Equality Arizona: Forum Offers "Good Glimpse" of Phoenix Mayoral Candidates Stance on LGBT and City Issues

Candidates in the Phoenix mayor's race carefully measured their words during a forum hosted by Equality Arizona, a political organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender  equality.

The Monday night forum included questions to gauge candidates' stances on same-sex marriage and discrimination in housing and employment within city policies.

Former Councilman Greg Stanton didn't hesitate to say he supports equality within city policies to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination.

He said he would be willing to go to Washington, D.C. to lobby for changes to federal laws to eliminate discrimination.  He also said he supports equality when it came to same-sex marriage.

Wes Gullett, a Valley lobbyist, said the same-sex-marriage issue is one that the would have to "look at" very hard. He said he would be willing to sit down and talk to people to come up with a decision.

Gullett said the issue of marriage unions should be left to churches but that the "government shouldn't discriminate in any way."  

When moderator Donna Rossi of CBS 5 News followed up and pointedly asked Gullett whether  he was in favor of same-sex marriage, he avoided the question and said again that government shouldn't discriminate.

Thane Eichenauer, one of four mayoral candidates who participated in the forum, said government shouldn't sanction marriages.

Councilman Claude Mattox said he, too, would advocate for anti-discrimination policies. He was less committed when it came to same-sex marriages.

After the forum, he told New Times that he wouldn't discuss the matter further, unless the state brings forward the issue.

"It's not going to happen in the near future," he said.


Sam Castaneda Holdren, acting director for Equality Arizona, said he was pleased to see most of the candidates show up to speak to the LGBT community, not just on gay and lesbian issues, but on all the issues that are important to Phoenix voters.

"We got a really good glimpse of where they stand," he said. "And we got to see how informed -- and uninformed -- they are on the issues."

Councilwoman Peggy Neely was the only no-show.

Some suggested that Neely couldn't have attended the forum since she has not officially declared her candidacy for mayor.  When she does make it official, she will have to resign her seat on the City Council.

Her publicity pamphlets made it to a table at the forum. Neely, however, noted she had a scheduling conflict. She spent the evening at a campaign fundraiser in Laveen raising money for a race that, officially, she is only exploring the possibility of entering. 

Candidates offered their predictable campaign rhetoric about growing the economy, creating a diverse job market, and the importance of strong neighborhoods.


A question about the CityNorth giveaway prompted a few jabs at Mattox from his opponents.

Stanton says elected officials have to be "smart" about tax incentives and that the $97 million deal that Phoenix made for a parking garage at a retail center didn't make any sense. 

Gullett said it was a bad deal because not everyone could benefit, and it put the city in a position where it was choosing which businesses are winners and losers. 

Mattox, who voted in favor of the tax incentive for the north Phoenix shopping center, did a little flip flopping.

It was only a few weeks ago that Mattox defended his decision in the Phoenix Business Journal. In that March 11 article, he also talked about expanding tax incentives to suburban neighborhoods.

During the forum, however, he said the city has made money off of CityNorth and that it made sense at the time because a parking garage would free up land to build more retail shops instead of expansive parking lots -- and thus create more city revenue.

But, he said, given how public opinion largely is against the CityNorth subsidy, he would not support it today "even though it makes sense" for the city.

Stanton came back at Mattox, saying, "Of course we made money, it's a shopping mall! The issue is whether the subsidy was necessary."

Neely also voted in favor of the subsidy for the shopping center in her district.

Questions were raised about  Public Safety Manager Jack Harris -- the recent debacle over allegations that the police department intentionally shared inaccurate kidnapping statistics with the feds to get federal grants and Harris' "double dipping."

Harris retired as Phoenix police chief, started drawing on his state pension, and was almost immediately hired back as a public safety manager.

Stanton said there shouldn't be two positions and that city officials should conduct a national search to fill the position. 

Gullett said Harris needed to retire -- again -- and that the Public Safety Manager position, as well as double-dipping, should be eliminated altogether.

He said Harris and the city should have been focused on finding a successor to lead the Phoenix Police Department. He said the city needed to conduct a national search to find a replacement for Harris  to "give the police department the leadership that it deserves."

Mattox said he was the one who said Harris should be moved from the police chief's post to "get at the truth" about the kidnapping statistics. That seemed to conflict with a statement he released before Harris was reassigned. In it, Mattox said he believed an internal audit should be completed before anyone jumped to conclusions.

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