Virus reshaping election campaigns in Mesa The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Virus reshaping election campaigns in Mesa

Virus reshaping election campaigns in Mesa

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

Some candidates for public office are facing the difficult choice between endangering their health by collecting signatures during the COVID-19 outbreak or missing out on qualifying for the Primary Election ballot.

Not everyone finds themselves in this paradox.

Some candidates – such as Mesa Vice Mayor Mark Freeman, west Mesa Councilman Francisco Heredia and District 2 challenger Julie Spilsbury – said they already have enough signatures to hit the April 6 deadline for petitions.

“If I was out collecting signatures, it would be very difficult, very concerning,’’ Freeman said.

Other candidates, however, are not as fortunate.

Danny Ray, who is challenging Freeman in north Mesa’s District 1, said his campaign was delayed by having the flu and losing his voice.

Ray already has revised his initial aspirations by dropping plans to take on Mayor John Giles a second time, saying that he is comfortable with voting for another conservative candidate, Verl Farnsworth, in the mayoral race.

Ray, a construction contractor who ran unsuccessfully against Giles in 2014, said he’s feeling better now and he has been out collecting signatures at a gun show and door to door.

But he said the process is more difficult than ever during the outbreak.

He said one senior citizen he has known for years refused to open her door to sign one of his petitions, citing virus concerns.

Even Ray’s sister questioned her father’s judgment in helping him collect signatures amid a global pandemic.

“I’m hoping so,’’ Ray said, when asked if he will eventually qualify for the ballot. “I didn’t see this pandemic coming.’’

Mesa City Clerk DeeAnn Mickelsen said council candidates in districts 1, 2 and 3 must collect 250 signatures of voters in their boundaries while mayoral candidates must collect 1,000 signatures from any resident who is a registered voter.

“Voting gives you the right to complain, but I wasn’t getting anywhere,’’ said Ray, a father and a small businessman. “I didn’t just sit at home and complain. No matter the outcome ahead, I can say I did something.’’

Ray is concerned about Mesa’s finances, with bond issues paying for many capital improvements.

“I think we are doing our kids a disservice with rising debt,’’ he said.

Christopher Bown, who narrowly missed qualifying for the general election in District 3 in 2018, said he had “99 percent’’ of his signatures.

He is hoping to challenge Heredia in the election and said one his primary issues is Mesa’s high water rates.

Bown said he was planning to contact people on Facebook to see if they would be willing to sign his petitions if he stopped by their house, hoping to break the ice from COVID-19 and security concerns.

“My greatest concern is that the people you want to talk to are in the higher risk group,’’ Bown said, with people 55 or older most likely to vote. “I think there are a fair amount who don’t like opening their door in general.’’

Farnsworth said he has found himself torn between his need to collect more signatures to qualify for the mayoral race and the possibility that he endangering his own health, even though he is a healthy person.

He said he wants to be patriotic by following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, which recommend gatherings of 10 people or less.

Because of threats posed by the outbreak, Farnsworth said that maybe it would be a good idea to bend the rules a bit by giving candidates credit for making a good faith effort and waiving the usual requirement.

“I think the governor or the Legislature, in protection of the legislative process, should come up with a decision to not require the rest of the signatures,’’ Farnsworth said.

That’s not likely, since the State Legislature spent most of the week trying to finalize a semblance of a 2020-21 budget so members could go home in light of the spreading virus.

Freeman, a retired Mesa Fire Department paramedic, said it would concern him to collect petitions during the outbreak.

He said he has more than 800 signatures through the combined efforts of himself and his wife.

“You never know who is exposed to what,’’ Freeman said, adding that firefighters always take precautions to avoid contracting infectious diseases, wearing masks and gloves. “You don’t know where people have travelled.’’

Legislative candidates have an easier job collecting signatures since – unlike local and county office hopefuls – can send supporters to the Arizona Secretary of State’s website at and sign a ballot petition electronically.

However, veteran pols said that the virus likely will hurt candidates for statewide office since they will probably restrict their traveling around Arizona to raise campaign funds and introduce themselves to voters.

The Secretary of State’s electronic signing is not an avenue open to advocacy groups seeking to qualify by July for an initiative on the November ballot.

A week ago, the East Valley-based Save Our Schools brought face masks, disinfectant and gloves to a drive-through petition signing at a Mesa strip mall on Dobson Road.

Save Our Schools is supporting an initiative that would limit the number of private school vouchers issued by the state.

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