Arizona Republic Phoenix City Hall Reporter Dustin Gardiner talks about candidates and issues in the races for Phoenix City Council.
José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. Four city Phoenix council seats are up for grabs on Tuesday's primary, districts 2, 4, 6, and 8. Districts 4 and 8 face particularly competitive races because the current council representatives are not running for reelection. Here is Dustin Gardner, Phoenix city hall reporter for the "Arizona Republic." Welcome to "Horizonte."
Dustin Gardner: Thanks for having me.
José Cárdenas: Particularly interesting council races this year in part, with the exception of district 2, because they're so competitive in many respects and nasty. District 2 is city council member Waring. Not much of an issue there. He is going to easily win that race.
Dustin Gardner: Not much competition there at all.
José Cárdenas: But much different in district 4. Let's talk about that one first. Who are the leading candidates?
Dustin Gardner: District 4 which is Tom Simplott's seat, he's decided not to run again after about 10 years on the council. Three leading candidates so far have been Justin Johnson, the son of former mayor Paul Johnson; Laura Pastor, a daughter of well-known Congressman Ed Pastor; and David Lujan, a former state legislator. This race has not been quite as contentious as some of the others but it's been competitive. There's a lot of money pouring in there, far more than anyone in that race has seen in more than a decade. Some of the big issues have been what people in the central city, especially historic neighborhoods, care about. Historic preservation, restoration of city services, and part of that has been a lot of discussion about the city's food tax. The candidates have a little bit different positions on that. Justin Johnson was the first to come out and push and say he would repeal it immediately. David Lujan said the same thing and Laura Pastor has been a little more skeptical. She's kind of wanted to wait and see what the impact might be to city services, whereas the other candidates have kind of taken the tact more that we never needed it, we can get rid of it now.
José Cárdenas: You are right. This race in this district has not been characterized by some of the ugliness some of the other districts are facing. And it's more a question of who's the best successor for Tom Simplott, including who might represent the gay communities of which he was a really prominent leader.
Dustin Gardner: Yeah. All the candidates have made a lot of efforts to certainly reach out to that community. I think they were all supportive of the nondiscrimination ordinance that Mayor Stanton and the city council passed last year. So because there's not a gay candidate who is among that leading group, it's, they have all sort of shared part of that pie, I think.
José Cárdenas: Now, although the Republicans endorsed David Lujan, my sense from discussions I have heard he's probably in third place as amongst those three.
Dustin Gardner: Now, we haven't seen any official polling, but that's sort of the sense you get from talking to political insiders and campaign workers. He has far less money. I think he's, as of the last filing early this summer, Justin Johnson had almost three times as much money as him. In terms of sheer competition, I think he's probably behind.
José Cárdenas: So are we expecting a runoff there between Pastor and Johnson?
Dustin Gardner: It's hard to imagine a scenario where there's not a runoff with that many candidates. There's seven candidates in that race. Three well-known, heavy hitters. I am pretty sure there's going to be a runoff heading into November.
José Cárdenas: Let's go to district 6. That really has been probably the ugliest campaign of the three that are really competitive. Tell us about that one.
Dustin Gardner: District 6 has been the focus of much of the contention, the most money by far, hands down, is being sent there. Incumbent Sal DiCiccio is facing a very spirited, nasty fight from Karlene Keogh-Parks, a well-known insurance executive and philanthropist. A lot of the focus on that race has been on the role of city unions. Sal has said that the election essentially is a referendum on his fiscal reforms. He hasn't gotten along with the unions in part because of his efforts to overhaul city pension systems, opposition to city pay raises for employees. On the other hand, Karlene, she's framed the race a little bit differently. In her eyes this is a matter of restoring civility and respect on the city council. She describes DiCiccio as a flame thrower, and he certainly has a reputation for being outspoken. We are seeing a lot of mail orders, a lot of contention and frankly probably one of the ugliest city council races we have seen in many years.
José Cárdenas: Now, you mentioned that DiCiccio has been targeted in part because of his opposition to raises for city employees.
Dustin Gardner: Right.
José Cárdenas: But he's been criticized for being supportive of the raise for the city manager.
Dustin Gardner: He did vote for the $78,000 raise David Cavazos got. DiCiccio's argument has been that that raise has paid off. The city manager has pushed for a lot of efficiency savings and tried to implement the fiscal reforms that DiCiccio has pushed. But that certainly has been --
José Cárdenas: And his decision to leave is not reflecting well on DiCiccio. At least in terms of the wisdom of that --
Dustin Gardner: Karlene has certainly seeds on that point. She's made it very clear he supported that raise and now that the city manager is leaving that certain controversy is not going away.
José Cárdenas: A lot of outside money in that race? Think it's going to have an impact?
Dustin Gardner: A lot of outside money. A lot of money is coming from unions around the state, public safety, firefighter unions that are, have very bad relationship with Sal DiCiccio. They view him as being unfriendly to public safety. We are seeing this through various independent expenditure groups. Probably the group that's put up the firefighters -- not firefighters, lobbyists -- that support Sal DiCiccio signs. A lot of mail orders, I am hearing people getting them almost every day are coming from that union money.
José Cárdenas: Let's go on to district 8, another very competitive race with some very prominent names. The most prominent name, at least in terms of his history in the city of Phoenix, is Pastor Warren Stewart.
Dustin Gardner: District 8 was Michael Johnson, the 12-year incumbent on the city council. He cannot run again due to term limits. It's another open seat. The three leading candidates have been Pastor Warren Stewart, who is well known for having led the fight to create a state-wide holiday honoring Martin Luther King Junior. And then you also have Kate Gallego, a business liaison and wife of state lawmaker Rubin Gallego. And we have Lawrence Robinson, a school board member and attorney. This race has been intensely competitive. Kate Gallego has raised the most money by far and is by many insiders perceived to be the front runner. She's done a lot more mail. Has just a lot bigger organization and presence. And in this race, a lot of focus has been on the kind of, the concern that the district has been too neglected, been overlooked by the city for a long time. There's a lot of poverty and concerns about vacant lots.
José Cárdenas: Isn't it somewhat a criticism of councilman Johnson?
Dustin Gardner: In the eyes of Lawrence Robinson and Kate Gallego it is. They have not named him but they have said the district has not gotten the representation it needs.
José Cárdenas: While you accurately described it as an open seat because there's no incumbent, it's also a seat that many people think should be held by an African-American.
Dustin Gardner: Many leaders of the African-American communities, ministers, business leaders, religious leaders, they feel this needs to be held by an African-American. That the history has been that since the district was created in the early 80's, it has always been represented by an African-American. A lot of people want to fight to preserve that. The problem has been that Pastor Warren Stewart's campaign has struggled, especially compared to Kate Gallego. He's brought in way less money. There's been a lot of internal issues with his campaign, people squabbling from the inside. So we will see how that shakes out.
José Cárdenas: We should note Lawrence Robinson is African-American.
Dustin Gardner: He is also African-American, that's right.
José Cárdenas: And he has the endorsement of "The Republic."
Dustin Gardner: Yes.
José Cárdenas: On that note we will end the interview. what do you expect to come out winner?
Dustin Gardner: I can't say but the leaders of those three, I think Kate Gallego can do very well and the other two we will see where they end up.
José Cárdenas: Dustin Gardner, thank you for joining us to talk about these very contentious, very exciting races.
Dustin Gardner: Yes.
Dustin Gardiner:Phoenix City Hall Reporter, Arizona Republic;