A fall runoff election for Scottsdale City Council is shaping up to be a battle between business-backed candidates with deep ties in the community against challengers who say they favor a more grass-roots, resident-friendly government.
Scottsdale’s Nov. 6 general election could pit six candidates with strikingly different views on major issues that have emerged in the past year, including taller downtown buildings, growing complaints about downtown nightclubs and a proliferation of multiple luxury-apartment projects that could bring nearly 7,000 new units to the city.
“I’ve seen the ebb and flow of people who think Scottsdale is headed in the right direction and people who think it’s not,” said Jason Rose, who owns a Scottsdale-based public-relations firm. “Right now, it’s at or near an all-time high in terms of the gap between those who feel it’s headed in the right direction and those who don’t.”
Rose was a consultant on Mayor Jim Lane’s re-election campaign. Lane easily was re-elected to a second mayoral term in last Tuesday’s primary election. But the outcome among the 11 candidates seeking three other council seats was far less clear, as six of them are headed to a fall runoff.The top two vote-getters were non-profit executive Virginia Korte and incumbent Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp. Korte and Klapp raised the most dollars for their campaigns among the 11 candidates. They won the endorsement of a local chamber of commerce and The Arizona Republic.
The remaining four runoff candidates, in order of votes received as of Friday, were air-conditioning contractor Guy Phillips, Cactus Flower president Eric Luoma, account manager Chris Schaffner and educational-consulting firm owner Joanne “Copper” Phillips (no relation to Guy). Luoma also received the endorsement of the chamber and The Republic.
While early-ballot counting was continuing, as of Friday evening, none of the candidates had secured enough votes to win a seat outright, which would mean all six would go to a runoff — two for each available seat.
While candidates agree protecting the tourism industry and small businesses is crucial, views diverge when it comes to restrictions on development, reining in of bars in the downtown entertainment district, and plans to build thousands of apartment units in Scottsdale over the next five years.
Korte and Klapp have said the city and business owners are making strides to address concerns from residents in the bar district.
But Guy Phillips and Joanne Phillips have criticized the revelers, excessive noise and public drunkenness they and others have observed in downtown Scottsdale. The conglomeration of bars and clubs south of Camelback Road and east of Scottsdale Road attracts thousands of visitors every weekend.
Rose said campaign messages of Korte and Klapp are similar to Lane’s, who has touted an open and businesslike approach at City Hall.
According to Rose, Lane and the top council vote-getters represent a business-friendly attitude, which Scottsdale voters appear to support for now.
In the primary campaign, Lane raised close to $180,000, far more than his two challengers combined. Among the council candidates, recent campaign-finance reports show Korte raised the most money, bringing in $78,700, followed by Klapp with $61,300 and Luoma with $33,300.
Guy Phillips raised $17,300, Schaffner $9,250 and Joanne Phillips $8,900, according to the reports.
Luoma is a political neophyte whose top issues are job creation and targeting new businesses and growth using Scottsdale’s widely-known cachet, he said.
Guy Phillips, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2010 and has support from the “tea party” movement, is in many ways the antithesis of the current council.
While he supports small businesses and tourism, much of his campaign has focused on more and better political representation for residents and criticism of what he calls a “grow or die” mantra of the existing council.
The runoff is “pretty well-defined that it’s the special-interest groups against the residents,” Guy Phillips said. He criticized candidates who have received hefty sums of campaign dollars.
“They are pretty well obliged to vote the way the contributors want,” he said.
On a similar note, Joanne Phillips said the community is divided between candidates who align with residents and neighborhoods and those “with platforms in favor of increased height and density and are supported by big money and developers and huge war chests.”
According to Joanne Phillips and Schaffner, Scottsdale’s government is out of touch with residents, as evidenced by elections in November 2010 and March this year, when voters shot down, respectively, a modest bond proposal and the city’s General Plan that would have guided growth in 10 to 20 years.
But Klapp, who owns and manages a FastFrame store in Scottsdale, said voters backed candidates who have managed the city’s resources well and run it with less revenue and low taxes in the recession.
Twice, in 2011 and this year, council members voted against a hike in the primary property-tax levy, after taking the increase every year since 1995.
“I believe it’s performance, and a great city that is heading in the right direction and is providing the services residents want and keeping taxes low, which has resonated with voters,” Klapp said.
Luoma said residents supported pro-business candidates because “they know we’re committed to our city” and have “been here for long time and have a big network of supporters.”
While Luoma acknowledged hearing about the “grass-roots vs. money” argument, he said nothing could be further from the truth.
“My message was bringing in some dialogue back to the council and listening to the citizens,” Luoma said. “A lot of people came up to me and said, ‘We like you because you’re a businessman and you know what it’s like to run something, be in charge and have employees and have to make decisions.”