Friday, October 14, 2016

Phoenix has a City Council Race in November?

PHOENIX - Phoenix is having the first highly contest city council District 3 race since the Altmann - Baier combat in 2007 (I know it well, I was the Altmann part).   Two term Councilman Bill Gates resigned to run for the County Supervisor seat being vacated by Andy Kunasek's deciding that 17 years was enough.  I am in the unique position of know each of the four 2016 contenders in some way.

Deb Stark got the nod from the City Council to be appointed the interim council member until an election is held - which meant by city charter the upcoming November 8 general election is the ballot date.  Phoenix normally has odd year elections held in August with March run-offs, so we have two celestial rare occasions - lots of competitors and Phoenix holding an election with the rest of the state and nation.  Stark had retired from many years of the being the City's Planning Director and most recently had held the same post with Maricopa County.

This race has contenders with decent size campaign war chests.  At least three of the four are clocking in with more than $100,000 raised.  All four have signs up.  Two are independents, one is a Republican and the other Demorcrat.  Well, more correctly, that one of the two independents was a Democrat until recent days, changed to independent, but now has the endorsement of the former county Democratic Party Chairwoman, Ann Wallack.  The Republican candidate has put "Republican" on his signs and mail.

Confused yet?  No one is talking about the hundreds of millions of dollars of city debt due to bond issues and money still owed to cover retirements for police and firefighters, paid into their state public safety retirement fund.  Endorsements are flying back and forth and there are rumors there will be independent expenditures targeting this or that candidate, one possibly from the union side and another from the GOP community of supporters.

I've fought on that battle turf and my caution is that Council District 3, while it holds more than a seven percent Republican registration lead and mostly votes red in any other election situation, is not a solid land of the elephants when it comes to city politics and issues.  The district is largely middle to upper middle income, educated, enjoys good school districts, shopping and OK transportation corridors.  The streets need repairs, parts of the district need renewal for the 21st Century and they'd love some more cops.  Let's look at the contenders.
Deb Stark
Deb has earned two retirements - one from Phoenix as its planning director, and one from the county.  She has been a highly paid city executive and probably knows more stories than she will tell.  She is the undoubtedly loved by more developers and zoning attorneys, who have opened their checkbooks to contribute.  Stark is a life-long Democrat, but her party has all but blown her off in favor of a competitor, claiming she's not "blue" enough.  In her short time on council, she said no to raising property taxes, no to the city issuing ID cards (which will only incite the Legislature to pass another law in the SB1070 environment that still is alive) and has tagged herself as the person to carry through the plans and policies of Councilman Bill Gates.  Considering Bill Gates is a fair-minded conservative Republican and respected corporate attorney, that's not a bad plan.

Stark has one other advantage worth five points in any contest - she is the only female contender. He signs are modest and the message simple at 40 MPH whiz by look.  Her mail so far is large and projects a standard city council race theme and setting her tone as a nice lady.

Deb is personable, has lived in the district many years and if she does not win, I doubt she will be devastated and probably will continue to do something in the background to be a good Phoenix resident.
Jim Mapstead
Of all the contenders, I know Jim the best because I competed against him in 2007 (he lost to me) and we've kept it cordial and stayed in touch over the years. Jim has a lot of dedication to being a council person - perhaps ambition is the better descriptor.  He has hired a prominent Democratic political consulting group, has his old friend and "blue to the bone guy" Rick DeGraw digging any favors that his more than 30 years of political work brings and has Democratic party leaders behind him, including Ann Wallack.   Jim served on Village Planning and the Zoning Commission, but has not received the degree of developer support that Stark enjoys.

Jim's favorite saying has something to do with "adult beverages," is a long-time small business owner with solid success and although he changed his party status to "independent," he is banking on Democrat support.  Jim may easily capture Sunnyslope, but gaining the important high efficacy votes in Paradise Valley will be his challenge.  This may be Jim's best shot at getting elected.

Jim's signs are not as bold and as strong as I would have expected in message - his email campaign has some presence - I look forward to his mail messages to voters.
Chris De Rose
Chris De Rose is the lone Republican in the race.  He has the support of Councilmen Jim Waring and Sal Diciccio, along with the state attorney general (who is his boss) and the popular county attorney, Bill Montgomery.  Chris, himself an attorney, has published some history books, worked some campaigns and has good personal relationships with other council members.  Chris is out walking doors (he reached my street) and has some good relationships with folks that support Governor Ducey.  Chris is no stranger to partisan campaigns - he worked several at the local and Congressional level.  He has some city involvements, but it is not known if there are enough to propel an outright victory.

