Voters in Gilbert and Apache Junction sent some pretty clear messages about what they want for their communities by filing the majority of seats for mayor and local councils in Tuesday’s primaries instead of sending a number of the candidates on to a May runoff election.
Gilbert voters gave a ringing endorsement for the town’s current strategies for managing growth and balancing basic infrastructure demands with quality-of-life projects (new parks figured prominently in the campaign). On the other hand, Apache Junction voters turned to candidates who value the image of a small, quirky community at the outer edge of the East Valley.
In Gilbert, a large number of council candidates for four seats presented the opportunity for several runoff races, especially with a united challenge from three political activists. But the primary revealed a deep well of support for the incumbents as Dave Crozier and Steve Urie appeared to be headed to outright victories, according to Tuesday’s unofficial results. They will be joined by former council member Linda Abbott, who figures to finish as the top vote-getter when final results are released Friday.
Various challengers argued there is widespread angst about the current direction of Gilbert, the town’s spending priorities and its strategies in evolving from a rural farm community into a major Arizona city. But Abbott, Crozier and Urie repeatedly pointed to Gilbert’s annual opinion surveys, which indicate general satisfaction among residents about the city’s present management. Voters renewed that view with their primary choices.
This outcome also reinforces the agenda and influence of Mayor Steve Berman, as critics had hoped to use this year’s election to rebuff Berman’s tactics by filling a majority of the council with less-friendly peers. Instead, Berman will be surrounded by council members he backed openly.
As the Tribune’s Beth Lucas reported Wednesday, the most likely Gilbert runoff would feature another incumbent, Les Presmyk, and challenger Dwayne Farnsworth. Presmyk had a 834-vote advantage as of Tuesday, which means Farnsworth would have to make up quite a bit of ground in the next two months to reverse the trend.
Meanwhile, Apache Junction will have its first new mayor in 12 years as City Councilman John Insalaco defeated colleague David Waldron. Those two will be replaced on the council by Mary “Robin” Barker and Walter “Chip” Wilson. A third seat appears headed to a runoff between Jeff Serdy and incumbent Kristofer Sippel.
Insalaco’s immediate challenge will be to bring together the council and community after a bitter primary between 12 candidates for four offices that could erode City Hall’s effectiveness and goodwill if hard feelings linger. Such lingering seems likely, as Sippel told the Tribune’s Nick Martin he doesn’t intend to campaign in the runoff because he doesn’t want to serve with Insalaco as mayor.
In the larger picture, Insalaco, Barker and Wilson represent factions of Apache Junction that love their community as it has existed for the past 30 years and would rather not see much change. But change is coming as population growth continues to move into this part of Pinal County, whether Apache Junction wants it or not. The question will be if Insalaco and the new council can direct these changes in a constructive manner for their constituents, or if they will allow others outside of Apache Junction to determine the area’s future.