Candidates and local officers mentioned they’ve by no means seen something like this year’s “vitriolic” election in Fountain Hills, a small city of 25,000 individuals within the Phoenix space’s northeast Valley the place races are usually low profile and amicable.
The mayor’s seat and three council positions had been on the Aug. 2 poll, with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio spending large quantities of money in an effort to take the highest spot from incumbent Mayor Ginny Dickey, and 4 candidates — three conservatives and one liberal — vying for the council seats.
It bought ugly when some right-wingers sought to determine a conservative majority, portray their left-wing opponents as “communists,” “leftists” or extremists regardless of the election being for positions that require the winners to largely oversee non-ideological points comparable to zoning and street restore.
The race bought so heated that a whole offended viewers was eliminated throughout a candidate discussion board earlier this year, when GOP council candidate and former Illinois state Rep. Allen Skillicorn referred to as his opponent, Cindy Couture, a liar earlier than implying that she and different “liberals” had been “ignorant.”
Fountain Hills’s departure from amiability to hostility marks one other occasion of party politics coming into into “nonpartisan” local races. It’s a shift for the conservative-majority city the place voters have hardly ever balked at electing Democrats up to now.
“This year’s race was vitriolic. It was horrible,” mentioned Couture, a 72-year-old retired English trainer who lost her race and was branded as a far-left radical due to her Facebook posts about prosecuting “anti-vaxxers” and Democratic Socialism. “I mean, it didn’t belong in Fountain Hills. We are a nicer community than this, but they wanted to win at all costs.”
A political motion committee referred to as Reclaim Our Town, or ROT, spent 1000’s on indicators that depicted Dickey as a puppet grasp main the city to catastrophe and included slogans comparable to “leftists ruin towns.”
Conservative candidate Brenda Kalivianakis, who gained a seat on the council, mentioned she didn’t assist ROT’s unfavorable campaigning and “did her own thing,” whereas candidate Hannah Toth and Skillicorn, who wont the opposite two council seats, joined the PAC in taking swings, getting firmly behind the push to safe a partisan majority.
“I am only running because the current liberal majority does not represent the values of our conservative town,” Skillicorn advised The Arizona Republic.
Dickey was labeled a “leftist” due to her reference to Couture, whose bid for Town Council she supported, though Dickey believes she’s ruled in a nonpartisan approach.
Complaints from the PAC and Republican council candidates about Dickey’s management largely centered round extra materials points, just like the city’s 4 “sober homes” — which a number of officers mentioned sparked the will to flip the Town Council — guidelines about how companies can show indicators, and COVID-19 mitigation measures that ended final year.
By the time the election was over, the conservative candidates had secured the bulk they had been after. They are slated to exchange Councilmembers Mike Scharnow and David Spelich, each Republicans, and Allen Magazine, a Democrat. The latter two mentioned they selected to not run for personal causes.
Dickey narrowly defeated Arpaio regardless of “America’s toughest sheriff” spending an unusually excessive amount of money within the small city’s race. He spent greater than $160,000 — roughly thrice that of all the opposite Fountain Hills candidates mixed and 600% greater than Dickey’s practically $27,000.
Arpaio has vowed to not concede; nevertheless, he was recycling debunked voter fraud allegations from 2020 and saying he’ll discover authorized challenges — one other occasion of local races mirroring the troubled state of nationwide politics.
“I’m waiting to confirm with a lawyer,” he advised The Republic when requested if he was going to problem the outcomes. “I will say one thing: I am not going to concede.”
Whether the election in Fountain Hills is a canary within the coal mine for the longstanding observe of nonpartisan local elections in Arizona communities, one of many city’s latest local leaders mentioned it is already useless or by no means actually existed in any respect.
“Nonpartisan or not, every single candidate for public office has a party behind them,” mentioned Toth, the second-highest vote getter within the Town Council race. “In a lot of ways, I think we were kidding ourselves to believe otherwise.”
Most Arizona cities and cities do not place political party labels on mayoral or council candidates. A state lawmaker who proposed altering that a number of years in the past confronted fervent opposition from metropolis officers, who mentioned local points comparable to pothole repairs are nonpartisan in nature.
‘Sober home’ points spurred the partisan change
Fountain Hills candidates and officers mentioned one hot-button problem is on the coronary heart of the partisan shift this year: sober properties. The amenities are operated in residential neighborhoods and provides people who find themselves hooked on medicine a spot to remain whereas they get clear.
Four sober properties have been opened in Fountain Hills since Dickey bought into office, based on Kalivianakis, who mentioned the brand new amenities frightened residents and spurred political engagement forward of August’s election.
