carol Miller in 1998. He said he also was involved with the Green campaigns of Roberto Mondragón, who ran for governor in 1994; former Municipal Judge Fran Gallegos, who resigned in 2005 after being charged with altering court records; and former City Councilor Miguel Chavez.

Making another run

Joe Arellano has been a local businessman of nearly three decades. The lifelong Santa Fean has been down this path before: he ran in District 2 against Maestas in 2014 and came out third in a five-person race, with 22 percent of the vote.

“The reason I ran for City Council for the first time, and the reason I’m running this second time, is due to the fact that I love this community,” he said. “I’m part of this community; I want to help take care of this community, make progress (and) move forward in a positive direction.”

The Santa Fe High alum is a general contractor and has owned construction company JNS Services since 1991. Two years ago, he purchased the former Carl & Sandra’s gym at the DeVargas Center, where he used to train in Olympic-style weightlifting. He turned it into Longevity! Strength and Fitness Training and is now a personal trainer and weightlifting coach.

His background, Arellano says, not only allows him to relate to others trying to launch businesses in Santa Fe, but it also provides experience in how to make financial decisions and listen to customers – or, in the case of seeking election to public office, voters.

Both as a general contractor and a trainer, he says, his professional life revolves around working with people to solve their issues.

He runs the businesses with his wife, Eilani, and together they have 6-year-old Emma, 2-year-old Joe, 1-year-old Liam and another child on the way.

Shortly after his last campaign, Arellano was appointed to the city’s Public Safety Committee and has been a member ever since. That service along with working through the city for permits and other approvals for JNS Services has made him well-acquainted with local government, he said.

“In essence, I’m working in City Hall with all these things,” Arellano said. “Being a business owner and proven leader through my businesses and in the community… and being there on a regular basis will help me be a better city councilor.”

Public policy background

Though she doesn’t have experience with small businesses like her opponents, Carol Romero-Wirth says she brings strong public policy experience to the race.

“This is my wheelhouse,” said Romero-Wirth, whose experience has ranged from working with the state Legislature – where her husband Peter Wirth happens to be the Senate majority leader – to local nonprofits.

She said she has the skills needed for the job and views local issues tackled by city government as some of the most influential on people’s everyday lives. “I’m not ready to retire,” Romero-Wirth said. “I still feel like I can make a difference, and this seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Romero-Wirth, who has political science, public policy and law degrees, moved to Santa Fe from Denver in 1987. Her mother’s family has lived in the Mora Valley for generations. Her mother lived there before moving to Colorado for college.

Romero-Wirth is now a public policy consultant for water, environmental or sustainability-related contracts. She serves on Breakthrough Santa Fe’s board and is a trustee emeritus on Santa Fe Prep’s board. Her children, 24-year-old Alex and 20-year-old Elena, attended the school. She’s previously been involved with other organizations including Santa Fe Community Foundation and Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe.

Her first time working with city government was as a member of the City Charter Review Commission that voted in 2014 to make the mayor a full-time position, a change she says allows future mayors to “set a policy agenda and be held accountable.”

She and her husband met while working on his uncle Tim Wirth’s U.S. Senator campaign in the 1980s.

Her own state government experience during the late ’80s and ’90s included working on the Legislative Council Service staff and working on special projects for the state Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources. And as an associate director of Think New Mexico back in 2000, she helped advocate successfully to the Legislature for full-day kindergarten.

“The range of things (councilors) deal with is quite extraordinary,” she said. “I think that’s another area my background will translate and be helpful. I have done a wide variety of things. I’m already knowledgeable in a wide area of policy.”

Nate Downey

AGE: 51

EDUCATION: St. John’s College, Class of 1991, Bachelor of Liberal Arts

OCCUPATION: Ecological landscape designer/contractor

Nate Downey

WHY I’M RUNNING:

During this time of drought and shortage of affordable housing, I’m the water and ecological-development expert that Santa Fe needs. During this time of financial confusion at City Hall and the need for better jobs, I’m the experienced job creator and former credit union board-chair. During this time when schools need our help, I’m the chess-club dad who believes strongly in after-school programs.

