Steve Goldstein: A runoff election was held yesterday for City Council Districts Four and Eight in Phoenix. The District Eight race was particularly heated. Also, Mesa, Buckeye and school district voters went to the polls as well. Here to recap results is "Arizona Republic" reporter Dustin Gardiner. Dustin, welcome.
Dustin Gardiner: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me.
Steve Goldstein: Let’s look at District Eight and the Phoenix City Council specifically. That was something that at least for a while, revolved around the concept of African-American representation. How much did this play into the ultimate win by Kate Gallego and how much will that linger?
Dustin Gardiner: Race was a huge part of the election. It was discussed from the get-go, and in the last couple weeks, it was a big emphasis of the campaign of Reverend Warren Stewart, the well-known civil rights leader. But as we saw in the results last night, it didn’t seem to resonate with the majority of voters. Kate had a decisive win, but there is discussion now about potentially adding more seats to the council so there could be more chance for African-American representation.
Steve Goldstein: What do you think made the difference in that race? Because Gallego won handily.
Dustin Gardiner: Her campaign, a lot of people described it as masterful, picture perfect. The Gallegos have built a pretty incredible political machine. I think we saw that tested, and just their ability going door to door, getting those ballots in the last couple of weeks really showed.
Steve Goldstein: Laura Pastor in District Four defeated Justin Johnson. That was pretty close. What were the differences in the candidacies, what they were saying?
Dustin Gardiner: District Four was probably the more competitive of the races. In that race, we really saw there to be more of an emphasis on ideology. Pastor and her campaign tried to brand Justin Johnson as being too conservative for the district. They’re both Democrats and it is a nonpartisan election, but they tried to cast Johnson as maybe being more conservative on fiscal issues and he took stances that would have been more in line with some of the council’s conservatives.
Steve Goldstein: How will this affect diversity on the panel as a whole? We mentioned not an African-American, but a different kind of diversity.
Dustin Gardiner: There's no longer an African-American, but there are two more women and there is an additional Latino, so there will now be three women and three Latinos. That's assuming the uncounted ballots don't somehow tip the District Four race. There are still about 3,500 uncounted ballots citywide. But overall, more women, another Latino, and also a younger body, because Kate Gallego is one of the youngest council members to join in many years at age 32.
Steve Goldstein: I think that’s fascinating. Is there a concept of this idea of truly being fresh blood will have an impact on issues and how meetings are held?
Dustin Gardiner: I've talked to a lot of consultants, city leaders and city hall insiders today. There's a hope that this new blood, new energy will sort of shake up the polarized, divided City Council of recent years. Especially in last two years or so we've really seen the council just kind of become increasingly gridlocked and divided. There's a hope that having more women and more new faces will change that up.
Dustin Gardiner: Let's look at the voting blocs. It's been fairly predictable in the sense that Councilmen Gates, Waring and DiCiccio seem to be that conservative bloc. There’s been the liberal bloc; we could name that group as well, including the mayor. How does this change the makeup? Who's in the middle at this point? Who are the pivoting votes, I guess?
Dustin Gardiner: The swing votes have been Councilwoman Thelda Williams and Tom Simplot. Now, Laura Pastor will be replacing Tom Simplot in the Central city District Four. The fact that she was elected most likely cements the council's liberal majority. There are now five of what you would call probably reliable liberal votes.
Steve Goldstein: Does that affect issues going forward? We've had the food tax vote, the pension spiking vote. Going forward, could you anticipate changes within the negotiations with the unions, et cetera, because of this particular makeup?
Dustin Gardiner: Absolutely. I think probably one of the first issues where we'll see this play out next year is with the union contracts coming up. The city is renegotiating its contracts with its seven unions and the council will have a chance to vote on that. When it comes to things like pay raises, pension, the council will decide those details. Having that firm liberal bloc probably is much better for the unions.
Steve Goldstein: Turnout was pretty pathetic, I think a lot of people would say that. Does this increase momentum for the legislature to again say, listen, cities, you need to hold these elections on not off-years.
The turnout in city council elections in off years is typically pretty abysmal. We saw that again. That is giving votes to some critics of these off-year elections. They are saying by moving to a consolidated even year election format, that it would certainly encourage more people to vote, more people pay attention.
Steve Goldstein: How would the city feel about that? We know how the city of Tucson reacted to that sort of thing, feeling like they had been big-footed by the legislature.
Dustin Gardiner: Phoenix has felt that as well. Phoenix and Tucson have actually won the lawsuit to overturn that law, so they maintain those elections. The argument from the city's perspective is this is a matter of local control. If a city wants to have an election on an off year, they think they should be allowed to. Beyond that their argument is that by having races on off years they draw more attention and more emphasis. They are afraid if city elections are at the bottom of a congressional or presidential ballot, hardly anyone's going to pay attention and vote.
Steve Goldstein: That’s a huge issue next year is the choice of a new city manager for the city of Phoenix so let's go back to the voting blocs again. How could that impact the priorities maybe for this election? Do you think it'll impact it at all?
Dustin Gardiner: The city manager's search is an insider's ballgame, but I think it certainly will have impacts. These are sort of more personality questions, and someone who is a little more left-leaning might favor a city manager who is a little more favorable to employees and employee unions. Someone a little more right might favor a manager, like many saw David Cavazos as being more pro-business, a little more hard line on fiscal cuts and efficiency.
Steve Goldstein: Dustin Gardiner, reporter for "The Arizona Republic," thank you so much.
Dustin Gardiner: Thank you.