Santa Fe, New Mexico has long called itself “the City Different.” There are many reasons why the New Mexico capital proudly claims the nickname, but no single reason matters more than its inherent warmth. It’s a city even locals call a “town,” and since the early days it’s possessed a welcoming spirit mixed with an easygoing air of inclusion.
For Mayor Javier M. Gonzales, the city was essentially founded on generous connections— between people, between tribes, and between nature and those who dwell in it.
“The appeal [of Santa Fe] is not just one thing, it’s a combination of many things that are just organically part of the whole ecosystem here, including geography,” says Gonzales. “It’s a collision of cultures that’s made Santa Fe unique, and I think that’s been part of the magic that brought people here.”
Gonzales is the 42nd mayor of Santa Fe, a Democrat who took office March 11, 2014. Incidentally, he’s also the city’s first out gay mayor—information he shared publicly in 2013, partly via a personal essay titled “My Renewed Faith in Santa Fe,” published in LGBT Latino community website www.familiaesfamilia.org.
In it, the then-candidate shared honest, intimate feelings about the importance of his tradition- al family, his relationship with and trust in his faith, and ultimately how he arrived at his decision to finally come out to his parents, wife, and daughters, as well as his beloved community.
He wrote from the heart: “Despite how long it’s taken me, I have come to realize that my internal conflicts were not necessarily due to my faith, but perhaps the result of failing to give my community the full faith it deserved.”
Mayor Gonzales is like that. He’s a responsible, conscientious person and accountable leader who seems to effortlessly hold every individual he encounters in high esteem.
On a temperate Sunday he met me on the patio of Julia at La Posada de Santa Fe (330 E. Palace Ave. Tel: 505-986-0000. www.laposadadesantafe.com), a city landmark and a fine, gay-friendly hotel. Dressed casually in shorts and a peach-colored polo shirt (itself a bold choice that he successfully pulled off) Gonzales might have come off like any other handsome Santa Fean, were it not for the friendly fawning of hotel staff and managers, each of whom he thanked for their hospitality.
He is an easy communicator. Charming but a bit self-conscious, his demeanor seems somewhat restrained by a constant flow of ideas in the back of his mind, ostensibly about ways he can do his very best to serve his hometown.
It’s apparent that his ideas are both grand and every day. For example, one of his first initiatives upon taking office was to get the ball rolling on a new ordinance mandating gender-neutral public bathrooms citywide. It passed, and Gonzales saw it as “a small way to send a very powerful message that a part of our community needs to feel respected and valued, and it’s not going to inconvenience a single person in our town.”
The ordinance fell within his campaign promise for “One Santa Fe.” To accomplish it, the mayor devoted time to educate the business community and local stakeholders. It’s the kind of thing that makes him a rare breed of politician who thinks big, communicates with reason, and gets things done.
“I bring a level of respect even to those who disagree,” he says. “So long as they’re willing to become knowledgeable [about the] issue, they still get the right to agree or disagree.”
In a small city like Santa Fe, heritage mat- ters. It makes sense, then, that Gonzales would stand out on the local political landscape as a part of a civic legacy. His father, the late George Gonzales, served as mayor from 1968 to 1972, and both father and son served as Santa Fe County Commissioner. Leading up to his 2014 mayoral bid, Gonzales flexed his political ambition by serving two terms as chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and was elected the first Hispanic president of the National Association of Counties, representing more than 3,000 counties nationwide. He is also an advocate for better education, having served on the Board of Regents for New Mexico State University and New Mexico Highlands University.
All this in addition to his current role as vice president of corporate responsibility and sustainability for Rosemont Realty, where he oversees the effort to make buildings more energy efficient. That position is afforded by the fact that in Santa Fe, the role of mayor is technically a part-time job, something that Gonzales chuckles about, devoted multitasker that he is.
In reality, this mayor seems to have numerous full-time gigs, including that of co- parent of two teenage daughters with his for- mer wife, with whom he’s still on good terms.
It’s a good thing Gonzales believes in transparency, because it’s obvious that his person- al devotion to youth, education, environmental issues, and growing a vibrant, diverse economy is intrinsic to his political pursuits. He makes a point of being available, both in his office where any citizen can make an appointment, and out on the streets.
“I really try to focus on being a mayor outside of City Hall,” he says. “So I spend a bunch of my time building collaborative relationships, and using those collaborations to achieve broader objectives for the community.”
As for LGBT Santa Fe, Gonzales agrees with most laid-back locals who assert that their community is so gay-friendly the subject is virtually a non-issue. Still, he naturally sees areas for improvement in many domains. Among his causes is an anti-bullying campaign, which for him is among the “little things that we can do to be inclusive or to create a safe environment for everybody.”
He’s raised the rainbow flag over City Hall over Pride weekends, and he’s participated in Santa Fe Pride with his elder daughter (the younger one leans toward the shy side). He’s also ensured Pride’s place in the historic Plaza, the city’s dynamic central square and, literally, its common ground for citywide gatherings.
Gonzales has also boosted the city’s tourism budget, a plan that he hopes will not only help entice new and repeat visitors, but younger and LGBT travelers as well. He’s quick to rattle off the many attractions that make tourism an easy sell here, beyond Santa Fe’s famous arts scene.
“We have this emergence of breweries and micro-distilleries going on, and we have an emerging cider market using apples from New Mexico,” he says. “If you’re a hiker, you’ve got to put Atalaya Mountain on your list…we have about 300 miles of bike trails in and around the city…we’re home to the highest concentration of museums per capita. We have the Santa Fe Opera and this beautiful multicultural community.”
It’s inspiring to hear a man speak of his community with such enthusiasm, albeit tempered by a natural-born rational streak that only enhances his trustworthy manner.
Finally, he pauses, and manages to boil down his message. “We are a place of culture and art and outdoors and culinary experiences,” says Mayor Gonzales. “People are probably used to guys like me saying this all the time, but Santa Fe is above and beyond a unique experience. What people don’t know before they get here is how powerful [it is] to experience the multiple cultures that coexist.
“That’s the magic sauce that people get to experience in a very holistic way,” he says. “You know, you’ve got to try it once to know just how magical it is.”