Phoenix Mayor’s Race: 2 City Hall Insiders, 2 Outsiders

By Christina Estes
Published: Friday, October 26, 2018 - 5:05am
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2018 - 8:37am

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Phoenix mayoral candidates
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix mayoral candidates debated in Phoenix on Sept. 26, 2018.

Voters in the nation’s fifth-largest city have four choices for their next mayor.

The candidates can be divided between City Hall insiders and outsiders. Democrats Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela are former council members while Republican Moses Sanchez and Libertarian Nicholas Sarwark have never been elected in Phoenix.

During a recent discussion led by KJZZ’s Mark Brodie, Gallego and Valenzuela shared some council highlights.

“I led the effort for equal pay for equal work for women, which the City Council passed unanimously,” Gallego said.

“Our city is on its way of saving more than $4 billion dollars in pension reform,” Valenzuela said. “I led that effort.”

Moses Sanchez explained how his experiences as a governing board member of the Tempe Union High School District and a service member would benefit Phoenix residents.

“And I have a track record of working with people who I may not agree with, but we produce results,” he said.

Nicholas Sarwark presented his Libertarian role as a plus.

“I have the advantage of being the only person in the race that doesn’t wear a red or a blue jersey,” he said.

While the race is non-partisan, candidates have clear political leanings. Sarwark and Sanchez want to focus on the city’s core services.

“Last year we took in $4 billion as a city, Phoenix did, in taxes and fees and $500 million got spent in just debt,” said. Sarwark. “We’re paying interest on debt.”

“You want to incentivize big business? You want to incentive sports teams?” said Sanchez. “Have the best education record. Have the best public-safety record. Have the best streets and roads. Have the best parks.”

Both Sanchez and Sarwark say owners of professional sports teams should not receive taxpayer subsidies. It’s an area of disagreement between the two former council members — Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela.

“Downtown Phoenix is the right place for our professional sports teams to be,” said Gallego. “It is in the center of a very busy and vibrant community. It makes business sense for them to be there. But professional sports are among the most profitable enterprises out there and they can pay for their own facilities.”

“Is there something, a deal that can be made with the Phoenix Suns? Well, how do we know if we don’t have a mayor that’s at least willing to sit down and have a conversation?” said Valenzuela. “I think mayors, or candidates, get themselves in trouble when they speak in absolutes.”

MORE: Hear The Sept. 26 Phoenix Mayoral Debate

Phoenix has a council-manager form of government. That means the city council hires the city manager who oversees daily operations. So, how do the candidates think they’ll make a difference? Sarwark says he’ll provide department heads with clear objectives and protect them from council politics.

“If you report that you did the thing well, then you get to keep your job and get a raise and stuff,” he said. “And if you can’t get that done, then we find new people.”

Sanchez wants to include more people in his vision of a world-class city.

“They feel like they’ve been forgotten,” he said. “They feel like, you know what? City Hall isn’t worried about me. They’re only worried about what’s happening to downtown and what’s happening to their big developer friends.”

Former council members Gallego and Valenzuela tout their backgrounds.

“It’s an exciting time for Phoenix and you want someone who’s been involved in the city who has a record of success in major citywide initiatives,” Gallego said. “There’s a reason I believe Mayor Stanton asked me to represent the city at the League of Cities and Towns, working with all the other mayors, working with the Legislature,” Valenzuela said.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will take place in March.

You can get information on other races and ballot propositions at