It’s no secret we believed others leading up to Scottsdale’s August 4th primary for Mayor would have been better than David Ortega. Yet, we and others must give credit where credit is due. Ortega overcame opposition, doubts and now finds himself in the run-off election against former Scottsdale Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky. If Ortega wins we want him to succeed, unlike the distasteful tribalism that always seems to exist in Congress, for example.
Ortega has been in this position before. In 2004. Then, he squeaked into a run-off election against incumbent Mayor Mary Manross, gaining just about the same amoung of the vote that he did on August 4th. But he went on to be defeated soundly. This time he starts the race against Borowsky in a dead heat. It will surely be one of the most interesting races in the Valley over the next few months.
An article in the Arizona Republic (click here) got us focusing on the race already. It discussed the wonderful effort of a building owner in downtown Phoenix, utilizing a young African-American artist, to paint a huge mural of James Baldwin on it. Yet, in a city known for its commitment to the arts Ortega’s most recent foray is not reassuring. He represented a notorious landlord to defeat a privately funded mural of the late John McCain. But as Mayor you need a broader perspective. Will Ortega listen to narrow special interests or be more open-minded to more art? The Scottsdale arts scene is hurting, especially after the nearby riots earlier this year. Can Ortega be the one to help Scottsdale regain its arts luster from Phoenix? Maybe. But he needs to square how opposition to a popular work doesn’t intrude on such abilities, if that is what he believes and wants.
Similarly, Ortega tried to distract voters in the primary away from his opposition to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in 2004. It’s what cost him the mayoral race in 2004. It’s understandable he would be sensitive to the critique now. But like the McCain mural Ortega should just admit the mistake. We’ve all made them. Voters are a forgiving lot if you just trust them to do so. Scottsdale electors are a smart bunch. Obfuscation will only go so far.
On development and business matters Ortega has an interesting record. He wisely led the charge to re-orient Scottsdale Road south of Camelback that has served the area well. He has helped small businesses that have been suffocated by city overreach. And he highlights his opposition to Southbridge II and its heights notwithstanding that while on City Council Ortega voted to approve the two tallest buildings in Scottsdale, the residential towers at the Scottsdale Waterfront. One has to finesse but can make the argument that Southbridge II was bad but the Scottsdale Waterfront was good. But it’s a challenge. Finally, as a life-long Democrat who even contributed to leftist Steve Farley in Arizona’s last gubernatorial election, Ortega presumably supports the state’s very popular medical marijuana program, especially within his Party. Yet, he opposed a city staff recommended site late last year because property owners there admitted they wanted to redevelop the area for “high-rises.”
Amongst all of this lies the complexity and conundrum for Ortega. The November electorate now gets much younger and more moderate.
Arts. Preservation. Smart development. They are the essence of Scottsdale.
Our headline asks: Ortega evolution or devolution? It will likely make the difference between his victory and defeat. Just like 2004. Or 2016 when the candidates were different but some of the fault lines were anything but.