A devoted husband, father, coach, St. John’s College graduate and landscape contractor with an understanding of climate change and potholes, I’ve pushed for bike lanes, ridge-top protection, the living wage, ranked-choice voting, industrial hemp, greywater harvesting, renewable energy, and more.

My experience will be essential for finding common ground on development issues. Livable, walkable, affordable, and sustainable neighborhoods can be built with a mix of housing types and job opportunities nearby. The SFUAD campus and the Midtown Link Overlay District represent excellent locations for such improvements.

When it comes to building housing with the water we have – and could have – young adults who need apartments, working families who need elbow room, seniors who desire community, and the homeless are depending on the voters of District 2. I offer unparalleled experience in water conservation, water harvesting, water recycling, and preserving the Santa Fe River.

With decades of experience in the ecological development industry, my books (Harvest the Rain and Roof-Reliant Landscaping), my extensive columns and essays, and my frequent presentations about permaculture (sustainable design and development), the next governing body will benefit greatly from my expertise. Please vote early!

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS

1. Have you or your business – if you are a business owner – ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens? No.

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding? No.

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony? No.

Carol Romero-Wirth

AGE: 54

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, Colorado College; Master of Public Affairs, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin; Juris Doctorate, University of New Mexico School of Law. Admitted to the New Mexico Bar, 1998

OCCUPATION: Public policy lawyer

Carol Romero-Wirth

WHY I’M RUNNING:

I am running for City Council to make Santa Fe a dynamic city that celebrates our collective history and culture and builds a sustainable economy for our future.

My education, work experience and community knowledge are my strongest qualifications. I am a lawyer with a master’s degree in public policy. I have developed significant policy experience and leadership skills through my work in the non-profit sector, state and local government, and in issues like education and the environment. These experiences will help me to address the wide range of issues facing our community.

My grass roots campaign is publicly financed. My core issues are what I consider Santa Fe’s biggest challenges: 1. We must get our fiscal house in order and restore trust in city government’s ability to handle its responsibilities.

2. Building a dynamic economy is a necessity to diversify our demographics and create jobs. Attracting and retaining young people means focusing on our creative and entrepreneurial sectors.

3. Workforce housing especially in the rental market is a priority.

4. Climate change necessitates we become more sustainable, expand solar and advance our transition to renewable energy and water conservation and water management are critical.

5. Increasing and retaining police officers while placing emphasis on community policing and de-escalation training are all crucial to public safety.

6. Finally, historic preservation, the backbone of our City culturally and economically must be continued.

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS

1. Have you or your business – if you are a business owner – ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens? No.

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding? No.

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony? No.

Joe Arellano

AGE: 51

EDUCATION: Santa Fe High graduate, 1984

OCCUPATION: General contractor and owner, JNS Services LLC; owner, Longevity! Strength Training and Fitness

Joe Arellano

WHY I’M RUNNING:

I want to participate in City government for three reasons.

First, I am deeply concerned about the state of city operations and finances. The recent McHard report that addresses fraud prevention in the City’s operations and management pinpoints 66 issues, most of which should have been identified and addressed many years ago.

Second, poor planning and hasty decisions are damaging our ability to grow our economy and attract business.

One measure being discussed that I am concerned needs more careful consideration – rather than knee-jerk reactions – is the proposal to increase the minimum wage (the Living Wage) to $15/hour across the board. It is currently extremely difficult for young people to get a job in Santa Fe because they have to compete with experienced workers for “minimum wage” jobs.

I am proposing an Apprenticeship Wage to encourage employment of those with little experience or skills through vocational programs; keeping the current Living Wage for those who have some experience; and a Professional Minimum Wage starting at $15 or greater for experienced workers.

Finally, city decisions must include more community involvement, and councilors set project deadlines, and be watchful to assure plans are implemented effectively. We must put an end to backroom deals.

The new full-time mayor position should be an opportunity for better long-term planning and decision-making. For example, the redevelopment of the 60-acre SFUAD campus is an historic opportunity to include the community and conduct careful planning and implementation to help grow our local economy.

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS

1. Have you or your business – if you are a business owner – ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens? No.

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding? No.

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony? No.

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