Phoenix is poised to elect its mayor and half its city council next week.
Did you even know?
I've heard of sleeper races, but this campaign has been downright catatonic. Sure, a vociferous and bitter few are furious over the mayor and council's most egregious breach of trust to date, the Marriott hotel handout. That group, led by Crowne Plaza Hotel owner Steve Cohn, has tried everything: radio ads, an initiative drive, even signs with Mayor Skip Rimsza's milk-mustached face and the query, "Got Milked?"
But none of it's resonated with the masses -- or, should I say, the trickle of voters who will make their positions known on September 7.
Because of the city's vote-by-mail program, by the time you read this, the election likely will be over. More than 75,000 ballots were mailed out this summer, and by last week, 30,000 had already been returned. With voter turnout anticipated at between 20 and 25 percent of the city's 548,000 voters, that means the balance already will have been tipped before the polls open Tuesday morning.
That's not the only reason voters won't show, though. Our city leaders couldn't have selected a worse election date: the day after Labor Day. We can barely drag our sorry butts to work that day, let alone remember to vote.
Our leaders like it that way. Low voter turnout favors incumbents, which is what we'll most certainly see next week. The eight propositions on the ballot will most likely pass as well, with the exception of Proposition 106, the mayor/council pay raise.
Voters may use Proposition 106 to cast their vote of no-confidence in our elected officials, rather than throwing the rats out. And it's hard to blame them, in some sense: The alternatives aren't always so palatable.
For those who do intend to make that schlep to the polls, here's a primer of who and what will be on the ballot:
MAYOR: Incumbent Skip Rimsza vs. Randy Pullen and Patrick Dardis. (See Feature, "Skipping to Re-election.")
DISTRICT 1, NORTHWEST PHOENIX: Incumbent Dave Siebert vs. Yolanda Strayhand.
Siebert, a plumbers union representative, faces Strayhand for the second time. In 1995, Strayhand was a Democrat. Siebert is a Democrat. (Even though the races are technically nonpartisan, party affiliation matters, particularly when it comes to endorsements.) But this year, Strayhand was recruited by the GOP, whose members are unhappy with Siebert's labor alliances.
Strayhand, a teacher, is president of the Washington Elementary School Board. She's tried to hammer Siebert for his vote on the Marriott deal, but hasn't gotten far with that. It's widely acknowledged that Siebert will walk away with the seat.
DISTRICT 3, CENTRAL/NORTHEAST PHOENIX: Incumbent Peggy Bilsten vs. Barry MacMurray.
MacMurray, a semiretired computer manager, ran unsuccessfully as a write-in candidate last year in Legislative District 25. He has also tried to use the Marriott deal against Bilsten, again unsuccessfully. He opposes Proposition 101, the desert preserve measure, while Bilsten supports it.
One of Bilsten's greatest accomplishments in office has been the creation of the Phoenix Family Advocacy Center, a one-stop resource center for domestic violence/sexual assault victims.
Bilsten is predicted to win.
DISTRICT 5, WEST PHOENIX: Felipe Zubia vs. Claude Mattox.
This contest for the one open seat on the council is also the only real horse race.
Zubia, a planner for the city of Peoria, is part of a group of young, dynamic Hispanics who are interested in government but are not part of the Mary Rose Wilcox clique. He's been endorsed by the police union and the Arizona Homebuilders Association.
Mattox, a real estate agent, is a longtime community activist who worked to get Desert Sky Pavilion built in west Phoenix. He's considered the "good old boy" candidate, endorsed by the current seatholder, John Nelson. Mattox has also been endorsed by the firefighters' union and local Realtors' associations.
Originally, insiders gave Mattox the edge. Now the unofficial odds are slightly in Zubia's favor, in part because of a hit piece sent out this summer by Mattox associate Mike Morgan, a onetime campaign manager who has now distanced himself from Mattox. The mailing attacked Zubia for filing bankruptcy (true) and claimed he hadn't made payments on student loans (not true). Like many personal attacks, the mailing backfired and actually won Zubia support.
This is the race to watch.
DISTRICT 7, SOUTHWEST PHOENIX: Incumbent Doug Lingner vs. Rosie Lopez.
Lingner is widely viewed as a hard worker, though not the brightest bulb in the package. Lopez would have had a good shot, insiders say, if she'd gotten into the race sooner; she's had trouble raising money.
But Lopez, a former elementary school teacher who now works for Arizona State University, is considered a strong candidate. She's Hispanic in a largely Hispanic district and viewed as a strong leader, knowledgeable about community issues.
A third candidate, Laura Prendergast, is a perennial challenger and a one-issue wonder: no growth for her neighborhood, Laveen.
Lingner will likely walk away with this one.
Now on to the propositions, which are mainly bureaucratic mumbo jumbo that don't mean much to you or me. Pay attention to 101, 102 and 106.
PROPOSITION 101 -- Desert Preserve.
This measure has been billed as the greatest thing since the Endangered Species Act. I wouldn't go that far, although the measure has good intentions. Proposition 101 would raise the city's sales tax a 10th of 1 percent for 10 years, generating about $250 million to be used in desert preservation and park rehab.
Here's the breakout:
Sixty percent of the money would be used to purchase land -- mainly from the State Land Trust -- to create a 15,000-acre preserve in north Phoenix, near the Carefree Highway west of Cave Creek Road.
Thirty percent would go to improve existing regional parks.
Ten percent would improve existing neighborhood parks and form partnerships with schools for outdoor capital improvements.
I would have liked to see more money go into improving our crumbling inner city, and critics point out that the 15,000 acres Phoenix wants to buy may not be for sale. The State Land Department still has to make that decision.
But the whole thing feels good, and Proposition 101 is expected to pass in a landslide.
PROPOSITION 102 -- Public vote to privatize fire and police service.
This measure would require a public vote anytime the city wanted to privatize fire or police services. At first I was perplexed. Phoenix's Fire Department has a great reputation. And the Phoenix Police Department isn't exactly foundering. Why would we want to change? Then it was pointed out that this is not about a wholesale change, but instead about incremental change. What if north Phoenix needs a new firehouse and there's a Rural/Metro station across the street in Scottsdale? It would be easier and cheaper, some argue, to contract with the private company.
This measure would require a public vote on such decisions.
Similar measures are being pushed by police and fire unions around the country.
It will probably pass.
PROPOSITION 106 -- Pay raise.
This would increase the mayor's annual salary from $37,500 to $56,000 and the council members' salaries from $34,000 to $36,000.
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Compare that to San Diego, a like-sized city with much higher salaries for elected officials: almost $72,000 for the mayor and $54,000 for council members.
I predict defeat for Proposition 106, although it will be close.
That's too bad. Low pay is one of the reasons we have such abysmal city leadership, and the requested raises are really a pittance if you consider the potential payback in decent public service.
Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: firstname.lastname@example.org