Mesa City Councilman Jeremy Whittaker has expressed interest in mounting a potential mayoral bid – elevating himself from Mayor John Giles’ chief nemesis to a 2020 election opponent.
Irked by the emergence of a Giles ally as a possible challenger in his council district, Whittaker filed a statement of interest for mayor job.
The statements of interest, required by a new state law, qualify candidates to collect the signatures of registered voters to get their names on the ballot.
Also gunning for Giles’ job, is Verl Farnsworth, an outspoken council critic who failed in 2018 to unseat council member Dave Luna, a frequent Giles ally. He too filed a statement of interest for the mayoral position.
Giles is seeking a second full, four-year term as mayor. He filled out the last two years of former Mayor Scott Smith’s term after Smith left to run unsuccessfully for governor.
Giles is already flexing his muscles for the upcoming Aug. 4 primary election.
In a press release, his campaign highlighted his fundraising prowess.
Giles has raised about $250,000 for his campaign – a Mesa record – with a list of contributors demonstrating strong support from the business community and utilities.
“This is all very transparent. The contributions are 100 percent appropriate,’’ Giles said. “I think it’s very important for the mayor to have a great relationship with the business community.’’
He said an inherent part of his job is to serve as the city’s cheerleader and a salesman.
Among the businesses Mesa has recruited are an Apple data center and plans for a Google data center, in the Elliot Road Technology Corridor.
“This is still a safe, affordable and fiscally sound city,’’ Giles said. “I am grateful for their support.’’
Giles did not mention Whittaker as a potential challenger, but he said he did not think his campaign contributions would translate into an uncontested election. He faced only write-in candidates in 2016.
“I think when you do things in this job, some people will take issue with it. I am expecting a contested election,’’ Giles said.
But Whittaker charged many of Giles’ supporters, notably real estate developers and property owners, have received subsidies and sweetheart deals for a variety of projects during Giles’ administration.
“They are all getting handouts from his policies,’’ Whittaker said. “These are his supporters, people who donate to Giles and they are getting handouts.’’
Whittaker noted homebuilder Jeff Blandford, who donated $5,000 to Giles campaign, is now planning to build the Reserve at Red Rock on a piece of city-owned, pristine desert previously reserved for a park near Red Mountain Ranch in northeast Mesa.
However, Giles noted Blandford was the highest bidder during an even-handed auction called after the city decided it was unlikely the property would ever be developed as a park.
Blandford bid more than $21 million for the land, exceeding the city’s expectations, and plans to build 296 luxury homes in a resort-style gated development designed to blend into the desert environment.
Whittaker, a first-term council member from District Two, has consistently clashed with Giles over city finances and the controversial ASU@MesaCityCenter project, one of Giles’ top priorities for awakening downtown and improving educational opportunities.
Giles has pursued an aggressive pro-business, pro-education agenda in Mesa as a strong economy has bolstered his efforts to attract more high-paying jobs.
Voters also approved more than $100 million in bond issues during his term to expand city services and parks – especially in East Mesa, where new parks, a library, and police and fire stations are planned.
Whittaker repeatedly has voted against funding for Mesa’s share of the $63.5 million Arizona State University project but has often found himself on the losing end of a series of 5-2 and 6-1 council voters.
Whittaker also criticized the city’s heavy reliance on bond issues, a financing method Giles and others consider necessary because of Mesa’s lack of a primary property tax.
Whittaker said it was Giles’ recruitment of Julie Spilsbury, a Mesa mother and volunteer in the Mesa Public Schools, to run against him in his district which prompted him to consider a mayoral campaign.
“Julie is just a puppet for the mayor and the establishment,’’ Whittaker said, describing Spilsbury as well-connected with the upper echelon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even if she is a political novice.
“If I have to run, I might as well run against the mayor,’’ Whittaker said, rather than running against a Giles surrogate.
Whittaker said he will decide at a later date if he is running for mayor or a second term in his present position.
Giles said he was one of several people who urged Spilsbury to run either for council or for the MPS Governing Board. He said he is impressed by Spilsbury’s community involvement at her children’s schools.
Spilsbury said she is the mother of six children and serves as the bookkeeper for her husband’s tree business.
“My parents are both teachers. That’s where I chose to spend my time, in a lot of schools over the years,’’ she said. “It’s different when you are a mom. I really want to help families, and the city can help families in a lot of different areas.’’
She said she considered running for the school board, but decided she could have a bigger impact on the council by focusing mostly on quality-of-life issues.
“I’m a conservative,’’ Spilsbury said, but “I am totally fine with spending money on the local level.’’
She conceded she would probably have fewer objections to Giles’s policies than Whittaker, but she praised Whittaker for asking good questions.
“I’m excited about where he is taking Mesa,’’ Spilsbury said, referring to Giles.
District Three, in west Mesa, may also feature a contested election in 2020, with incumbent Francisco Heredia potentially running against Jacob Martinez and Christopher Bown, who have both filled out a statement of interest.
Bown ran unsuccessfully against Heredia in 2018 to fill out the final two years of former council member Ryan Winkle’s term. Mesa council members and mayors normally serve a four-year term.