If Chris plays the Republican card as big as Jim Waring did in Council District 2, the "non-partisan" council race could tip in his favor, at least to the point he is very competitive against others. His signage and mailers have "Prosecutor - Republican" label.  Independent expenditures may come his way both for him and against him.  Information tells me he may be a target of one prominent city labor group who has fears De Rose may be another Sal Diciccio on fiscal issues.  However, given the District 3 is not overrun with liberal spending types, the old saying "every knock is a boost" may play to his favor with the electorate.
Dan Carroll
If there is any candidate in this race who should get the nice person award, then Dan is that person.  However, he is also a trailing fourth in raising money, limiting his ability to educate the voters.  Dan moved into the district less than a year ago, but he has old ties and residency.  Many years ago, with slightly different boundaries, Dan ran for the seat as a young man in his 20s and lost by only a few hundred votes.  Now, about two decades later, he is back.  Dan tried for Council District 4 a few  years ago and got beat in a very competitive field of candidates that saw Laura Pastor emerge as the winner.

Dan enjoys the law enforcement endorsement, but the cops are not the firefighters, and they bring neither many dollars nor many volunteers to walk doors or make phone calls.  Dan has been walking hard and he's been the other face on my street.  Dan's day job for years has been selling real estate and I doubt you will find anyone who has anything negative to say about him.  The challenge for Dan will be having enough dollars to win.
Will Run-off?
If none of the four contenders can get 50% plus one in the November race, then the top two voter getters go to a March run-off.  Statistically, it is most likely there will be a March run-off.

I know about run-offs.  I went through this in 2007 - I moved out two of my three opponents in that race and faced-off Maria Baier.  Baier then outspent my campaign three to one, but I still got 44% of the vote.  In terms of votes gained from the August four-way to the March run-off, I gained far more voter increases than Baier.  My challenge was a lack of money to do battle and that it became a girl against guy race (Baier did a robo dial against me saying I was using "bully tactics" when I did a mailer that pointed out she was a paid lobbyists and failed to tell folks that in her credentials).  For all the fight, Baier lasted 17 months, then quit the office to go back to land policy wonk work.  Not since that 2007 battle has there been this much competition in Phoenix District 3..

Getting to be one of the two going into the run-off in this race in District 3 is the trick.  Past Republican voter performance may tell part of the story and having the election during the November presidential race may cause it to be different.  If either the GOP or the Dems had a stronger presidential candidate, perhaps it would be more clear, but too many Americans are disliking both presidential choices to guarantee a strong turn-out the has long coat tails for the city race.

The salient talking points of this race are about as clear as mud.  The one point that might have an edge is not being pushed by any candidate yet - the massive amount of city debt that really keeps the city from providing the highest quality public safety and fixing all those terrible pot-holed bumpy streets.

Clearly what is also missing is a John Driggs approach to the issues and politics.  John was the city's mayor many years ago and someone I was privileged to know in his later years before he passed.  John would also ask me why folks cannot come together for the good of solving problems, rather than be partisan or argumentative to the death.  John was always thoughtful with the citizens' dollars.

Don't get me wrong, I think we have some fine people serving on the council and bar none, Greg Stanton has done a tremendous amount of good for homeless and veterans.  Bill Gates filled a slot of being conservative, yet had that same quality on council that John Driggs wished in everyone in public office - for thoughtful discussion for the good of the whole.  The end game for any of the current four candidates to grab the ring and win, someone is going to have to peel the bark off the issues and have a firm discussion to get votes.

About Jon C. Altmann

Jon C. Altmann is professional educator, GOP PC, and a retired senior enlisted leader having served in Navy intelligence.  He has been a public safety consultant and past executive in emergency health care/rescue systems.  He serves in national leadership in a veterans organization and sits on both Federal and local commissions/committees serving the needs of veterans, military members and their families.  He has been a paid political consultants to several campaigns over the past several years.  Comments and opinions expressed by Jon C. Altmann are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of any government organization or any of the organizations he volunteers his time in helping others.  Distributed by Media News Services.  All Rights Reserved, 2016.