Monday, April 28, 2008

R.I.P. ART SANCHEZ


I was very saddened this morning to learn of the death of former Santa Fe City Councilor Art Sanchez. See Doug Mattson's obituary HERE.

I first met Art back in 1984 when he first ran for council and I was working for the Santa Fe Reporter. On the surface he seemed like a fairly typical Santa Fe politican -- a retired bureaucrat with time on his hands. But after talking to Art for more than 30 seconds you realized he was a man with specific plans. The main plank of the Sanchez platform was that the city should buy the local water company from Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Shortly after his election, I got hired to cover City Hall for The Journal North, my first job in daily journalism. Sanchez was very helpful to me during the next few years. Not only was he friendly and helpful, always letting me know what really was going on, but the straight-talking Sanchez frequently provided colorful, off-the-cuff quotes. This made my job more fun and helped establish his image as a gruff-but loveable curmudgeon.

Once elected, Sanchez worked hard to keep that promise about buying the water company. He pushed a special election for buying the water company in 1985. But the referendum went down in flames, partly because of the unpopularity of the city administration at the time. That defeat didn't stop Sanchez. Nearly 10 years later, Sanchez led another charge to buy the utility and this time he was successful.

Sanchez got mad at me after the water election of '85. As the votes from the city's east-side were coming in, heavily against the referendum, Sanchez grumbled that the "fat cats" on the east side didn't care about people's water bills. I quoted him in the paper and Sanchez said I got him in trouble. But that never stopped him from talking openly with me.

During the mid-80s -- a time of intense development activity in Santa Fe and an era in which the real estate industry seemed to dominate the City Council -- Sanchez allied himself with his old friend Councilor Carlos Gallegos. Together, they did something many at the time considered radical and anti-business: They asked tough questions, they demanded real answers and if they weren't satisfied, they weren't afraid to vote "no." Most the time back then Sanchez and Gallegos were in the minority on these votes, earning them the nickname "The Gang of Two."

Shortly after Sanchez's election, the city, which used to elect all councilors at large, went to a district system. As it turned out, Sanchez and Gallegos, who both were up for re-election in 1988, lived in the west-side District 3. The two old friends and political allies had to run against each other.

It was an extremely civil election. (By this time I was working for The New Mexican.) I remember after one candidate forum going out for drinks with Sanchez, Gallegos (who drank coffee) and a third District 3 candidate Felipe Cabeza de Vaca. (Neither Art nor Carlos seemed to mind that Felipe had referred to them as "Artless" Sanchez and "Careless" Gallegos during the forum.)

Gallegos won that election. Sanchez sat out the next four years, but won another term in 1992 when Galelgos retired. During this next term, he achieved his goal of leading the city to purchase the water company. Sanchez served until 2000, when he was defeated by Miguel Chavez.

Rest in peace, Art. Your courage, your stubborness, your knowledge and your humor will be missed.

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