Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Joseph E. Valdes

Joseph E. Valdes


Honored October, 1999







Joseph E. Valdes

Upon taking office in 1972, Santa Fe Mayor Joseph E. Valdes might have felt that he had slipped into a time warp. Some problems facing him were remarkably similar to problems facing his grandfather Manuel, who had been Santa Fe mayor 80 years earlier. Both grandfather and grandson needed to negotiate tough and wise agreements with utility companies serving Santa Fe. Both promoted costly bond issues to upgrade the city sewer system. Both inherited a badly rundown Plaza that needed major improvements.

In all of Santa Fe’s history, Manuel Valdes, who was mayor from 1892 to 1893, and Joe Valdes, who served from 1972 to 1976, were the only mayors from the same family. They are an example that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In Manuel’s term Santa Fe had to decide whether city streetlights would be fueled by gas or electricity. Electricity was chosen. In Joe’s term the city had to decide whether to renew water and gas franchises with Public Service Company of New Mexico or buy the systems outright. The franchises were renewed. Under Manuel, a $20,000 bond was approved to replace some foul-smelling open sewer trenches with more sanitary pipes. Under Joe, voters approved an $800,000 sewer bond, which drew an additional $2.4 million in federal matching funds. Manuel persuaded the Women’s Board of Trade to take charge of the sadly dilapidated Plaza and dress it up with walkways, benches, flowers, trees and shrubs. Joe persuaded the City Council to ban parking on the Plaza, and to overhaul the proud old square in general, with new landscaping and fixtures.

Born into a tradition of public service, Joe did his part from the start. After graduating from St. Michael’s High School in 1948, Joe served with the U.S. Army in Germany, then returned in the 1950s to serve his hometown. He was president of the Fiesta Council, was a founder of Los Caballeros de Vargas, was active with the Boys Club, organized and directed a tree-planting project, and was a member of the city planning commission when Santa Fe adopted its Historic Styles Ordinance in 1957. He was elected to the City Council, and left that body when he became mayor in 1972.

Joe’s time as mayor was tumultuous, challenging and productive. Commercial airline service at the municipal airport was discontinued, because the runways were deemed unsafe--and then voters rejected a bond issue to repave them. The first garbage-workers strike in city history took place. Plaza merchants protested bitterly about the parking ban. The old Santa Fe High School building was converted into City Hall. Some downtown streets were repaved with bricks. Plastic trash bags were initiated. The mayor was instrumental in establishing a southside industrial park, which then was named for him. The Santa Fe city flag was redesigned during his administration.

Joe’s first job after high school was with a paint store in Santa Fe. After military duty he became its manager, ran it several years, and in 1972 bought it. Later he opened a second business, for art supplies and framing. Through the years both operations have been generous municipal citizens, helping countless causes with donations of money and supplies. When his paint store burned in 1993, local support let it relocate within days.

In the mid-2000s Joe began slowing down a bit, although he refuses to use the word “retire.” He remains a highly visible figure, however, and at no time more so than in the Christmas season. Through the years he has collected stray pieces and complete sets of abandoned Nativity scenes. Some of the items are cheap, while others are fancy and elaborate. “I get them at thrift stores and garage sales,” he says. He has more than 400 scenes in all, and he displays 200 or so at his stores,to make the season bright. 

Story by Richard McCord
Photo © 1999 Steve Northup