Several firsts among Phoenix mayoral candidates
PHOENIX – One Phoenix mayoral candidate could make history with their win, and one already has.
If Councilwoman Kate Gallego wins, she’ll be the third-ever female mayor of Phoenix and the first since the 1990s, when Thelda Williams served as interim mayor for eight months. But Gallego has already made history as the first woman elected to represent District 8 on Phoenix City Council.
On the other hand, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela would be the first-ever Latino mayor for the city.
“I’m sure it’ll be quite an honor for my family and for a lot of people, many of which I’ve never met, not just in Phoenix but throughout the nation, potentially,” Valenzuela said. “But that’s not why I’m running, I’m running because we have a lot of work to do in this city.”
Both council members, along with any others who decide to run for mayor, will eventually have to resign from the council, but not until after current Mayor Greg Stanton vacates his post. The mayor doesn’t have to leave office until he submits his election petitions, which are due May 30, 2018, although he could choose to leave earlier to focus on the congressional campaign he announced in October.
Valenzuela said he would be concerned with being a mayor to everyone. Just like his work as a firefighter with the City of Glendale, he cannot pick and choose who he serves.
“I serve everyone. That’s when you get the best result, when you can bring everyone to the table and make everyone feel comfortable enough to contribute,” Valenzuela said. “That’s been key to any bit of success I’ve been a part of.”
When he was first elected in 2011, Latino voter turnout went up around 500 percent that year.
“I knew the only way someone with no name ID, who’s never served in elected office could win is to get out and talk to as many people as I could and explain why I’m deciding to do this,” Valenzuela said. “Which is to move our district forward, to move our city forward.”
Valenzuela said in his time on the city council, he sees expanding the non-discrimination ordinance as one of the more meaningful things accomplished. The expansion meant the ordinance prohibited discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That was important for our city,” Valenzuela said. “There’s nothing more fundamental than fairness and that’s the vote that I will take with me forever.”
Meanwhile, Kate Gallego, his main opponent, currently serves with him on the Phoenix City Council.
“I definitely thought it was my responsibility to look at issues with a fresh eye,” she said. “Which is why I decided to work on issues such as equal pay for men and women.”
However, similar to Valenzuela, she said she wants to make sure she represents all her constituents.
“I want to create a Phoenix that works for everybody,” Gallego said. “I hope to invest in a higher wage economy with jobs that you can raise a family and have a career.”
When she was first elected to the city council, she ran a grassroots campaign. Gallego said this helped make her a better city councilwoman. In some ways, similar to Valenzuela’s campaign.
“I spent a lot of my time going door to door, talking to residents one household at a time,” Gallego said. “It was a great way to understand what the priorities are for the people of Phoenix, as well as to see what perspectives were from their front door.”
One Phoenix voter said they are undecided as to who to choose for mayor simply because both candidates appeal to them.
Veronica Monge, a member of the environmental group Chispa AZ, lives in Valenzuela’s district, but thinks both candidates are capable of making wise decisions for Phoenix residents. She said she would need to speak with both of them about the details of their platforms before choosing.
“Show me a detailed vision, so I can envision it,” Monge said. “Ultimately, once I see that, then I’ll be able to determine what is best for my family. I think that a lot of folks are going to be looking at it from that perspective and that angle because they are both really, really good candidates.”
She said Valenzuela has always been accessible to her and helped her out when she was trying to start a Parent-Teacher-Student Organization at her child’s school.
“He was willing to come down to the school and talk to them,” she said. “He was willing to see what I needed and provide me any resources that he can get for me, that really shows that he cared.”
On the other hand, she said she’s appreciative of Gallego’s willingness to meet with her and Chispa regarding their electric school bus campaign.
While Monge said she wants more Latinos in office, she highlighted it’s more important to choose the most qualified person.
“We definitely need Latinos making decisions and in those conversations, but at the same time, we also have to look at what candidate is going to have the knowledge and what candidate is best fit for the position,” Monge said.
Ryan Boyd is an undecided voter from the downtown Phoenix area. He said it’s a little early in the race, but noted many of his friends and colleagues might vote for Gallego if the election was today.
“They seem to trust her more given the fact that she’s done a lot of things with downtown Phoenix,” he said. “Mr. Valenzuela has done great things, I think, with his district out there with Grand Canyon University, but he’s not necessarily somebody who’s very well-known with our people out here in downtown Phoenix.”
Boyd did note that one of Valenzuela’s strengths is the counting with the support of unions.
“I don’t think the firefighters or any of the unions are going to try to buck that and that’s something that’s very, very important in municipal elections,” Boyd said. “Union support is a huge thing. It’s hard to come by.”
He also said it appears to him that Gallego is trying to lean more left than Valenzuela.
“Gallego might take this kind of populist, liberal shift,” he said. “I think she can outpace Valenzuela when it comes to mobilizing the left, but the problem is going to be, does it actually matter in this election?”
Although Gallego is running against a fellow city council member in this election, she said it won’t get in the way of their work.
“We’re committed to still working together to advance the best interests of the city while we are running,” Gallego said.
Valenzuela said he has remained friends with the people he’s previously run against and that he learned a lot from them.
“It’s about running the right type of campaign as well,” Valenzuela said. “I think people are sick of the dirty politics. It’s something I won’t be a part of.”