“We had unregulated sober living homes moving into our community, which was very unpopular with (residents),” mentioned the newly elected council member.
Kalivianakis described crowded Planning and Zoning Commission conferences as residents pushed for stronger rules, including that continued regulation is one among her priorities despite the fact that the variety of sober properties continues to be comparatively low.
“The last I heard it was four. But trust me, if we just let it go as it is right now, (it will) increase exponentially,” she mentioned.
The city fee recommended a brand new coverage that will require sober properties to be no less than half a mile away from each other, a transfer that will drastically restrict the variety of these amenities within the 20-square-mile city.
Kalivianakis and different local conservatives mentioned council members “watered down” the proposed ordinance over fears that it was too “exclusionary” and would trigger the city to violate federal legal guidelines that restrict how a lot officers can limit group properties.
“There was some concern that that was maybe too exclusionary. And so the council ended up cutting (the distance) in half,” mentioned John Wesley, the city’s growth providers director. “Staff and our attorneys just want to make sure the council was fully aware of potential issues with the ordinance as it had been recommended as they were making their final decision.”
It’s nonetheless unclear whether or not the half-mile rule can be unlawful, however the three conservative candidates this election all contend that additional restrictions are allowed.
Regardless, it was what sparked the creation of the ROT PAC and commenced the push to get a conservative majority on the council, based on Kalivianakis and different officers who mentioned the “dirtiness” of the election could not have in any other case come to go.
“That really created a lot of energy, which spawned a PAC called Reclaim Our Town,” Kalivianakis mentioned. “Had it not been for sober living homes and detox centers, this election would have been completely different. That was the energy behind everything that transpired.”
Nonpartisan elections ‘a fantasy’
Retired Fountain Hills residents Lawrence Meyers and Crystal Cavanaugh ran ROT with the objective of getting a conservative majority on the Town Council. Together with one other PAC referred to as Fountain Hills Forward, the teams spent about $30,000 to defeat Dickey and Couture.
Meyers, who served as treasurer, mentioned ROT members hashed out a technique with the conservative candidates earlier than the PAC was shaped. The plan was that the committee would take photographs at liberal contenders, permitting conservative candidates to maintain issues optimistic.
“Before we formed the PAC, we went to the conservative candidates and we told them that if we were to form the PAC, we would take the role of the aggressor,” Meyers mentioned. “We told the candidates you should be positive about what you want to do, the changes you will make, and stay away from attacks.”
Couture was on the receiving finish of most of ROT’s assaults, being labeled a “communist candidate” due to a Facebook publish about Democratic Socialism and one other through which she seems to advocate that “anti-vaxxers” be prosecuted.
Couture, a first-time candidate, additionally accused ROT of circulating a photoshopped picture of her in what’s purported to be a Soviet-era uniform, though the PAC denies being behind that picture.
It seems that ROT labeled Dickey as a “leftist” primarily due to her affiliation with Couture, given the PAC’s web site that reads, “Mayor Dickey helped collect signatures for the far left, communist candidate Couture as well as contributing funds to her campaign.”
Results:Fountain Hills mayor edges out Arpaio and different local election outcomes. Here’s who gained and who’s headed to runoffs
“I’ve been here 38 years and I’m not acting as a partisan in any way, shape or form, but that was probably their best shot,” the sitting mayor mentioned of the ROT marketing campaign in opposition to her.
The PAC’s hyperpoliticization of the election was a part of the plan, based on Meyers, who mentioned ROT noticed nonpartisan elections as a “problem” that masked candidates’ true agendas, a sentiment echoed by Toth and Skillicorn.
“I get the whole nonpartisan nature of things, but in reality, it’s a myth,” the PAC treasurer mentioned. “(The left-leaning candidates) have gotten around it — that’s what they shout, ‘We’re nonpartisan, we’re nonpartisan,’ and then they govern as Democrats do.”
Town says some ROT claims are bunk
In addition to sober properties, Meyers pointed to the city’s COVID-19 mitigation measures — which ended final year however hindered public participation in council conferences due to attendance limits—- and monetary insurance policies as examples of the mayor’s left-wing governance.
Meyers cited a roadway roundabout examine, which he mentioned would value $400,000 and the city doubling its contribution to homelessness planning efforts which might be carried out by the Maricopa Association of Governments — a regional group made up of municipalities throughout the county.
“You have to connect all of the dots,” the PAC consultant mentioned. “We connected the dots, and the dots are who runs the town. … Because the town is run by a majority. The current majority, which is still seated right now, is a bunch of liberals.”
