It's A 'Critical' Election For Phoenix Mayor, 4 City Council Seats

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, October 8, 2020 - 5:52am
Updated: Thursday, October 8, 2020 - 7:37am

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Phoenix City Council chambers
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix City Council chambers.

November’s election could determine the direction of the Phoenix City Council. Voters must decide the next mayor and half the council seats.

How Phoenix Operates

Phoenix is the largest U.S. city with a council-manager form of government. That means the mayor and city council members set policy and budgets and hire a city manager to handle daily operations.  

“I’m a strong advocate of the manager-council form of government,” said Phil Gordon, who served as Phoenix mayor from 2004 to 2012.

Under the council manager form, he says a mayor can face two scenarios.

“The council’s split up and loose coalitions form on issues or [the mayor] sort of bring the parties together and talk-that requires an immense amount of communication and time and effort,” Gordon said.

The mayor and council members count as one vote each.

“It’s a very different city council than Phoenix has ever had before.”
— Jon Talton, Phoenix historian

“It’s a very different city council than Phoenix has ever had before,” said Jon Talton, a Phoenix historian and former Arizona Republic columnist. “You have people from such different vantage points and viewpoints and ideologies on the council.”

Both Talton and Gordon say the council’s been moving further left since last year. That’s when Phoenix voters rejected a proposal to kill light rail expansion and when former union organizer Betty Guardado and community activist Carlos Garcia won their seats. I asked Garcia, who is not facing re-election this year, how he would describe the current council.

“I would describe it as cautious and timid,” he said. “I would describe it as a council that could do more, that could get more on the same page. But I feel like we — and I think it happens to Democrats in Arizona, not just in the city of Phoenix — but we’re used to being in such a red state that I feel that impacts Democrats and people who are wanting to be more progressive and it kind of scares them from doing what even sometimes Democrats know is the right thing to do.”

Garcia would like to see the city take on the state and federal government more. For example, he didn’t like Phoenix waiting until the governor gave permission for cities to mandate masks. And it bothers Garcia that the city council chose not to direct federal coronavirus relief funds to people who are undocumented. The city attorney advised the funds were likely subject to state and federal laws that require residency. 

“Again, it was an interpretation and so now we’re being sued for not including undocumented people and I would prefer our city be sued for being inclusive rather than exclusive,” he said.

Garcia claimed a big victory in June, when the council, by a 5-4 vote, approved funding his proposal to create a new office with civilian oversight of police

two mailings sitting on table
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix voters will cast ballots for mayor and four city council seats in 2020.

In July, Garcia and fellow members Guardado and Laura Pastor came up with new regulations on the hospitality industry. They included public hygiene training, paid sick leave and a requirement to re-call furloughed employees by seniority before companies looked outside to hire.

Businesses and Chambers of Commerce lashed out saying they had no chance to provide input and moments before the council meeting, the proposal was pulled.

Former Mayor Gordon says people are telling him it’s too hard to do business in Phoenix.

“Those rumors start and whether they’re true or not they become self –fulfilling,” he said. “And as you start to drive business out, whether real or perceived, that’s the beginning of deterioration for cities and you don’t want that, particularly in an area like Phoenix and the Valley where it’s just as easy to move, in some cases, a hundred feet and be in a different city.”

Garcia says wanting to protect workers doesn’t mean you’re against business. He points out Phoenix has devoted nearly $16 million in federal emergency funds to help local businesses hurt during the pandemic.

“There was policy set to make sure that businesses were taken care of,” he said. “What we saw was lacking was policy and the ability to take care of the workers themselves, who in turn make the businesses successful.” 

District Sizes

Garcia represents the 8th district, it covers parts of east Phoenix, downtown, south Phoenix and Laveen. His district includes nearly 200,000. That’s roughly the same number in each of the other seven council districts. Here’s another way to think about it: A Phoenix council member represents a population equal to the city of Tempe. 

“These districts have different interests,” said Talton, who thinks having council members represent districts rather than the city at large can breed division. “When we had at-large representation the city council had a reason to look out for the good of the entire city, not just their districts, not just saying well if downtown is getting this why is my district not getting it?”

Out of eight council seats, four are open in November. Two races include incumbents, one race includes a former city council member and another race involves five candidates.   

“This election, as quiet as it is, I think, is critical,” said Gordon.

It’s also historic. This is the first time Maricopa County will conduct an election for Phoenix mayor and council. And it’s the first time both mayor and council seats will appear on a presidential ballot.

With so much focus on the presidential race, the phrase "All politics is local" may seem less relevant, but voters in Phoenix who make it to the bottom of the ballot will decide what kind of local politics they get.

Mayor, Council Race Information

Candidates must receive more than 50% of the vote to be declared the winner. In races where no one receives the majority, a runoff election will be held on March 9, 2021. Find your Phoenix council district at

Here is the certified list of candidates for the Nov. 3 non-partisan mayoral and council elections as recognized by the Phoenix City Clerk:


  • Kate Gallego
  • Merissa Hamilton
  • Tim Seay

District 1

  • Ann O'Brien
  • Dave Siebert

District 3

  • Nicole Garcia
  • Kristen Pierce (informally withdrew Sept. 29)
  • Debra Stark

District 5

  • Betty Guardado
  • Nathan Schick
  • Andre Williams

District 7

  • Yassamin Ansari
  • Cinthia Estela
  • G. Grayson Flunoy
  • Susan Mercado-Gudino
  • Francisco Montoya

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November 3, 2020 will be the first time Phoenix mayoral and council races appear on a presidential ballot.