Currently, only one incumbent running for re-election to the Phoenix City Council faces opposition in the Aug. 29 election. Councilman Sal DiCiccio has two opponents he could face on the ballot.

This summer’s election for half the seats on the Phoenix City Council is shaping up to be a sleepy contest, with one fiery exception: Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s re-election campaign. 

Four council seats are up for grabs on Aug. 29, but DiCiccio is the only incumbent facing a challenger at this point and it’s unlikely the other council members will face a serious competitor. They include Jim Waring, District 2; Laura Pastor, District 4; and Kate Gallego, District 8.

The conservative firebrand DiCiccio faces opposition from two progressive candidates. DiCiccio’s challengers are Zofia Rawner, an attorney, and Kevin Patterson, executive development director with Banner Health.

Unseating DiCiccio, who has served more than 13 years on the council, would be a tough feat for either challenger. DiCiccio has broad name recognition and heads into the race with more than $475,000 in his campaign account.

DiCiccio hit on developer ties

But Rawner and Patterson have vowed to wage a spirited contest. Rawner described a groundswell among neighborhoods concerned that DiCiccio isn’t paying attention to their concerns and is beholden to developers.

“It appears that (developers) do have an undue influence over him,” Rawner said. “Why? That’s for him to answer.”

Rawner pointed to recent zoning fights where, she said, neighbors felt they had to bombard the council to be heard. As an example, she mentioned an effort to rezone land for offices on Glendale Avenue near State Route 51, which the council rejected late in the process.

“The City Council members’ role is to go out there and actively seek out what the neighborhood wants,” Rawner said. “They are not owned by the developers.”

Patterson said he’s also concerned that “those with the most money get the most say” when it comes to zoning decisions, calling it a “pay to play” culture at City Hall. He said the district’s representative should work harder to find consensus between the neighborhood and developers.

DiCiccio, who has significant campaign contributions from real-estate investors, brushed off the criticism. He said he has a strong track record of responding to constituents and listening to anyone who approaches him.

“This is nothing more than injecting the poisonous tone of our national discord into local elections,” DiCiccio said in an email, referring to his opponents. “My record is incredibly clear opposing corporate property tax giveaways.”

The councilman has often had bitter clashes with other council members, progressive groups and labor unions, particularly firefighters.

District 6, which encompasses Ahwatukee Foothills, Arcadia, Biltmore and other parts of east Phoenix, is home to about 180,000 residents. The area is one of the city’s most affluent, white and politically active districts.

The district is considered conservative-leaning, but its voters can be a wildcard in city elections.

Republican DiCiccio has won re-election every time he’s appeared on the ballot in the district. But so has his political nemesis, Mayor Greg Stanton, a liberal Democrat who previously represented the area on the council and faced fewer re-election fights than DiCiccio.

Key candidate issues

Residents who have come to know DiCiccio’s message of fiscal conservatism and law-and-order policies should expect to hear more of those themes during his campaign.

DiCiccio said he plans to focus on the need for fiscal accountability at City Hall as the city faces the prospect of a $43 million to $64 million deficit next year. The councilman said he also will continue to push for a stronger police presence in Phoenix — the city’s police force is still down hundreds of officers from its prerecession peak.

“Phoenix has a structural deficit and I believe my focus on instituting a true strategic plan, highlighting critical functions is critical for the future of Phoenix,” DiCiccio said in an email.

Patterson, who also serves as president of Equality Arizona, an LGBT advocacy group, is well-known in progressive circles. He said he will work to ensure all areas of the district receive their fair share of city services and that concerns of small businesses are heard at City Hall.

Another key issue Patterson said he would address: Phoenix’s brain drain. He said the city needs to convince more college graduates and talented workers to stay by creating green jobs.

“I would call myself a consensus builder,” Patterson said. “I’m definitely a respectful listener.”

Rawner, a neighborhood leader in Arcadia, said the two most pressing concerns she hears from voters are the need to fix aging roads and rebuild the city’s shrunken Police Department.

She said DiCiccio’s talk about creating a strategic plan is empty because he hasn’t done it despite more than a decade in office.

Rawner said the city could afford to hire police officers faster if it reallocated existing resources, sold unneeded properties and asked voters to approve a tax increase dedicated to public safety.

“I believe our city needs to start listening to residents,” she said.

‘Like President Trump’

The deadline to submit signatures to get on the ballot is May 31. Candidates must submit at least 200 signatures from registered voters in the district. Given that looming deadline, it’s unlikely other council members running for re-election this year will face a serious challenge.

That means more attention and money will likely pour into the fight for DiCiccio’s seat. But some political observers are skeptical that lesser-known opponents could defeat DiCiccio.

Former Mayor Phil Gordon, who once clashed with DiCiccio but later mended fences, is among the skeptics. Gordon said few council incumbents have ever lost re-election fights in modern times. He said the odds are further diminished with two candidates splitting the anti-DiCiccio vote.

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the August election, the city would hold a runoff in November.

DiCiccio’s opponents also are unlikely to match his fundraising prowess. Rawner, who entered the race in March, raised about $25,000 in her first month. Patterson entered the race in late April and hasn’t been required to report his fundraising yet.

Gordon, a Democrat, said beyond DiCiccio’s fundraising and incumbency advantages, he is well-known for a council member and was ahead of President Donald Trump in being a non-traditional Republican with a populist bent.

“Based on my polling, Sal has very strong positives and very strong negatives, about of equal size,” Gordon said. “In some ways like President Trump, now that I think about it.”


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