As Tuesday’s primary election draws near, Queen Creek is abuzz with debate about the budget — not of the town, but of mayoral candidate Kevin Petersen, who has invested $65,000 in his campaign.
Petersen, a real estate broker whose clients include developer Conley Wolfswinkel, already had spent an unprecedented $40,393 — about $13.54 per registered vot er in Queen Creek — as of Feb. 18, according to the most recent campaign finance reports submitted last week.
The reports show Petersen spent more per voter than any other mayoral candidate in the East Valley spent in their communities.
Petersen’s contributions total $65,000, all of which comes from his personal holdings.
Mayor Wendy Feldman-Kerr had spent $2,338 — 84 cents per voter — as of Feb. 18 and said her total available campaign money is about $6,000.
"I’m actually appalled that somebody would spend $65,000 on a campaign where the mayor’s salary is only $4,000," said Feldman-Kerr, an insurance agent and financial planner. "I think that there must be some kind of personal gain. Otherwise, why would somebody do that?"
Feldman-Kerr has questioned Petersen’s motives for campaigning, since he represents properties and development projects inside the town limits.
However, Petersen has maintained that his only interest is making the town he loves a safer place to live by improving roads, law enforcement and fire protection.
He said Feldman-Kerr has not done enough to meet the town’s basic public safety needs and has instead focused too much on amenities such as parks and open space.
Petersen said the reason for his $65,000 is simple: It’s his money, and he is a political newcomer running against a veteran Queen Creek council member.
"Frankly, it just costs money to do that, and I’m spending it," he said. "At least I’m spending my own money, and not the taxpayers’."
Petersen’s campaign expenditures include $22,696 to Phoenix lobbying and public affairs agency G oodman Schwartz for advertising, in addition to costs for signs, campaign lunches and mailings.
Despite his lack of political experience, Petersen has garnered endorsements from such notables as Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler; Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler; Rep. Steve Yarbrough, RChandler; former Sen. Jay Blanchard, House Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake; Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods.
"In the time I’ve known Kevin Petersen, he’s been a tireless advocate for the families of Queen Creek," Tibshraeny stated in a Petersen news release. "That’s why I’m certain Kevin has what it takes to be a great mayor: A commitment to the values upon which Queen Creek is built and the common sense to make good decisions."
Feldman-Kerr dismissed the endorsements, saying they were likely given as a courtesy, and that she made a conscious decision not to be "throwing names around."
Still, several residents, business owners and organizations have shown their support for Feldman-Kerr through monetary contributions, including Phoenix attorney Grady Gammage Jr., Queen Creek physician Dr. Deryl Lamb, Town Councilman Jon Wootten, Salt River Project Political Involvement Committee and Pinnacle West Political Action Committee.
Despite harsh criticism exchanged between the candidates in campaign literature and public forums, both Feldman-Kerr and Petersen list the same issues as their top priorities, including traffic improvement, fiscal stability, better public services and maintaining the town’s character.
Feldman-Kerr said her campaign is going "very well," while Petersen said his "message is getting out to the voters in Queen Creek."
In the Town Council race, challengers Toni Valenzuela and Mark Belnap are at opposite ends of the experience spectrum but have similar opinions about how to improve town government.
They will compete against each other and incumbents Lisa Coletto-Cohen, David Dobbs and Gail Barney for three available seats.
Valenzuela, who owns a restaurant in downtown Queen Creek, served on the Town Council for nearly 10 years but resigned in late 2001 to run for mayor in 2002.
Belnap, a mortgage broker, hopes to win his first term on the council.
Valenzuela and Belnap have criticized the town’s aggressive annexation attempts and development fees, while expressing concern that retailers and employers will bypass Queen Creek because it is seen as unfriendly to businesses.
Petersen and his wife, Rebecca, were two of Valenzuela’s biggest financial supporters as of Feb. 18, contributing $700 of her campaign’s $2,300.
Her total spending was $1,943.
Belnap also received $700 from the Petersens as of Feb. 18. His campaign money totaled $5,693, including $600 from the Wolfswinkel family, and he had spent $3,547.
Vice Mayor Coletto-Cohen agreed that the town’s prosperity depends on attracting businesses but said economic activity must be balanced with the need to protect residents’ quality of life. Her campaign’s $6,092 as of Feb. 18 came solely from personal funds, and she had spent $2,818.
Councilman David Dobbs had spent $1,026 of his campaign’s $1,200 as of Feb. 18, which consisted of $200 in contributions from neighbors and a $1,000 personal loan. Councilman Gail Barney’s included a $1,000 personal loan and $200 worth of free signs from relatives.