Mayor had assist from governor in wrecking monument

Feb. 29—Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber finally made a smart move regarding the shattered Soldiers’ Monument. He shut up.

Webber said no comment after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham justifiably characterized him as a poor leader.

The governor’s animus sprang from a recent deposition Webber gave about destruction of the monument in 2020.

Lujan Grisham said Webber had asked her for advice about what should be done with historical markers disliked by certain groups. Webber, the governor said, mischaracterized their conversation to spread blame for what became a fiasco.

In fact, Democrats Webber and Lujan Grisham bear responsibility for bringing down the Soldiers’ Monument, an obelisk that stood on the Plaza for 152 years.

Webber, though, is the main culprit. If he hadn’t started his one-man attack on history, Lujan Grisham never would have become part of the problem.

The mayor wrote on Facebook of his desire to remove certain monuments. “The time has come, I believe, for us to step into the moment and to walk into the future and take decisive action. But simply leaving things as they are is not an option.”

Under cover of darkness in June 2020, Webber ordered a city crew to remove a statue of Spanish conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from Cathedral Park. Workers hauled it away, and the statue for months sat unprotected in the backyard of a business instead of in a secure city building.

The Soldiers’ Monument was targeted by Webber for removal during those same predawn hours. A state crew arrived on the Plaza with a crane to take off the top two tiers of the obelisk. Workers said they halted the job, realizing they might wreck the monument if they persisted.

In a world of obscene political spin, Webber’s camp claimed the state crew was merely making an inspection.

Unclear was why state workers would conduct an inspection at 2:30 a.m. Almost as murky is why they brought along a crane if all they were doing was eyeballing the Soldiers’ Monument.

Webber blindsided the public and the City Council with his maneuvers to erase monuments from the city landscape. He would claim he acted properly by signing an emergency proclamation to remove monuments before they incited violence.

The truth was different. Webber didn’t sign the proclamation until 12:40 p.m., hours after the statue was removed and state workers tried to dismantle the Soldiers’ Monument. City councilors finally received formal notification of the mayor’s proclamation by email at 3:50 p.m.

Webber alone wanted to decide what was fit for public viewing. The proof is in his own writings and the early morning cloak-and-dagger blitzes.

Exhibiting sloppiness, Webber also said a monument to frontiersman Kit Carson would be removed. Webber didn’t bother to understand the obelisk in Carson’s honor is on federal property, where the mayor has no authority.

Once Webber, with help from Lujan Grisham’s government, tried to remove the Soldiers’ Monument, several zealots were emboldened. They figured they could tear it down.

Webber’s police department allowed the destruction to occur on Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October 2020. The city at the time employed some 170 police officers. A few of them could have been deployed to keep the peace.

Vandals used chisels, hammers, ropes and a pulley to rip down the obelisk. They claimed it stood for racism.

History often is complicated, and that was all the more reason to study the obelisk instead of demolishing it.

Most of the monument honored Union soldiers in New Mexico who stopped the Confederate Army’s westward advance during the Civil War. Their bravery helped free the slaves.

There was more to the obelisk, of course. Another panel once told of soldiers’ fighting “savage” Indians. The objectionable word was scratched out by a chisel-carrying critic in 1974.

Cavalries that helped end slavery also attacked Natives. Both aspects of New Mexico’s past are ripe for study.

In a good newsroom, people argue endlessly about issues, policies and laws. No one sets fire to the morgue, a treasure chest of clippings that also contains ugly coverage of earlier times.

A famous sportswriter in California once wrote of UCLA football player Jackie Robinson’s ability to “run with that ball like it was a watermelon and the guy who owned it was after him with a shotgun.”

The offending sentence says a lot about the 1930s and ’40s in the United States. It’s inspired many to think harder and do better.

Monuments to territorial soldiers, to Carson and to Don Diego de Vargas also could be a window to American history and all its warts.

To please a few loud people, Webber took unilateral action to limit what could be seen and discussed. Lujan Grisham’s scathing criticism of Webber was justified. City government is a mess, and the mayor is in charge.

But let’s not forget Lujan Grisham or her administration had a hand in recent ugly history. State workers on their own would never have gone to the Plaza to do Webber’s bidding.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

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