How Greg Stanton, a Fair-Haired, Blue-Politicked Lawyer, Became Phoenix's Next Mayor

"Greg! Greg! Greg!"

"Greg! Greg! Greg!"

As one observer put it the next day, it was like Bobby Kennedy without — well, you know — as clean-cut Greg Stanton worked an energetic Election Night crowd in a historic downtown warehouse, celebrating a win that puts him in the Mayor's Office for the next four years.

Stanton will be sworn in as Phoenix's next mayor on January 3.

It is a whopping victory for Stanton, who beat five opponents in the August 30 primary election and then slapped down conservative lobbyist Wes Gullett by double digits in the November 8 runoff election.

Stanton will face serious challenges, most of them financial: dealing with a $59 million budget shortfall in the coming year, finding a way to cut costs and eliminate the city's 2 percent food tax without sacrificing city safety or losing too many city services.

Phoenix residents clearly believe he is the right person for the job.

More than 159,424 voters — a record turnout — cast ballots in Phoenix's first competitive mayoral race in decades. Nearly 56 percent of them chose Stanton.

Stanton was gracious about his historic win, telling his throng of supporters and volunteers who gathered on November 8 that it was their hard work — knocking on thousands of doors, hosting fundraisers, and urging their neighbors to vote — that delivered his win. He praised Gullett as a worthy opponent.

He made no digs at Phoenix's news media, which often covered Gullett in positive ink throughout the race. He didn't take shots at political pundits who were critical of him and who painted the race as a tight one (a perception that favored Gullett) even after the primary election, when Stanton bested Gullett in every single City Council district and emerged with an overwhelming 17-point lead, despite competing for votes against five other candidates.

Headlines in the Arizona Republic painted Gullett as a political "outsider," even though he has a long history in Arizona politics: His wife served as chief of staff to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, and he was appointed by Gordon to the Phoenix Planning Commission, an influential committee that weighs in on major development projects.

When Stanton entered the race in December 2010, political pundits on Channel 8's Horizon gave the mayoral win to Gullett during an end-of-the-year prediction show.

On that show, the Republic's Doug MacEachern said, "Wes Gullett has got some political savvy, and I think he is going to win." And Steve Goldstein of KJZZ, the local NPR affiliate, predicted Gullett would come in first with "Stanton a close second."

It was a political sentiment that carried through the election, despite polls and election results from the August 30 primary — both showing a double-digit lead for Stanton over Gullett.

Some pundits remained firmly in Gullett's camp.

On a November 4 "Sunday Square Off" with Channel 12's Brahm Resnik, Stan Barnes, a former conservative Republican state lawmaker turned political consultant, predicted that higher voter turnout would favor Gullett.

"I think Wes surprises everybody," Barnes said. "He was never supposed to have done this well. He's had pure arc momentum since he got in the race."

Greg Stanton will take office early next year as the 52nd mayor of Phoenix. Until then, he and his post-election transition team will assemble his staff for the Mayor's Office and plot out policy priorities. Among the issues he will tackle right away: promoting transparency (by, in part, regularly airing City Council meetings on television) and creating a formal city policy to support local businesses.

Transparency has been lacking in the Mayor's Office under Phil Gordon, who continues to refuse to disclose, among other things, who paid for junkets he took around the world on private jets.

Stanton's pledge for open government dealings is refreshing. Of course, it remains to be seen whether he'll keep the promise. His plans sound solid in concept, anyway.

He says he plans to spend time with front-line employees in parks, libraries, and other city departments to boost morale, which was worn down during the campaign, as unions and employees' benefits and wages were politicized and under constant attack.

Stanton's message to employees: "We've got a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we're going to get through this together."

Greg Stanton's is a political success story more than a decade in the making, one that started in early 2000 when Phoenix councilman Sal DiCiccio developed congressional aspirations, stepped down, and opened the door for Stanton, a relatively unknown Phoenix attorney, to win an appointment to the vacant seat in District 6.

(When Stanton left the council in 2009 to take a job in the Arizona Attorney General's Office, DiCiccio wanted back into politics and was appointed to fill Stanton's vacant seat. He'll prove a thorn in Stanton's side, to say the least.)

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo