Phoenix Mayoral Candidates Toss Political Barbs During Downtown Phoenix Forum

lively exchange at the Downtown Voices Coalition's mayoral forum at the Lexington Hotel last night.

At most forums, candidates cleave to the their talking points and engage in political niceties, but residents who attended last night's forum got a few fireworks.

Downtown Voices leaders allowed candidates to ask questions of each other, adding a little spice to the evening.

Candidates Wes Gullett, Jennifer Wright, Greg Stanton, Peggy Neely, and Claude Mattox attended the forum and shared generic visions for downtown and views on how to make it a vibrant, walkable hub infused with the right mix of businesses and living spaces.

Moderator Richard Ruelas of the Arizona Republic asked candidates about the last time they rode light rail.

All had at one time or another, either to go to a meeting or a baseball game, except Wright. She was hissed by the downtown audience when she said she'd never been on the train.

She explains to the unsympathetic crowd that riding light rail doesn't work in her life as an attorney who needs to keep her files close, run between court houses and function as a mom with young children.

Wright, a Tea Party-favorite, also called Mattox on the carpet twice -- once for missing the  City Council meeting on Wednesday and a very important, but contentious vote on the city budget, which includes about $30 million worth of pay raises and bonuses for city employees. Later, she pointed out that he also missed three out of the last six mayoral forums.

Wright told the audience that she was the only mayoral candidate who attended the Wednesday council meeting, and that not even Mattox, who is on the council, showed up to vote.

Mattox jumped to the microphone, explaining that he was at a funeral for a constituents' son who died in military action.

Wright fired back that the funeral was at 2 p.m. and that the council vote wasn't until 5 p.m.

When the moderator tried to calm the duo, Mattox said he wasn't going to just let it go.

"You've berated me all day about it!" Mattox shouted at Wright.

All day?

She replied: "I posted two things at 6 a.m. on Facebook. I guess someone is very sensitive."

What Wright may not know, but Mattox certainly would after 10 years on the City Council, is that city rules allow elected officials to call in to a council meeting and vote by phone.

Later in the forum, Wright fired another missile at Mattox. She asked him why he only attended three out of the last six mayoral forums. And Mattox told her that he missed the last one because he was in San Diego performing at the Rock 'n Roll Marathon helping to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

About that ...

Mattox was there, but he doesn't mention is that his band, the Screamin' Javelinas, gets paid to perform. New Times called event organizers to find out how much his band got for the gig. Dan Cruz, a spokesman for Competitor Group, which organizes the marathon, says he would have some information later this afternoon.

We'll keep you posted.

Competitor Group, which recently took over Elite Racing, also organizes the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n Roll Marathon in Phoenix. Mattox's band also performs at the local marathon.

And, despite all the discussion and debate over city spending, no one brought up all the free city services, such a police officers, that Phoenix provides the for-profit company that organizes the Phoenix marathon.

We wouldn't expect mayoral Candidate Wes Gullett, whose constant message is cut-spending at City Hall, to bring up the issue. His firm, First Strategic, is a paid lobbyist for the company.

Or Mattox, who has a conflict on interest because of his paid gigs at their events.

As for missing mayoral forums -- Mattox also missed the African American Democratic Caucus forum because he was attending a fundraiser hosted on his behalf by Phoenix lobbyist Billy Shields, former head of firefighters' union.

Amid the political sparring, Ruelas asked downtown-centric questions of candidates and gave them about 90 seconds to deliver their answers.

Wright and Gullett both spoke about getting government out of the way, eliminating burdensome regulations so that small businesses and economic development can  flourish in downtown and throughout the city.

Mattox said Phoenix needs an urban planner to guide downtown development and that the city needs to attract more downtown businesses, a more diverse housing mix, and a business school.

Wright said cities who employ urban planning fail miserably. She said supply and demand, not city investment or interference, should drive the type of housing and business mix that develops in downtown Phoenix.

Neely said Phoenix needs a real vision for downtown, and uses county islands (unincorporated swaths of county land) as examples of areas where residents do not have to adhere to regulations.

She said, if someone didn't want regulations -- clearly aimed at Wright -- then they should "go live in the county."

Gullett asked Stanton, who left the council in 2009, less than a year before his term expired to serve as an Arizona deputy attorney general, how voters could trust that he wouldn't abandon them again if he is elected mayor.

Stanton first thanked Gullett for the question, and then told him that while at the AG's Office he successfully led the fight to get rid of pay-day lenders in Arizona "despite their army of lobbyists," he took the lead in preserving Luke Air Force Base from residential encroachment by brokering a deal with Maricopa County officials not to allow more homes around the base, and that he worked on border-security issues.

All that has helped him be a better leader, and would make him a better mayor, Stanton said.

Stanton told the audience it is important to build a mix of affordable housing in downtown and consensus among downtown interests, homeowners, and businesses because downtown should be treated as a neighborhood.

Mattox asked Neely why she claims that transparency in the city budget is needed when she  was on the City Council during the numerous discussions that took place about the budget.

Neely, who voted on the previous budget and understood that employee pay raises were included in the budget, said only that there needs to be "greater transparency throughout" and criticized City Manager David Cavazos for not doing a better job of explaining the pay-raise situation to the public.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo