Daniel Valenzuela,the new Phoenix city councilman for District 5, discusses his priorities for his first year in office.
José Cárdenas: Political newcomer, Daniel Valenzuela, secured his seat on the Phoenix city council last November. He replaced outgoing councilman Claude Mattox in district five, which stretches from Northern Avenue to Thomas Road between 15th and 107th Avenues. With me now is Councilman Daniel Valenzuela. Congratulations on your victory. We call this our "get to know" segment. I'd like to start by asking you your background.
Daniel Valenzuela: Sure. Thank you for having me. I'm honored. First, I want you to know I'm a man of faith, family and community. My wife, Sonia, we've been together for over 20 years, she's my high school sweetheart. Two amazing, god-fearing children and I'm a lifelong Phoenician and a firefighter in Glendale and again, lifelong Phoenician and decided to run for the Phoenix City Council, as you mentioned, it worked out and blessed with several opportunities to serve.
José Cárdenas: I want to talk about the campaign but before we do that, describe the district and the demographics and the history of it.
Daniel Valenzuela: The district is a hard-working district. You mentioned the the boundaries, the diversity is one of the strengths. It's predominantly Hispanic, over 60% Hispanic, but again, very hard-working district. The history, you mentioned Claude Mattox, he was the councilmember for 12 years prior to my takes office, before that, it was councilman John Nelson, currently a state senator and he had the seat for -- I want to say 16 years. So now it's my opportunity to serve as councilman.
José Cárdenas: How many people in the district?
Daniel Valenzuela: There are about 170,000 who live in the district. Keep in mind, in 2012, the redistricting process will occur for the city of Phoenix and the district will actually grow. The east district -- each of the eight districts in the city will hit about 181,000 residents.
José Cárdenas: Going to the campaign, Councilman Mattox, I think, was termed out and he was running also for mayor. Wasn't successful but running for that. What made you decide other than perhaps there's a vacancy to run for that spot?
Daniel Valenzuela: Some people asked me if I've always had political aspirations and I didn't always have political aspirations. I -- I'm a servant. Some assume I serve because I'm a firefighter. It's the contrary. I chose to serve so I became a firefighter, I chose to serve so decided to run for Phoenix City Council. I'm a westside kid, if you will. When you look at our district, when you think of Maryvale and I believe what this district needs the most is a serving leader-- you mentioned that Claude Mattox was termed out, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, but I thought this was would be the right opportunity for me to run and it worked out.
José Cárdenas: Three others thought this was the right opportunity as well. You had a preliminary contest with a total of four candidates and ended up having to do a run-off.
Daniel Valenzuela: Right, I did and there were three other people that ran. I was honored with 45% of the overall --
José Cárdenas: You got the most votes, the leading vote-getter.
Daniel Valenzuela: I was, to getting to the runoff and joined by one other person in the runoff. It was -- you know, it extended the race, obviously, for several weeks but it was ok. My opponent was someone that I have a lot of respect for and longtime --
José Cárdenas: Brenda Sperduti.
Daniel Valenzuela: My opponent was Brenda Sperduti.
José Cárdenas: Well respected Phoenician herself.
Daniel Valenzuela: And what I respect most about Brenda, she's a person of family and she does have some background in working hard in neighborhoods and well known in the arts community and a very viable candidate herself. So --
José Cárdenas: What were the issues then that distinguished you from her?
Daniel Valenzuela: I said it early on, Brenda was a very viable candidate -- Brenda was a viable candidate. We had some differences, she made it known I was a union member. I necessarily didn't hide it. I'm actually proud to be a union member. You're not going to found a firefighter that isn't a union member. But I said it all along. My -- you know, my challenge was not overcoming Brenda Sperduti. My challenge was to actually wake the district up. I said it from the very beginning, if you want to know the most underserved neighborhoods, you don't have to go on a tour. It's all public record. If you just go and take a look. The precincts with the least amount of votes usually reflect the most under-served neighborhoods.
José Cárdenas: What you were about was voter turnout.
Daniel Valenzuela: From the very beginning --
José Cárdenas: But let me ask you, union were an issue in the mayoral campaign. Wes Gullett made it a big issue in his race against Greg Stanton.
Daniel Valenzuela: It was certainly brought up as a topic. You asked was it an issue, no, it wasn't an issue. Because on election day, I won -- I say this with all humanity, but won with a pretty wide margin. Again --
José Cárdenas: The record turnout, as I understand it.
Daniel Valenzuela: A record turnout, if you compare the voting numbers in district five from 2007 to 2011, the council race I ran, of course, the overall voter turnout nearly doubled and the Latino turnout, by 500%.
José Cárdenas: You've been there since January, the beginning of the year. Let's talk about the issues facing you and I realize some have yet to be resolved but one has to do with pensions for city workers.
Daniel Valenzuela: There are some contract negotiations going on between the unions and city management. I can only assume that they're going to look at the pensions. You know, to find out, to see what can be reformed and what points --
José Cárdenas: Do you think there is some reform that needs to be done?
Daniel Valenzuela: I think it's healthy to hook at the pension system, especially now, to find out if it's something that -- that is viable. That can continue to -- to strengthen our city.
José Cárdenas: Another controversial issue has to do with the food tax. Where are you on that?
Daniel Valenzuela: It's a controversial issue, as far as where I'm at on that, keep in mind, I didn't vote on the food tax when it came up. I wasn't on the council. However, I did -- you know, it was brought up at every forum practically. Every debate on the campaign trail. You know, I said it all along, who doesn't loath any tax? Especially one that's on food? But if it's a choice, if I have a choice between a 2% tax on food or taking away your police officers and firefighters, closing down senior centers, after-school programs and libraries, in my opinion, that is the greater evil. Now, again, I don't appreciate there's a tax on food, but if it was up to me, I'm going to have to live with that tax on food rather than make our neighborhoods less safe by putting public safety and -- and like as I mentioned, closing down libraries and after-school programs and senior centers.
José Cárdenas: I realize it's early on to have a firm opinion about relationships with other council members and the mayor. But there's been a lot of talk about the nastiness that seemed to develop toward the end of the last council term. Some of the people who participated in that aren't there anymore. What's your sense of the level of harmony between the new council and the new mayor?
Daniel Valenzuela: I've been on the Phoenix City Council for just a few weeks, as you mentioned. I've made it a point to sit down with every one of my colleagues prior to taking office and after taking office. I want to build a personal relationship with them. We all have no choice but to move this city forward and I have to tell you, again, I wasn't there prior to my term, in talking with some of the other council members, they seem to like where things are headed. The council meetings have been very open on ideas have been expressed. And we'll see where it goes. I do feel good about where we're headed, though.
José Cárdenas: Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte," to take U talk about the beginning of your career and I'm sure we'll have you on again as a guest down the road.
Daniel Valenzuela: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
Daniel Valenzuela:Phoenix City Councilman, District 5;