Although Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon doesn't leave office for another year and half, political wonks already are speculating about the final lineup of candidates for the 2011 mayor's race.
Without an incumbent to challenge, since Gordon is termed out, the post looks especially attractive to existing council members.
Councilman Claude Mattox is the only one who has put his toe in the water publicly. Councilwoman Peggy Neely's name also has been floated.
But the mayor hasn't been pleased with Neely, at least not according to a March 18 e-mail he wrote telling his staff that they were to "ignore Peggy til I decide otherwise."
Gordon was upset at the time because Neely had been invited to a reception to woo members of the Republican National Committee to bring their convention to Phoenix.
He told his staff that he would bring Elissa Mullany, his girlfriend and former fundraiser, Councilman Bill Gates, and Mattox as guests, but "don't invite anyone else."
Unfortunately for Gordon, his staff already had invited Neely, who had agreed to attend.
"Wish we didn't," Gordon replied when his staff told him she was on the guest list. "It's done. Too late to rescind. No problem. I'll do my thing by singling out Claude and Bill. This point forward, we elevate Claude and Bill and ignore Peggy til I decide otherwise. This will draw her to me at some point. And unless we don't keep rewarding her, she will continue to attack me, Cate and Elissa."
Gordon believes that Neely was the source on some of the stories raising questions about the preference the mayor gives to his girlfriend and people with whom she does business. To read more, click here.
For example, on a trip to Qatar reportedly aimed at enticing foreign investments to Phoenix, Gordon dumped city staff scheduled to attend and brought along only his girlfriend. Mullany has pocketed thousands of dollars from political funds created to improve Phoenix. Gordon has refused to answer questions regarding Mullany or her role in the Mayor's Office.
"He's Mr. Paranoid," Neely says, laughing.
She tells the New Times, more seriously, that "being the mayor of Phoenix is an honor and that it comes with great responsibility."
"You must be a great leader, mature, and above reproach," Neely said. "Issues like [Gordon's regarding his girlfriend] make you question the level of respect that is being given to the office."
There aren't a shortage of people who believe they could do a better job.
Mattox formed an exploratory committee last year to gauge whether there is enough financial and community support to enter the race.
Things have been slow, but Mattox tells the New Times that's because he's been doing it on his own. Now, he's hired a fundraiser and has about $30,000 in the bank. He's also hired Jason Rose of Rose & Allyn (flak for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Attorney General wannabe Andrew Thomas).
Public support hasn't come gushing Mattox's way from the influential politicos with whom he often mingles, such as Gordon, Pete Gorraiz, president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, or Billy Shields, former president of the fire union.
Mattox says they are probably just holding off until there is an actual campaign before they start endorsing any candidates.
Gordon's support probably won't go Mattox's way, since Mattox didn't back Gordon's efforts to file a lawsuit against Arizona over SB1070, the immigration proposal that requires cops to check the status of individuals they have "reasonable suspicion" to believe are in the country illegally.
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But according to that e-mail a few weeks ago, Mattox and Gordon were pals, and Gordon had plans to "elevate Claude."
"I don't know what he means by elevating Claude or why he feels he'd need to elevate Claude," Mattox said. "But I would venture to say that if he were to send out an e-mail today, he'd have the same attitude about me that he had about Peggy Neely in that e-mail."
Meantime, Mattox is moving ahead.
"If down the road I find that I don't have the level of support to move forward...then I'll have to make other decisions," he said. "But for the time being, I'm interested, and I will keep doing what I need to."