One month shy of her 40th birthday, former Phoenix City Councilwoman Jessica Florez died in Scottsdale on June 1.
Although she reportedly died in her sleep, her cause of death has not been disclosed. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office says the death investigation remains open, and can not yet release any information.
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Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton released the following statement about Florez, who served as a strategist in his campaigns for Phoenix City Council:
"Nicole and I are mourning the loss of our dear friend and former Phoenix City Councilwoman Jessica Florez. She cared passionately about our city, having served in dozens of leadership roles, the most important one being her public service as a District 4 city councilwoman in 2003," he writes. "Jessica had a passion for education and worked tirelessly raising funds to support the work of Maricopa Community Colleges, Achieving a College Education (ACE) scholarship. Jessica's life ended way too early, but we will never forget her or her passion for Phoenix."
She was appointed to the Phoenix City Council in 2003 to fill the seat then-Councilman Phil Gordon was vacating to make a run for mayor. Although an ambitious politico who mingled in influential circles, she was unable to fend off a challenge from Tom Simplot.
A New Times article on Florez (August 8, 2003) notes that when the New Mexico native moved to Arizona, she accomplished a great deal.
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Although she's only just turned 30, Florez has an extensive record of public service, and has quickly made friends among the city's more influential political figures. She worked on the campaigns of two of the city council members who appointed her to her position in March. Her former boyfriend, Billy Shields, is a past president of the firefighters' union, which has also endorsed Florez. Her current boyfriend is Michael Lieb, past chairman of the Board of Adjustments.
Whether her accomplishments are a result of her competence or her alliances depends on who you talk to.
As an avid soccer player, Florez was awarded academic and athletic scholarships to Westminster University in Missouri, and her college days were spent with her sorority, working, studying and playing soccer. It was an exhausting schedule, and one that left her little time to actually enjoy herself.
"I never even drank in college," she says, "although I enjoy a good glass of wine now."
But underneath her polished exterior, she seems to be all nerves, hyperactive and scattered. Florez, like her dog Jade, simply can't keep still. She is most comfortable juggling conversations with trivial distractions, fiddling with a cell phone or folding a straw wrapper into tiny squares and triangles as her eyes dart around the room. Even her sleep is fitful, and she drinks a glass of wine at night to combat the damaging effects of TMJ (temporomandibular joint syndrome), a degenerative condition she says has eroded away the cartilage in her jaw.
But despite her energy, Florez has a hard time getting around. Arthritis in her knees, a result of her soccer career, makes walking the neighborhoods painful. While her opponent has been ringing doorbells in the district three hours a day, seven days a week, since March, Florez limits her door-to-door campaign to a few hours on weekends after which she ices up her knees and phones constituents.
Jessica Lynn Florez, 39 of Phoenix passed away Saturday, June 1st. Jessica was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico on July 1st, 1973.
Jessica was vivacious, visionary, enterprising and full of life.
Jessica moved to Phoenix in 1995 after attending Westminster College on a soccer scholarship.
Accomplishments and experiences included, Aide to Mayor Skip Rimsza, City of Phoenix Mayor's Office, Community Relation's Coordinator for the Phoenix Suns, Managing Partner of Grupo N Advertising, District 4 Phoenix City Councilwoman, and Publisher of "AZ Taste Magazine."
Jessica was a Valley Leadership Class XXI graduate, a Hispanic Leadership graduate, Adelante Hispanic Leadership advisory board member, Phoenix Suns "Night Hoops" board member, Phoenix Fire Department PAL board member, Charter 100 member, and an active advocate and a consultant to the Maricopa Community College's Achieving A College Education (ACE) program.
In the year 2000, she earned her MPA from Arizona State University.
She is survived by her mother, Ernestine Mora, of Albuquerque, her father, Joe Florez of Carlsbad, and siblings John and Cindy Florez of Albuquerque, Joseph A. Florez Jr. and Irma Florez-Meyers also from Carlsbad. She is also survived by her beloved weimaraner, Jade.
The Florez family would like to thank Michael Lieb and family, Ronnie & Angie Lopez and family, Greg and Nicole Stanton, Pat Cantelme, Michelle Angle, Elissa Mullany, Enrique Lopez-Lira and Sherrie Murphy.
Services will be held on Wednesday, June 5 at Mountain Preserve Reception Center, 1431 East Dunlap Avenue, Phoenix, 85020 at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Jessica Florez "ACE" Scholarship Fund, 2419 West 14th Street, Tempe, AZ 85281, or Westminster College Women's Soccer.
Arrangements by Sinai Mortuary.