Mesa election heads to the finish line Tuesday The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa election heads to the finish line Tuesday

Mesa election heads to the finish line Tuesday

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

With the Mesa mayoral and City Council elections slated Tuesday, Mayor John Giles’ campaign war chest has grown to more than $281,000 and political action committees helped fuel several other candidates’ campaigns.

A minority of voters are expected to go to traditional polls on Aug. 4, with about 80 percent voting by mail – about the same as in recent years, according to City Clerk DeeAnn Mickelsen.

Giles, who is backed by the Mesa business and development communities, faces a challenge from constitutionalist Verl Farnsworth, who spent heavily on a newspaper-like flyer to reach voters as the COVID-19 epidemic limited traditional face-to-face campaigning.

Councilman Jeremy Whittaker, who first took office after beating Shelly Allen in 2016 in District Two, faces a challenge from political newcomer Julie Spilsbury, who is backed by Giles and has raised more than three times more than Whittaker.

Also in contention on Tuesday’s ballot is incumbent west Mesa District 1 Councilman Mark Freeman, who is being challenged by Danny Ray.

Spilsbury has collected $53,175, including some donations from developers and some of the same donors who supported Giles, campaign records show.

Her donors include Jenny Richardson, former Mesa Public Schools board president, and Rich Adams of Visit Mesa.

Spilsbury’s largest donors include members of the Cardon family, who have been involved in development and philanthropy.  The Cardons and some of their business associates contributed more than $25,000.

Spilsbury also received contributions from Dawn Giles, the mayor’s wife, and three political action committees: Cox Arizona PAC, $350; the United Mesa Firefighters, $3,000; and $5,000 from a conservative PAC associated with former Congressman Matt Salmon.

Salmon’s PAC, called Safeguarding American Liberties, Morals and Opportunities Now, usually contributes to conservative Republicans in Congress, including U.S Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican whose district includes Glendale, Peoria and Surprise.

A spread sheet compiled by Whittaker, who has long condemned the political contribution system as corrupt, shows that Giles, a moderate Republican, received a $1,000 contribution from Salmon’s PAC in 2019.

While Whittaker has self-funded the majority of his campaign at a cost of more than $10,000, he also accepted a $3,000 donation from the Realtors of Arizona.

Whittaker raised $16,603, which includes nearly $11,000 from himself.

“I’ve never voted on anything that benefited the Realtors of Arizona PAC,’’ Whittaker said, accusing Giles of aiding developers. “Pay-to-play politics is exactly what’s wrong with our government.’’

Freeman also received a $500 donation from Boeing’s PAC.

Spilsbury has denied that she would be a puppet of Giles or development interests, saying she would not be beholden to anyone. She said the Cardons are old friends.

Giles also received donations from the AT&T Employees PAC, $500, and from the Arizona Pipe trades, $1,000.

On several occasions, Giles has said that part of his job is selling the city for development to improve sales tax revenues and attract better quality jobs.

He said he is proud of his support from the business community and that being mayor of his hometown is his favorite job. He said plans to distribute any money left over from his campaign to nonprofits.

Giles first ascended to mayor in 2014 when he beat Ray to fill out the final two years of Scott Smith’s term, after Smith resigned to run for governor. Giles ran unopposed in 2016, garnering 53,273 votes and raising $19,005 for his campaign.

Farnsworth, a political ally of Whittaker who failed to unseat Councilman Dave Luna in District Five two years ago, has followed a similar approach in self-funding his campaign as well.

His newspaper flyer encouraged voters to support a ticket of himself, Whittaker and Ray.

The mayor’s race would seem lopsided, with Giles a formidable candidate who rarely, if ever, loses a council vote and many votes going 6-1 or 5-2, with Whittaker generally in the opposition.

Giles has concentrated on downtown development, education, attracting better jobs, building up sales tax revenue and rolling out the Mesa Cares program to aid individuals and businesses devastated by the COVID-19 epidemic.

His move to push for Council approval of a down-sized version of the asu@mesacitycenter project as an anchor for downtown redevelopment continued to reverberate in the current election campaign.

Farnsworth attacked the project in his flyer and also tangled with Giles on the controversial Reserve at Red Rock project when the city auctioned off a piece of picturesque but vacant land that once had been intended as a park.

Developer Jeff Blandford bought the property, creating a $21 million sale for the city, and plans to build another of his desert-themed, resort-style gated communities.

Farnsworth’s campaign spending reports list only three relatively small donors in contrast to Gile’s massive fundraising.

Farnsworth, who once made a bid for President of the United States through an online primary that failed to nominate a candidate, appears to have racked up most of his costs from his newspaper flyer, which was mailed to all Mesa residents.

His bills included $10,145 to Signature Offset and nearly $40,000 in mailing costs to the U.S. Postal Service.

He has promised to let the constitution and God determine his decisions if he is elected mayor.

In District 1, Freeman and Ray, who previously ran unsuccessfully for mayor, waged a low-budget, low-key campaign that was still a mismatch financially.

Freeman raised $24,171 and spent only $6,463. His prominent donors included Marc Garcia, Kimberly Forest, Rich Adams and Julie Herman from Visit Mesa, the city’s tourism arm; zoning attorney Sean Lake and Phoenix East Valley Partnership Vice President Mike Hutchinson.

Freeman, a farmer and retired Mesa Fire Department paramedic, collected his largest donation from Mark Dobson, a rancher who donated $1,000.

Ray, owner of Ray Brothers Construction Co., had total receipts of $4,824, with $2,950 in contributions and $1,874 from his own pocket. His largest donor was Curtis Ray, a Gilbert financial consultant who donated $2,500.

Only Republicans are vying in North Mesa for the justice of the peace and constable positions.

Incumbent JP Kyle Jones, a former city councilman, is fending a challenge from Ed Malles while Jon Curtis and Robin Carlos Beach are fighting to become constable.

On the rest of the ballot, some legislative districts covering Mesa will have primary contests while others likely will have no election at all this year because only one candidate made the ballot.

The latter development is the case in the State Senate race in LD 16, which covers part of East Mesa. Only Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend filed from either party for the Senate seat being vacated by David Farnsworth.

In the LD 16 House race, incumbent John Fillmore will be duking it out with Forest John Moriarty, Jacqueline Parker and Lisa Godzich.

In LD 25, the only primary contest is a three-way Republican race two House seats as Speaker Rusty Bowers and incumbent Michelle Udall are facing a challenge from Kathy Pearce.

LD 26 offers Democrats contests for both House and Senate nominations. Incumbent Juan Mendez is facing Jana Lynn Granillio while a four-way contest for two November ballot slots pits incumbent Rep. Athena Salman against Debbie Nez-Manuel, Melody Hernandez and Patrick Morales.

And in LD 18, neither party is offering any primary decisions for voters, though they can expect contests for both House and Senate seats in the fall.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-7p.m., Election Day, Aug. 4. People in line at 7 p.m. will be permitted to cast a ballot.

It’s too late to mail in an early ballot and people can cast their ballot at any voter center, regardless of where they live, because of relaxed regulations due to the pandemic.

Mesa voters can drop off a completed ballot at City Hall, but they will have to go to to find a place near them to vote. ′

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