PHOENIX — Four candidates running to become the next mayor of Phoenix participated in a fiery debate Monday night, challenging each other’s qualifications for the city’s highest office.
The debate, hosted by KPNX, touted a packed stage featuring Daniel Valenzuela, Kate Gallego, Nicholas Sarwark, and Moses Sanchez.
Valenzuela and Gallego, the Democrats in the race, are former members of the Phoenix City Council who both resigned earlier this year to run for the Mayor’s Office. Valenzuela works as a firefighter in Glendale. Sarwark is running under the Libertarian Party.
Sanchez, the only Republican, is a 22-year veteran of the United States Navy. If elected, he would be the first Republican mayor that Phoenix has seen in nearly 15 years.
A demonstration took place outside before the debate began protesting Gallego. The protesters’ signs — many of which donned the phrase “corruption” — criticized the former councilwoman’s decision to accept $75,000 in campaign donations “from developers who want to repurpose Chinese Cultural Center, according to the Arizona Republic’s Jessica Boehm.”
The candidates debated water policy, public pensions, light rail, law enforcement, and much more.
Asked by a member of the audience how they would plan ahead and get things done, Valenzuela and Sanchez highlighted their experience bringing people together.
“The mayor, if nothing else, the mayor of the City of Phoenix must be a coalition-builder and a problem-solver,” Valenzuela, the Democrat, responded. “And I’ve done that.”
“I have a lot of experience — 22 years of experience — as a veteran in the Armed Forces leading men and women, both here at home and abroad, on very complex missions,” Sanchez, the Republican, said. “In order to achieve those complex missions, we had to be brilliant at the basics.”
Sanchez continued: “The status quo at City Hall, quite frankly, is dysfunctional and disconnected. There’s a lot of partisan bickering to the point where recently we barely passed a budget … How do you get people to work together if they can’t function?”
Brahm Resnik, the host, pressed Gallego about the “corruption” protest outside and asked about her ties to the developers in question.
“Why would that one company, TrueNorth, give you so much money? What do they want?” Resnik asked. “Why should voters trust your vote after hearing that you received $75,000 from these executives at some point in the process?”
Gallego defended her position on the cultural center. However, the exchange took a strange turn when Gallego compared criticizing the developers to criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We get asked to condemn people all the time, like Vladimir Putin,” she said. “I don’t like Vladimir Putin, but that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate use of city time to be condemning people.”
The debate then shifted to law enforcement, the funding for which garnered significant scrutiny under former Mayor Greg Stanton as a result of a hiring freeze.
“I apologize that the City Hall and status quo have let you down,” Sanchez, the Republican, said, speaking to Police Chief Jeri Williams and her team in law enforcement. “Our police officers are under-supported and under-staffed … We need to properly man, train, and equip our police officers.”