The “outsider” has won. Businessman Scott Smith, with no prior political experience, handily beat former councilman Rex Griswold to become Mesa’s new mayor Tuesday night.
In a runoff that’s attracted high voter interest, Smith, a former developer, snared 56 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election results. Griswold, on the City Council for five years, got 44 percent.
“It’s been a long haul,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled to get a chance to be able to lead Mesa.”
Smith, 52, said his ability to bring a wide array of people together helped him win the race against his more experienced opponent.
“We got support from all corners and that’s how I want to lead Mesa,” Smith said.
With a giant video screen displaying the results behind him, interspersed with photos of his wife and grandchildren, Smith joked that his wife had mixed emotions about Tuesday’s outcome.
“Kim, congratulations and condolences,” Smith said, amid much laughter.
He recalled his announcement that he would run for mayor, with a platform to bring change. Smith said the main reason he jumped in the race was to improve Mesa for future generations.
Pointing to a photo of his 3-year-old granddaughter, Scarlett, he said she was the reason he ran.
“We have to come together and build the kind of Mesa where Scarlett can build a family … educate her kids … entertain in a city she’s proud of saying, ‘I’m from Mesa, Arizona.’”
The unofficial results include early ballots received before Tuesday and the people who voted at the city’s 41 polling sites.
Provisional ballots and the early ballots dropped off Tuesday have yet to be counted. Official results are expected by Friday.
On Tuesday night, Smith was surrounded by more than 100 supporters at a party complete with a band, a Mexican buffet and some imported beer.
Three other new councilmen-elect — Dennis Kavanaugh, Dave Richins and Alex Finter — as well as current councilman Scott Somers were at the election night party at a hall in downtown Mesa. Kavanaugh, Richins and Finter won their district races in the March 11 primary.
The mayor’s seat and the District 5 spot had to go to Tuesday’s runoff. Dina Higgins prevailed over Phil Austin in that race.
Smith spent about $200,000 on his campaign, compared to Griswold’s $100,000.
Griswold said his experience on the City Council was not enough to offset Smith’s spending advantage and the impatient mood of voters demanding change at all levels of government.
“There’s a whole mood in this country for change and ‘don’t trust your government.’ That’s a tough thing to fight,” Griswold said. “The mood in this country is change, change, change and (Smith) hit that mood.”
Griswold said he did well in east Mesa’s District 5, which he had represented, but that voters in other parts of the city were not familiar with his record.
“It’s getting people (in other districts) who don’t know you to trust you when you haven’t answered their phone calls,” he said.
Griswold spent the evening at home with about 40 friends and campaign supporters. Shortly before the first returns were posted, he walked among his supporters, thanking them for their work. “It’s hard to be outspent 2-to-1. The only thing that makes this a horse race is the volunteers,” he told the people gathered at his home.
Griswold called Smith to congratulate him.
Smith said his opponents in the campaign — Griswold and outgoing Vice Mayor Claudia Walters — were both formidable. Griswold and Smith had edged Walters in the primary. Walters ended up supporting Smith.
Richins said that Smith has tremendous support from within the new council.
The council will be voting on the budget and looking at other key issues, including a proposed $408 million bond, as soon as they start work on June 2.