Vote For Me Or I'll Shoot This Dog

Just Kidding. But Phoenix City Council candidate Jessica Florez is trying to soften her tough-girl image.

She's cute going on beautiful, energetic to the point that just watching her in action is tiring. She's so young and exuberant she seems to be everywhere at once, flipping about her environment like a pinball, her inexperience and enthusiasm equal in intensity. A chaotic bundle of energy whose most difficult assignment is sitting still, she's clearly in it to please. She has trouble concentrating, and even more trouble sharing as she is in every game to win. Awkward and graceful, anxious and ambitious, she's not ashamed of what she is -- a perfect bitch.

No, we're not talking about Jessica Florez -- exactly -- although her political critics will think this an apt depiction of the wanna-be Phoenix City Council member. This particular bundle of energy is Jade, Florez's 2-year-old Weimaraner, who has become a major influence on her owner's bid for city council.

Like the obsessive Parker Posey in Best in Show, Florez clearly has dogs on the brain. When she talks to her gangly pet, she refers to herself as "mommy" and then answers back in a simulated dog voice, holding imaginary conversations that leave Jade looking befuddled. A doting mother, the otherwise childless Florez drops Jade at doggie day care when she has to be away from the house, and dresses her in costumes for holidays. Given her love for the animal that shares her home near Seventh Avenue and Missouri, when it came time to run for office, inserting dogs into her political career was a predictable move.

Jessica Florez with her dog, Jade.
Jackie Mercandetti
Jessica Florez with her dog, Jade.
Jessica Florez addresses a neighborhood association meeting at a central Phoenix mortuary.
Matt Garcia
Jessica Florez addresses a neighborhood association meeting at a central Phoenix mortuary.

The floppy-eared yellow dog from her campaign signs (a vision Florez had of morphing Jade and the Petco logo) belies a campaign that seems more gimmick than substance. Although meant to emphasize Florez as a protective "neighborhood watchdog," the infantile drawing is also an unabashed attempt to soften Florez's image as an extremely ambitious political climber.

"Now people see me and say, You're the lady with the dog.' It sends a warm and fuzzy message," she says.

As a partner in an advertising firm, Florez admits the controversy was a calculated move to sell herself to voters. "I'm in marketing. This is what we do," she says. And what she's done has indeed drawn the attention Florez craves, with observers touting the District 4 race as one of the most competitive campaigns in what has so far been a rather lackluster election season.

Critics consider Florez's attention-garnering tactics typical of the competitive New Mexico native, whom they say uses whatever means necessary to attain her goals. They say connections, personal relationships and political favors garnered her an appointment to the District 4 city council seat Phil Gordon vacated last March to run for mayor.

Yet while her friends helped get her to City Hall, it's voters who will decide whether to keep her. Florez is facing a formidable opponent. Tom Simplot has a long history of neighborhood involvement and a strong core of supporters, including many in the gay community who would like to see Simplot, an open homosexual, on the council as much as Latinos would like to see Hispanic representation.

Redistricting has expanded District 4 to the west, adding a large number of Hispanic voters to a mix of central corridor businesses and historic neighborhoods, which are home to a large gay constituency. Concerns run the gamut from basic property crime issues to how light rail will affect neighborhoods and merchants.

Those who see Florez as politically naive worry she'll be more concerned with pleasing her peers than her constituents. Although she has public support from most Latino leaders, there are those who whisper she's a carpetbagger, an ethnic token out of touch with the Hispanic community.

But Florez claims she's well versed on what concerns Hispanics in her district. Topping her list is a problem she says neighborhoods have with Hispanics parking on the grass in front of their homes. The Hispanics don't know they're not allowed to park on the grass, she says, which leads to bad relations between neighbors.

And although she's concerned about day laborers, she would not support another city-funded center like the one on 25th Street and Bell Road that Councilwoman Peggy Neely championed. (Neely, coincidentally, voted against Florez's appointment.) Florez thinks there are other options besides spending public money on a center.

But Florez refuses to be pigeonholed, and says her interests lie not only in Hispanic issues. "I've never used my ethnicity, nothing could be more ludicrous. Being culturally sensitive is a bonus," says Florez, who sees the race as based on competency, not identity politics.

Still, one of the state's most visible Latinos is openly supporting her opponent. Many other Hispanic political leaders either wouldn't return calls seeking comment for this story or were reluctant to talk about Florez.

Representative Ben Miranda, a leading Democrat, is backing Tom Simplot.

"I'm endorsing Tom because he is sensitive to my community," Miranda says. "I trust him and take him at his word. There's a real need to coalesce in our neighborhoods and in our communities, and that takes a person like [Simplot] and what he represents. Not as a gay man, although he's very open about that, but for his work with neighborhoods and low-income housing."

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