Controversy swirls around Scottsdale elections - East Valley Tribune: News

Controversy swirls around Scottsdale elections

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Posted: Saturday, November 1, 2008 9:09 pm | Updated: 10:51 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It was a far-fetched scenario to be thinking that Scottsdale voters, on Nov. 4, would be electing their new mayor. With only Mayor Mary Manross and Councilman Jim Lane on the Sept. 2 ballot, most observers believed that one was sure to receive more than 50 percent of the vote and secure a seat as the city's mayor.

That didn't happen, as the race was within a few hundred votes and Lane's lead did not constitute a majority of ballots cast. So the two rivals were back on the fundraising trail and the debate circuit with some changes to their campaign strategy.

Controversy continued, thanks to a Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce mailer, a set of ads from a group opposing Manross, an ongoing investigation and "robo-calls" from one of the state's highest elected officials. And there's been more guessing of how partisan politics could play a role in what is technically a nonpartisan race, and what effect, if any, the greater turnout in November will mean to the final results.

On Tuesday, the candidate with the most votes wins. The same applies to the six Scotts-dale City Council candidates on the ballot, with the top three vote-getters earning seats. One guarantee is that a new council member will be elected.The two incumbents, council members Betty Drake and Ron McCullagh, are running along with four others - Lisa Borowsky, Tom Giller, Suzanne Klapp and Nan Nesvig.

"I think it's the most unusual campaign season in Scottsdale history because of the change in the date and the involvement with the chamber's 'non-campaign' campaign and springing up of independent expenditures," said Lamar Whitmer, a political consultant who supports Lane. "Obviously people have a lot of interest."

MANROSS VS. LANE

Scottsdale voters will either send Manross back for her third, four-year term as mayor or choose Lane, a first-term councilman.

During the lead-up to the primary, Manross' ads focused on her endorsements of prominent individuals and major resident and business groups, as well as the successes Scotts-dale has had under her tenure including a downtown boom over the past few years. While she took her shots at Lane during the debates, her campaign literature was positive as she played out her campaign theme, "It's a Bright New Day in Scottsdale."

Lane, on the other hand, sent out literature such as the "Mistake Mayor" that attempted to show Manross as a supporter of closed and secretive government who has cost the city millions in lawsuits because of her failed leadership and personally blamed her for setbacks, even those that went beyond the mayor's control.

But there's been a shift.

Manross started attacking Lane more, running newspaper ads and a mailer that claims Lane is against regulating payday loans, is against downtown revitalization and funding public safety, which all had elements of mistruths.

Lane, who faced criticism in the primary from his opponents for having no vision, released a new mailer titled "Ten Reasons to Vote for Jim Lane" that comes from the perspective of what he would do, rather than what Manross has done wrong.

And while Manross dominated the announcement of high-profile endorsements leading up to Sept. 2, Lane picked up a couple of high-profile endorsements of his own since then in Republican Congressmen John Shadegg and Jeff Flake.

Manross and Lane did not return calls for this story.

OUTSIDE INFLUENCES

Manross and three council candidates were featured in a four-page mailer produced by the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce's Scottsdale Campaign for Economic Development 2008-09.

The chamber said it was not advocating for the four candidates it had previously endorsed - Manross, Drake, Klapp and McCullagh - only saying the four would best support the chamber's economic policies. That became perhaps the greatest controversy of the election season.

If the group avoids expressly advocating for a candidate, it does not have to file campaign finance reports.And because it's not required - unless an ongoing investigation proves otherwise - the chamber has not disclosed who funded its campaign or how much was spent.

Its action become a rallying cry for others. Every mayor and council candidate at the time not endorsed by the chamber signed a complaint.

The Attorney General's Office is investigating, but without the help of Attorney General Terry Goddard, whose voice is on "robo-calls" on behalf of Manross. Goddard's office says he is not involved in the investigation.

"Our messages were designed to be positive and not negative, and to see that much negative campaigning was a surprise and unpleasant," Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce president Rick Kidder said.

Republicans for a Bright New Day in Scottsdale political committee, which is a play on Manross' slogan, have specifically targeted the chamber's slate of candidates and supported Lane with its newspaper ads and television commercials.Those attacks include two Republicans in McCullagh and Klapp.

Committee treasurer Michael Fernandez, whose family owns Pottery Paradise in downtown Scottsdale, has been the primary donor by giving nearly $30,000 of his personal money, according to the latest campaign finance filing. The latest ad push tries to link the chamber-endorsed candidates to light rail.

"They will condemn my business when light rail is put in and if Mary Manross and her gang of four get in, I stand to lose millions of dollars through my business when they take my property and my building," Fernandez said.

Scottsdale has voted to join Valley Metro Rail, which is the regional light-rail planning group, with Manross, Drake and McCullagh in support, but there are no proposals to bring light rail or modern streetcar up Scottsdale Road.

Nesvig and Giller, who trailed the other four candidates in funds, were the beneficiaries of an independent expenditure from the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale, a resident group that like Nesvig and Giller has fought increased height and density in the downtown area.

The results of the Sept.2 election showed incumbents McCullagh and Drake, were the top vote-getters.Next was Klapp, 1,288 votes ahead of Borowsky. Giller and Nesvig were both more than 4,500 votes out of third place.

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