Scottsdale’s first mayoral debate earlier this week was a mundane affair. But it did reinforce a central tenant in the race: there are two lanes to the November run-off.
Gaining an outright win in August is highly improbable for any candidate. That means two will move on to an election in November.
How is this likely to take shape?
Think back to the Democratic Party’s primaries earlier this year. There was the oft discussed progressive lane led by Bernie Sanders and a moderate one that eventually coalesced around Joe Biden.
In 2016 Donald Trump created his own lane with one of the most unorthodoxed approaches and messages in Republican primary history. Typically, however, presidential nominating contests in the GOP fall into two camps as well: conservative and moderate.
In Scottsdale, the two lanes to replace the term-limited Mayor Lane are occupied by those who think the city is headed in the wrong direction and those who think it is on the right track. The former category includes candidates like former Councilman Bob Littlefield (the husband of current Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield) and landlord lobbyist David Ortega. The latter by Councilwomen Suzanne Klapp and Virginia Korte.
Former Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky appears to be seeking a narrow path up the middle of these two highways although her comments during the mayoral debate ushered her more to the Littlefield-Ortega wing. Such a novel political journey by Borowsky will be difficult.
Littlefield is the clear, known leader in the Scottsdale Awry camp, whether you like him or not. Ortega has always been a politician in search of a message whether it’s been running for Scottsdale City Council, Maricopa County Supervisor or Scottsdale Mayor. But it was his desperation and despicability in the 2004 mayoral race that makes his ascension to Mayor an impossibility now. Seeking contrast with Mayor Manross who had been a Preserve champion from Day One, Ortega led the opposition that year to funding the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. If Ortega would have had his way the Preserve vision would have died.
So, Ortega and likely Borowsky will likely need to find a way to leapfrog Littlefield by August 4th. That will be challenging.
The Klapp-Korte Lane is more uncertain and perhaps more interesting. Whoever wins it is likely the next Mayor because as was shown in 2016 Littlefield has a floor for Mayor, but also a ceiling. That’s also because a strong majority of Scottsdale voters think the city is headed in the right direction, a dynamic anathema to Bob Littlefield and the others.
Klapp has the important support of a thrice elected Jim Lane. And she has good, relevant experience as a small businesswoman and respected Councilwoman to appeal to voters in the rapidly changing political environment to favor those who understand business and can lead Scottsdale out of a Depression. But Korte boasts an incomparable resume in this regard, as well as social positions on LGBTQ issues (that contrary to popular belief the vast majority of Scottsdale voters support) and offers past leadership on Scottsdale Unified School District funding questions. This provides here with important constituencies.
This week’s debate did little but affirm this construct of this campaign as it now has little over a month before voting begins.