Silent on Single-Payer Health Care, Phoenix Mayor Dodges Petition

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was not keen to address a petition sponsored by local socialists at the City Council's May 16 meeting.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was not keen to address a petition sponsored by local socialists at the City Council's May 16 meeting. Gage Skidmore/flickr
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton brushed off a citizen petition on Wednesday that asked City Council members to take a stand on single-payer health care.

Stanton is gearing up for a run for Congress, and local leftists want to know where he stands on a huge Democratic litmus test.

The Phoenix chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America sponsored the petition, which asked the City Council to pass a resolution supporting the so-called Medicare for All bills in Congress. A single-payer health care system would establish a universal, government-run health insurance program supported by higher taxes.

In his last formal City Council meeting yesterday, Mayor Greg Stanton explained that council members historically have not passed resolutions in response to issues outside of their jurisdiction.

"As a general rule, we have not moved forward with those, even as well-intended as the proposals may be," Stanton said at the meeting.

The petition was denied unanimously.

Stanton is planning to run for Congress in District 9 and must resign from the City Council by May 30 under the state's resign-to-run law. A campaign spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Benjamin Fong, a faculty fellow at Arizona State University's honors college and a DSA member, took to the podium to defend his petition.

“The petition does not ask that the council change federal law," he said.

Fong pointed out that in Philadelphia, municipal representatives passed a similar resolution in March.

"City councils weigh in on issues of national concern very often," he said.

He asked city staff to study the health care issue for at least a couple of months to calculate how much a single-payer system would save Phoenix.

In a bizarro reversal of the normal dynamics, the most conservative voice on the council spoke up in favor of hearing out a petition sponsored by socialists. Councilman Sal DiCiccio said that doesn't support the petition's agenda, but argued that the City Council has addressed national issues in the past.

"They have literally put forward issues that they want to support on a national level, whether it’s on immigration or anything else," DiCiccio said.

DiCiccio admitted that he was "a socialist in college."

"I’ve become more libertarian," he explained.

DiCiccio seemed to be using the DSA petition to needle Stanton and other Democratic council members. It's a common theme for DiCiccio — he abhors what he refers to as political grandstanding by his colleagues.

"People talk the talk, but when it comes down to showing even just a level of support, they will never do that," DiCiccio said. "And that is what's occurring. At some point, the people who are pushing an agenda that they believe to be the right agenda need to realize who's saying what and doing what."

Devin Howard, a past chair of DSA Phoenix, urged the council members to reconsider. A Medicare for All system would save the average family thousands of dollars a year in health care costs, she said.

"We implore you to not simply kick the can down the road and claim that this issue is out of your jurisdiction," she said.

Although Stanton is the leading Democratic candidate to replace Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema in District 9 — Sinema is running for Senate — he will face Talia Fuentes in the primary.

Fuentes, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Congress in 2016 against Republican Andy Biggs, attended the meeting on Wednesday to speak in favor of the petition. Without naming names, she criticized politicians who aren't willing to challenge the establishment, in what seemed like an oblique reference to Stanton as her primary opponent.

"I have personally experienced being asked by the establishment elite to not support a Medicare for All program," Fuentes said.

Vice Mayor Thelda Williams was not pleased with Fuentes' statement, and asked Fuentes to confirm that she was a political candidate.

“So you are just turning this forum into a political debate?" Williams said. "I really resent that — I just want you to know.”

Fuentes countered that the council members are elected officials and discuss political issues.

Before council members voted on the petition, Councilwoman Laura Pastor asked Stanton if council members could actually vote on a resolution expressing support for a Medicare for All system.

“Could we legally do so? We could legally do so," Stanton replied, but added that his prerogative has been to ignore petitions on national issues.

"If the City Council wants to change that practice they certainly can, but that’s been my practice as long as I’ve been mayor," Stanton said.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty