Bill Gates -- Not That Bill Gates -- Is New Phoenix City Councilman

Governor Jan Brewer may have little-to-no-clout with her fellow Republicans at the Statehouse -- she's had to sue them just to get their budget proposal (and even that didn't work).

But Brewer still, apparently, has clout at Phoenix City Hall.

Today the City Council voted on a political neophyte to replace Councilwoman Maria Baier, who resigned earlier this month in order to run the State Land Department. The Council's choice, attorney Bill Gates, is reasonably attractive, very articulate, and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law. (Nice!)

But the real wind beneath his wings, we hear, was the support of the Governor herself. We're also told that associates of Senator John McCain telephoned Council members on Gates' behalf.

Gates, as best we can tell, has no political experience beyond a stint on the Paradise Valley Village Planning Committee and the city's Citizen's Bond Committee. But he's got plenty of civic involvement -- including, according to his resume, raising $250,000 for the UMOM homeless shelter. His resume also notes that he worked as an associate at Fennemore Craig from 1996 to 2001 and is currently the associate general counsel at golf supplier Ping.

Gates, a Glendale native, told the Council that he has a longstanding relationship with Brewer: "I went to high school with her son Michael." He vowed to capitalize on his connections, saying he would take Phoenix's good relationship with the governor's office "to the next level."

Naturally, Gates also had to joke about the famous man who shares his name. (Hey, if he didn't bring it up, we definitely would.)

"I'm not the Bill Gates who with a snap of his fingers could solve all the problems in the state," he said. "But I am the Bill Gates who's lived in District Three for 13 years."

Council members voting in favor of Gates' nomination were Michael Johnson, Peggy Neely, Michael Nowakowski, and Tom Simplot. Mayor Phil Gordon provided the fifth and final "yes" to catapault Gates into the seat, saying that he'd vowed to vote for any candidate who could amass four votes from the Council. (Not exactly the most ringing endorsement, but there you have it.)

Gates' quick selection torpedoed the candidacy of former City Councilman Tom Milton, who turned out dozens of supporters at the meeting and was nominated for a Council vote by Councilman Mattox. But Councilwoman Neely managed to nominate Gates first, thereby ensuring that he'd be voted in before the Council could consider Mattox's motion.

To retain the seat he's just been appointed to, Gates will need to earn at least 50 percent of the vote in a district election this November. That may prove incredibly tough -- as many as 17 of the candidates who applied for the open seat told Council they plan to run this fall. But if no one gets a plurality of the votes, the runoff election won't be until March 2010, so Gates could be holding this seat for awhile.

Gates' wife, Pamela, is an attorney at Bryan Cave, according to the State Bar of Arizona's Web site. The couple have two daughters.

The Council's decision is surely a blow not only to former councilman Milton, a friend of Mayor Gordon's who hoped to mount a comeback, but Jon Altmann. Altmann, a Navy vet and public safety consultant, was the top runner-up in Baier's election two years ago. He hoped to win appointment today based on the fact that he garnered 44 percent of the district's vote in that hard-fought race. We're guessing that Altmann will be throwing his hat into the ring this fall -- it will be interesting to see how much Gates's friends in high places matter then. If nothing else, we're guessing that oh-so-famous name won't hurt.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske