Political Outsiders Lead Phoenix City Council Races

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 12:51pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 4:00pm
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MARK BRODIE: Phoenix could have two new council members by the end of the day. The city clerk's office is still counting ballots from yesterday's runoff election for seats in Districts 5 and 8. The margins in both districts are pretty different. Just like the candidates. KJZZ's Christina Estes joins me now to talk about the latest numbers and how the election could impact city priorities. Christina, good morning.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Good morning, Mark.

BRODIE: So let's start with the overall numbers. How do they look?

ESTES: When the clerk's office stopped counting last night, Betty Guardado had a comfortable lead, 62% over Vania Guevara's 38% in District 5. That district covers much of west Phoenix. The other race for District 8 includes parts of east Phoenix, downtown, south Phoenix and Laveen.

BRODIE: And how do those numbers look?

ESTES: Much tighter. Carlos Garcia has just over 51% compared to nearly 49% for Mike Johnson. The difference is less than 260 votes.

BRODIE: Now that's pretty interesting, Christina, because those are two pretty different candidates.

ESTES: They are, and I know you've talked to them. You could say Carlos Garcia is the ultimate city hall outsider. He's led protests against President Trump in the state government over immigration issues, and he's a vocal police critic. In fact, his campaign sent a release last night acknowledging his lead and saying, "The city council needs to be accountable to its people, and that starts with reining in the abuse of police force threatening people of color in District 8 and beyond."

BRODIE: And Garcia's opponent Mike Johnson is a former city council member and also a retired Phoenix police officer.

ESTES: Yeah. He represented District 8 for 12 years. He's endorsed by the unions representing police officers and police sergeants and lieutenants, along with two former mayors and two former council members. If Mike Johnson wins, you can expect an experienced politician with close ties to established groups.

BRODIE: And what can we expect if Garcia wins?

ESTES: Well, expect him to challenge the council and the status quo. His priorities include more police oversight and more accountability and transparency at city hall.

BRODIE: All right. So Christina, the other race in District 5 has the outsider with a strong lead.

ESTES: Yes. As of last night Betty Guardado had about a 2,700 vote lead over the current council member Vonda Guevara. She was appointed to temporarily fill that seat after Daniel Valenzuela left to run for mayor. Guardado has no experience as an elected public official, but she has experience working with labor unions. Guardado says she started as a housekeeper before getting involved with labor groups and moving up to leadership positions with unions representing hospitality workers. She's had a lot of support from a variety of unions, including the United Phoenix Firefighters.

BRODIE: So what are her priorities for west Phoenix?

ESTES: She's talked a lot about how her union work would make her a good council member, that she's been an organizer, negotiated contracts and helped people improve their lives. Throughout the campaign, Guardado has also focused on public safety — not just having more police officers but parks where families still comfortable, roads that are in good shape and adequate lighting in neighborhoods.

BRODIE: All right. So Christina, barring a dramatic turn of events it looks like Guardado will replace Guevara in District 5. So if Carlos Garcia maintains his lead over Mike Johnson, he could join her as another outsider on the council. What kind of impact could that have?

ESTES: It'll be challenging, both for Guardado and Garcia if they're elected because they are outsiders, and they'll need time to study the issues and be briefed on what's been done, what the current priorities and plans are. The next few months will also be challenging for Mayor Kate Gallego. Because there is yet another election coming up in August that could drastically change city policies.

BRODIE: You're talking about two ballot initiatives one that would basically stop future light rail expansion the other that would essentially cap budget growth for most city departments until pension liabilities are 90 percent funded.

ESTES: That's right and Mayor Gallego is opposed to both initiatives. She'll need to get the new council members behind her and hope they can convince their supporters to go along.

BRODIE: So Cristina, I don't know if Phoenix is setting some kind of municipal record for the number of elections that we've been going through, but you think no matter the outcome of these council races it's a historic time in Phoenix, right?

ESTES: I do. At least when it comes to recent history, it looks like this will likely be the most diverse elected council, with people of color filling four out of nine seats and women filling five.

BRODIE: All right. That is KJZZ's Christina Estes. Christina, thanks.

ESTES: You're welcome, Mark.

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