Bo Larsen, the city’s group relations supervisor, mentioned the roundabout examine can be essential to get thousands and thousands in federal roadway funds, however has but to be permitted and sure wouldn’t value as a lot as Meyers’ recommended.
About the city’s homeless program contribution, Larsen defined that “we pay in to help with the homelessness study and programs that MAG is providing for the homeless.”
“When it’s all said and done, we only donate like $50,000 to MAG programs,” the town staffer said. “It’s not a ton of money and we’re not, like, promoting homelessness.”
ROT also slammed Dickey for “increased crime” under her leadership, as well as a rise in the town’s homeless population.
Larsen mentioned neither spike truly exists and that “when we (last) went out and did our homelessness count, I think they literally counted one that day.”
“Crime has not gone up as an issue by any means,” he added. “The biggest thing that goes on around here is traffic stops.”
‘I have never seen such a dirty campaign’
Not all of the conservative candidates followed the strategy of letting ROT be the “aggressor” while they remained positive, according to Meyers who said “some listened, some didn’t.”
Skillicorn, who received the lowest number of votes among the three winning candidates, was one of those who didn’t follow that advice.
He went after Couture during a candidate forum at the Fountain Hills Community Center this summer, which caused an uproar among the audience and led to event organizers clearing the hall for the remainder of the event.
“Some people have said some things online that are a lot different than what they say on the stage. There’s three of us who are telling the truth and (Couture) is not,” mentioned Skillicorn, who went on to cite President Ronald Regan by saying, “it isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant, it’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”
The former Illinois lawmaker was referring to Couture’s political leanings, which he and other GOP campaigners felt she was hiding because of her stated desire to keep the election nonpartisan.
Fountain Hills election: Where mayoral, Town Council candidates stand on finances, other challenges
“To me, this shouldn’t have been partisan,” Couture advised The Republic, echoing her earlier statements in the course of the marketing campaign. “This should have been, ‘we’re neighbors, this is our community.’ We do what’s best for the community.”
Skillicorn’s antics on stage irked ROT and its contributors, based on Meyers who believes the candidate lost votes as a result of he took an aggressive tact.
“Skillicorn, as is reflected by the vote, didn’t listen. He attacked a lot,” Meyers mentioned. “The overwhelming consensus (from PAC contributors and residents) was one of two things: I knew we needed a majority on the council, so I held my nose and voted for Skillicorn, or I didn’t vote for him because he attacked Couture in a personal manner at the forum.”
Numerous others, together with conservatives, liberals and sitting officers had been turned off by the tone of the whole election.
Magazine, the outgoing council member who managed Couture’s marketing campaign, mentioned “I’ve spent almost 16 years in elected office. I can say with certainty, I have never seen such a dirty campaign in my life.”
Kalivanakis mentioned she didn’t assist ROT’s campaigning, calling the “negative” campaigning “bad politics.”
Scharnow, one other outgoing council member, mentioned the election was the “nastiest” one he’s seen in his 4 a long time as a Fountain Hills resident.
“It just seems like this (election) was particularly nasty and more personal. (There was) a lot more polarization and name calling than I’ve seen before,” Scharnow mentioned. “It’s certainly disappointing.”
‘I cannot concede’
Arpaio’s marketing campaign largely averted the mudslinging that was embraced by ROT and candidates like Skillicorn.
Nevertheless, the mayoral race between Arpaio and Dickey was a nail-biter till the ultimate vote tally was launched, with the previous sheriff trailing the incumbent by only some hundred votes all through poll counting.
He finally got here up brief by 213 votes. Arpaio mentioned he plans to look into whether or not he can legally push for a recount by way of a authorized problem, though he has not but employed an legal professional.
“I will see what happens with the investigations and controversy going on with the fraud or incompetency,” mentioned Arpaio, who was referencing the debunked claims of voter fraud within the 2020 election. “I will say one thing: I am not going to concede.”
The former sheriff was discovered responsible of felony contempt of court docket in 2017 for ignoring orders to cease racial profiling at MCSO, however was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump. He lost his bids for sheriff in 2016 and 2020, and for U.S. Senate in 2018.
Arpaio talked about that he lost by “pretty close” margins in every of these races.
The 90-year-old added that he plans to stay politically lively, however didn’t say whether or not he would run for office once more sooner or later.
“I still have my hands in the political system. I may not be running right now, but when you look at the last two months, 30 people around the country have called asking for my endorsement,” he mentioned. “Somebody out there likes me.”
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