Tempe’s mayoral race ended Tuesday night with a giant question mark — a question that is ultimately unlikely to be answered until Friday.
Preliminary results left restaurateur Michael Monti, owner the Monti’s La Casa Vieja steakhouse, with an early lead of 222 votes, giving him 50.54 percent of the vote; current city councilman Mark Mitchell was at 49.46 percent.
Also up for grabs: the final Tempe city council seat — two were filled after the March primary — with early results giving attorny Kolby Granville an edge of more than 2,000 votes (55.39 percent to 44.61 percent) over Southwest Gas executive Dick Foreman. Incumbents Corey Woods and Joel Navarro each earned enough votes in the primary to regain their seats outright and not have to participate in the general election.
While still waiting for final word, the results — and the slight deficit — didn’t dampen the spirits at the Mitchell election night party.
“I’m proud of the volunteers – proud of the citizens of Tempe – because Tempe is a great city. We made over 100,000 attempts to reach people whether it be making phone calls or knocking on doors,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s so-called ground game gives him reason to believe that he will come from behind after remaining ballots are counted – just as he did in the primary election held in March.
The early results show a possible rerun of March’s election. Monti came out of the gates with an early lead in the primary, but ended up falling behind after the last of the early-voting ballots were tabulated.
Tuesday’s results are still tentative because signatures on early-voting ballots that were dropped off at polling locations on Election Day need to be authenticated.
Mitchell said that, if he wins he plans to focus on jobs and the community because “Tempe means different things to different people.”
Monti, though, was tentative in declaring victory, but appeared optimistic about his chances this time.
“Nothing worth winning should be given… I don’t believe in counting my chickens before they’ve hatched, but it appears the numbers favor me this time,” he said.
This uncertainty comes after what one Mitchell supporter called “the nastiest campaign that has ever taken place in the city of Tempe.”
It was indeed an emotional one for the Mitchell team, as they found Mitchell facing allegations of sexual misconduct dating back to 1983, when he was 13- or 14-years-old.
The campaign released a statement after the claims went public saying the attacks were “false, vile, and clearly politically motivated.”
Tuesday night, Mitchell himself said he had no comment, but Bill Scheel, a Mitchell campaign consultant said they were “unfounded, salacious and they continue to be. It is satisfying to see the Tempe voters saw it for what it was, negative campaigning.”
Monti, however, does not buy into the idea that Tuesday’s election was the most unpleasant one in city history.
“It seems to like a lot of times people say this is the nastiest race just because it is the freshest one in memory,” he said.
If the lead does hold and Monti takes office, Monti’s La Casa Vieja does not face an uncertain future. He will remain the owner, but someone else will run the daily operations of the restaurant.
As for what would be his first actions in office, Monti said he wants to get to work on the economy.
“I want to try to hit the ground running. I certainly am concerned with immediately proceeding to the economic development phase of my turn and am also eager to start working with ASU and to help with a tighter embrace and integration,” he said.