Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego appears on track to sail through her second mayoral election, receiving more than 50 percent of the votes so far and securing her grip on the mayor's seat.
Based on the ballots that have come in so far, "we are feeling very good tonight," Gallego said in a Zoom call with Phoenix New Times. Early results have Gallego receiving well over 60 percent of the vote.
It was a good night for incumbents, with Democrats Debra Stark and Betty Guardado both on track to hold on to their seats, although it is still too close to call whether Stark will receive 50 percent of the vote overall and avoid a runoff election.
Meanwhile, voters in Phoenix's most-populous district are barely favoring climate adviser Yassamin Ansari, setting up a showdown between her and Laveen Community Council member Cinthia Estela, who is within 2 percentage points of Ansari with many ballots left to be counted. In northwest Phoenix, Ann O'Brien is leading fellow Republican Dave Siebert.
The results from tonight's election are not final. Phoenix is in the middle of transitioning its election schedule, meaning that this local election is more akin to a primary election. The leading candidates who didn't manage to secure 50 percent of the vote will have to square off against the next-most-popular candidate in a March run-off election.
Also, only three-quarters of votes have been counted statewide, and vote totals will continue to be updated in the coming days as ballots are counted, potentially making a difference in close races.
The results so far are another sign of strength for Gallego, who did not face a strong challenge for reelection.
Gallego told New Times that she was honored by the confidence Phoenix voters put in her and that her success in the election vindicated her actions to address COVID-19.
"It sounds like the majority of people agree public health matters," she said, saying that voters had chosen the candidate who took COVID-19 seriously.
While Phoenix's "weak mayor" system means that the mayor doesn't hold executive power and acts more as a council president and public figurehead for the city, Gallego has touted her response to COVID-19 and Phoenix's continued economic growth.
Gallego has had some issues wrangling support on the council. In March, the council limited her emergency powers to address COVID-19, even while praising her leadership. She ended up dropping her own police oversight proposal after it lost support in favor of one put forward by Councilmember Carlos Garcia.
Despite this, Gallego has wrangled appearances on national media, pressuring the federal government and Governor Doug Ducey over their response to COVID-19, with concrete results including pressuring the feds to open up another Phoenix coronavirus test facility. She's taken lead on some policy positions, like backing a zoning change to increase the number of beds allowed at the Human Services Campus.
Perhaps the greatest sign of Gallego's strength is her lack of a strong challenger. Her closest opponent, Republican challenger Merissa Hamilton, only received around 25 percent of initial votes.
Gallego raised $1.5 million this time around according to the most recently available campaign finance report, slightly more than the total she raised in the 2018 election, which she won in a blowout against Glendale firefighter and fellow Democrat Daniel Valenzuela. Because the race was to fill the spot left by former mayor Greg Stanton, now a Congressman for Arizona's District 9, Gallego is now running again just two years later.
By comparison, Hamilton only raised $152,000 by the same time, the most recent report showed. A former aide to councilmember Sal DiCiccio, she had courted far-right sentiments and in October appeared at a rally hosted by Great 48!, one of the main groups protesting COVID-19 mitigation measures. She was also a member of the Patriot Movement AZ Facebook group, a hotbed of racism and opposition to COVID-19 measures. When asked about her membership by the Republic, Hamilton claimed that she was only a member to post content for her job with DiCiccio, although the paper says it reviewed posts showing she frequently commented on "sex trafficking and other matters."
"I also need to announce to announce that unfortunately I am joining the ranks of Senator Rand Paul, Thomas Massie and President Trump in having tested positive for COVID-19," Hamilton says while upbeat music plays in the background, in a video posted to Twitter. Hamilton adds that she's doing fine.
The next closest candidate in fundraising to Gallego, Democrat Tim Seay, filed an error-ridden campaign report that claimed he'd received over $30 million in donations. In reality, he only received a total of around $309,000 the Arizona Republic found, a fraction of Gallego's haul. In addition, a lawsuit recently alleged that Seay did not live at a Masonic temple he listed as his residence in south Phoenix, but actually resided in Glendale. A judge found no requirement that candidate's listed residences be permitted for human habitation.
Longshot write-in candidate, radio DJ Joshua "Crisco Kidd" Carmona, who quit his weekly program to run at the last minute, only raised a total of $6,000 and did not manage the miraculous victory he hoped for.
Gallego is only the second woman to hold the mayorship of America's fifth-largest city, and victory tonight secures her another four years in office.
Phoenix's District 7 race was the highest-profile contest, drawing attention and money from around the Valley and the nation.
Tonight's results point to a showdown between Ansari and Estela.
Current results show Ansari with 34 percent of votes and Estela with 32 percent. Francisca Montoya, another candidate with long-time ties to the district is pulling in 18 percent, meaning her voters may be critical in the March runoff.
Speaking around 9:20 p.m., Ansari told New Times she was thrilled to be in first place and was confident that she would stay in the lead due to her campaign's push in the last week.
"I'm excited. I'm relived," she said.
In a text from her campaign consultant, Estela said that she was incredibly pleased with the results.
"I'm grateful for the outpouring of support from the local community," she said. "I hope that the positive results continue."
Ansari has drawn national attention in her race — New Times found that less than 30 percent of her total dollars raised came from inside Phoenix — in part due to her connections in national climate policy activism, and she has released voluminous policy plans. She's also secured backing from some local unions, urbanist groups, and Mayor Gallego.
While her policy proposals are less detailed, Estela has been campaigning for the council seat for longer than Ansari has lived in the district, and has scored the endorsement of outgoing Councilmember Michael Nowakowski, police unions, and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta. She's received cash backing from developers and the medical marijuana industry.
One area the two candidates split on is the city's response to homelessness. District 7 contains the Human Services Campus, the most visible center of addressing homelessness in the Valley, and a proposal to allow shelters there to add more beds to their existing spaces has divided service providers and the community. While both candidates agree more dispersed shelters are necessary, Ansari has said she supports the proposal while Estela opposes it.
Meanwhile, the District 1 race in far northwest Phoenix has been much quieter. Dave Siebert is seeking to return to the council after reaching his term limit in 2007, and has been endorsed by outgoing councilmember Thelda Williams, who is leaving the seat after reaching term limits herself. His opponent, Ann O'Brien, found her political voice while opposing a state corrections facility in her neighborhood and is a current school board member.
O'Brien is leading in initial results, drawing 53 percent of the vote. If that holds she won't have to face Siebert in a run off.
While there are only two candidates on the ballot, if neither ends up with more than 50 percent of the vote, the two will square off again in the March runoff.
Incumbents Debra Stark and Betty Guardado appear on track to hold on to their seats.
Guardado will not have to appear on the ballot again in March after beating back two long-shot challenges, but Stark is hovering around 50 percent in early results and it's too early to say what will happen. Her main challenger Nicole Garcia, who opposes mask mandates, is only receiving 33 percent of the vote, however, Kristen Pierce, who dropped out, is still pulling 17 percent of the vote.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Republican candidate Merissa Hamilton attended an October event against COVID-19 measures, but it was actually a political event hosted by a group that has protested COVID-19 measures. Hamilton also wanted to make clear that she is no longer a member of the Patriot Movement AZ Facebook group, and that she is a "liberty Republican" who does not share their views.