First Takes On Scottsdale’s First Mayoral Debate

The just concluded Scottsdale mayoral debate, the campaign’s first, was hosted by the community’s Chuck Todd, Independent Newspapers’ Terrance Thornton.

Here are the highlights:

*Former City Councilman David Ortega’s “State of the Union” backdrop gets best Zoom look.  Bob Littlefield gets the worst for looking like he was playing a DJ in a dorm room.

*Ortega’s parroting of Littlefield’s anti-City Hall, slow growth message will pull votes from him.  So will former Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky who has landed firmly in the same Scottsdale sucks camp as Ortega and Littlefield.

*All candidates acted like they were inspired by Rip Van Winkle, talking about the past rather than the future. But that’s not where campaigns are won.  Save for Borowsky’s call to have a new lobbyist registration regime for Scottsdale (something we support) there wasn’t a single new idea offered by any candidate.  That’s malpractice.

*Councilwoman Virginia Korte and Littlefield were fortunate that neither of their biggest vulnerabilities were discussed:  Korte’s support of the Desert Discovery Center and that Littlefield is seeking to be Mayor at the same time his wife is Vice Mayor.  Voters hate that idea.

*Councilwoman Klapp was fine but unremarkable throughout.  She co-chaired a successful transportation campaign in 2018 yet failed to cite this when asked how she would improve the city’s transportation infrastructure.  She did find her footing however in discussing the business community, rightfully highlighting its import while Littlefield, Borowsky and Ortega often railed against it.

*Ortega talked about Southbridge 2 more than most kids talk about ice cream. In particular he decried 150’ buildings on “our canal.”  What a hypocrite.  While on the Scottsdale City Council he voted to put two 150’ buildings known as the Scottsdale Waterfront on the same canal.  The difference?  This time he was serving as a nearby landlord’s lobbyist who opposed Southbridge 2.

*Korte was strongest in her opening remarks.  As we have observed before she has, by far, the best resume to ever run for Mayor.  And this was deftly emphasized in her early remarks. But she stumbled defending “special interests” later in the debate.

*Korte and Klapp, as incumbents, would be wise to more robustly and enthusiastically defend the direction of Scottsdale.  People overwhelmingly favor it.  Be champions for what you have done not defensive about assertions from the troika.

*Littlefield maintained his Bernie Sanders-like consistency with his anti-developer rhetoric yet made a faint effort to suggest why and how he would be best to help Scottsdale with economic recovery. That’s a little like Dennis Rodman talking about fidelity.  He knows he has a problem and this debate did nothing to dispel this fault line if and perhaps when he makes it to the November run-off.  Ortega’s answers to why he would be best to lead Scottsdale out of a recession were even worse because he had none besides “I am an architect.” What?

*Littlefield’s best moments were discussing the role and import of Scottsdale tourism, where he can boast a solid record.

*Ortega’s “Johnny Come Lately” embrace of Proposition 420 to oppose the Desert Discovery Center was laughable. After all, the reason Ortega got destroyed in his last attempt to become Mayor versus Mary Manross in 2004 was because of his aloofness if not opposition to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in the past.

*Korte and Klapp both missed opportunities to pivot from frequent Southbridge 2 questions.  Museum Square was passed unanimously.  Gentry on the Green unanimously.  Scottsdale Fashion Square redevelopment by a solid majority.  And others.  And more.  Both played too much defense and not enough offense.

*All of this being said all five candidates equipped themselves well, if not remarkably.   The good news is that Scottsdale voters have no shortage of qualified options on the menu, no matter what tastes may be.  This was a very polite affair as campaign debates and discourse go.  That is likely to change, soon, with early voting beginning just over a month away.