For two hours Monday night, Tempe residents gathered in the City Council chambers to hear five council and three mayoral candidates make their case to voters, who will head to the polls on March 13 for the primary election and May 15 for the general election.
Corey Woods and Joel Navarro are the city council incumbents seeking another term against Dick Foreman, who served 10 years on the Tempe Union High School District governing board; Angie Taylor Thornton, a small-business owner; and Kolby Granville, an attorney at Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre, and Friedlander, PA. All are vying for one of the three seats open on the council.
The three mayoral candidates are Linda Spears, a former city council member; Mark Mitchell, a current city council member; and Michael Monti, owner of Tempe steakhouse Monti's la Casa Vieja.
City council candidates fielded numerous questions, including their vision for Tempe. All of the candidates talked about growing the city's economy and redevelopment of older parts.
"I doubt you will find major differences in visionary paths. We all want Tempe to succeed," Foreman said.
While the candidates may all want the same outcome for Tempe, they differ substantively when it comes to important city policy decisions such as the rebuilding of Tempe Town Lake's dam and the proposed 2.6-mile street-car line.
When asked about the dam, Foreman advocated a private-development, free-market solution to this problem. Similarly, Thornton said she wanted "to build a plan that brings in private enterprise and brings (the city) tax revenue."
Both Woods and Navarro talked about the use of bonds and leasing land to pay for the dam.
Rather, Woods talked about picking and choosing the events the city holds. He advocates taking a "look at the events we have downtown" and wants the city to ask, "What events are bringing people downtown?" The eventual outcome, Woods hopes, is to choose events that are more popular and bring in more revenue for the city.
The approved street-car line brought out different reactions from the candidates as well. Granville voiced staunch opposition to the project for budgetary concerns, as the city did not receive the federal TIGER Grant. Navarro rebutted that there were other federal grants the city was applying for.
Woods and Foreman emerged as advocates for the issue. It will bring in new private investment just as the light rail did, Woods said. Foreman brought up the city's desire for more public transportation.
"Tempe voted for Prop 400 and wants public transportation," Foreman said.
In 2004, Maricopa County voters approved Proposition 400 to extend a half-cent transportation sales tax until 2025. The street-car line would be paid in part by using some of these funds.
Thornton, for her part, remained skeptical. "If it is a burden to the taxpayers, voters should decide," she said.
One question brought up a supposed divide in Tempe: the northern end, home to ASU and a more urban area, and the southern end, the more suburban part of the city.
The candidates were specifically asked how they would bridge the public transportation gap. The popular Orbit bus routes, which do not go south of the U.S. 60 highway, leave much of south Tempe without these services.
Most the candidates were open to the idea of charging fares to ride these bus routes, as they are currently free. Woods is ultimately concerned about the solvency of this bus system, while Granville said he wants to "charge fees to keep the homeless off of them." Thornton echoed Granville's concerns as well.
The mayoral debate followed the city council debate, and proved to be livelier. With no time-limited responses, the three candidates engaged in a rigorous debate about their vision of Tempe.
Monti accused Mitchell of spending $14,400 of the city's money on travel over the last three years.
Mitchell did not deny using taxpayer money for business travel, but pushed back against the idea that he misused public funds. He also said much of his own money was spent on these trips as well.
Citing newly minted Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith's well-received trip to Washington D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he said it is a part of his job as a councilman.
"Traveling is a part of being a leader," Mitchell said. Touting what different trips brought about, he said traveling allowed him to discuss whether Tempe had access to federal transit funds and to learn about new resources.
After a visit to another university town, Mitchell pushed to make the city's loud party noise ordinance's penalties more enforceable and "give them more teeth."
Monti, still not sold on Mitchell's travels, dismissed the idea of this ordinance. "(The) trips helped his political credentials more than answered a city question," he said.
Later in the debate, Monti took Mitchell to task again.
Monti came out against "cavalier re-zoning," a knock of Mitchell's earlier touting of acres and acres of re-zoning the city has done, which resulted in new construction jobs, Mitchell said.
By letting the city dictate some of these decisions, we are "picking winners and losers;" rather, we should let the private sector do its work, Monti said.
While Monti's tiffs with Mitchell ran down the debate clock, Spears made her points as well. Her vision for Tempe includes a robust economy, parks that flourish and a healthy rainy-day fund for the city.
She also argued that balancing the city's budget isn't enough; Tempe's elected officials are already legally required to do it. The city must "do a good job of looking at what our residents want and how we are going to pay for that," Spears said.
When asked about the north/south Tempe divide, she said it is detrimental to the city because the divide leaves many residents going into other cities to spend their hard-earned dollars, due to lack of unity.