Lagging response times for city medical emergency teams, the turbulent climate surrounding local immigration policy, economic development challenges and even favorite nonfiction books were among the topics Mesa’s three mayoral candidates commented on Thursday during a Tribune Editorial Board meeting.
Local businessman Scott Smith, a newcomer to Mesa politics, said the city needs a renewed vision to address problems such as inadequate staffing of public safety personnel.
Police patrol officers are in short supply, and firefighters and paramedics have noted a troubling increase in emergency response times, Smith said.
“We’re going to have to be real creative,” Smith said. “It’s going to be one of our greatest challenges.”
Former District 5 City Councilman Rex Griswold said the fire department needs to find a way to weed out nonemergency calls to paramedics that take up too much of their time.
“It’s now the emergency medical department, not the fire department,” Griswold said. “I think we need to provide excellent service to those in need.”
Regarding economic development, Smith said the city’s current leadership has unwisely taken a reactive approach to issues such as the redevelopment of west Mesa.
But Vice Mayor Claudia Walters adamantly disagreed, saying the city has taken numerous steps to improve blighted areas while preserving places that should not be torn down just because they are showing a bit of age.
Immigration policy was another focus of the candidates’ discussion.
During the past several months, Mesa has been reevaluating its policies for dealing with illegal immigration. City leaders recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to determine if funding was available to cross-train officers to check suspects’ immigration status in Mesa’s criminal holding facility.
Walters said police Chief George Gascón has built a relationship with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel that has already led to better cooperation in deporting illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
“He has gone out of his way to build a relationship with ICE,” Walters said.
Still, Smith said Gascón and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sometimes seem at odds when it comes to immigration issues, and that it’s important for everyone to be “on the same page.”
In the past year, Mayor Keno Hawker has called for patrol officers to be trained to enforce immigration laws, something Gascón said would make some people afraid to report crimes and cooperate in prosecuting criminals.
People “in the city need to have confidence that they’re in lock step,” Smith said.
But Walters defended Gascón’s leadership approach, saying his decision to focus on crime reduction rather than illegal immigration is in line with the City Council’s priorities.
Griswold said Mesa is one of the few Valley cities that has seen a recent decrease in serious crimes, and expressed support for the city’s new leadership.
“One of the reasons I’m in the running for mayor is that we have a new city manager and a new police chief,” Griswold said.
The candidates revealed a hint of their current interests and concerns when asked what books they have been reading lately.
Walters, describing herself as a “voracious reader,” said she was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” about Abraham Lincoln and his advisers.
Griswold, meanwhile, has been reading Thomas Friedman’s book on globalization, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree.”
Smith said “Where Have All the Leaders Gone?” by ex-Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca was the book he most recently read.
Thursday’s meeting was the first in a series of discussions to test the strength of each candidate’s approach to leading Mesa during the next four years.
The complete discussion will be featured on the Tribune’s Web site, evtrib.com, beginning Saturday.