THE FINAL WORD

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By Pam Goronkin

Did you realize that when Tempe signed off on its Charter Government documents in 1964,
it declared itself to be a non-partisan, Mayor/Council/City Manager form of government?

In their wisdom, our city’s forebears believed that partisan platforms with broad, national implications would not be helpful regarding local issues. And if Tempe’s elected officials hired a professional City Manager, then corruption and cronyism could be better avoided.

Recent elections, however, have not only become more partisan but some candidates, including now some incumbents, have begun behaving like a “ticket” or a “slate,” wherein
they canvass for newcomer candidates or companion candidates of their same party,
distribute new candidates’ literature and signs and seek solidarity and endorsement with their same-party colleagues from the current council.

Doesn’t sound non-partisan to me. Some might regard it as cronyism.

It’s not illegal, but it’s also not in the spirit of ‘non-partisan’ governance. And it won’t result
in a ‘non-partisan’ City Council. I find this troubling. Our city benefits from a broad diversity of views when debating issues of importance to the financial, structural and cultural health of the community.

If everyone is holding hands in solidarity even during the election process, will they just be in lock-step as they determine Tempe’s fate regarding essential services and new initiatives?

Where does the debate come into play if everyone is already on the same page? Is this healthy for city governance? Smacks of “groupthink.”

Sure, there were times in the past when either a former mayor or a current sitting councilmember might endorse someone new on the ballot. Often, though, endorsers came
from the opposite party…and rarely were such endorsements forthcoming from an incumbent in the current race.

Candidates, by definition, are running in opposition to all other candidates in a nonpartisan
campaign. Maybe I wouldn’t find this as disturbing if I thought partisan politics were working well at the state and federal level. But, truly, the American public is more divided politically than ever. Why bring this partisan fervor onto Tempe’s City Council?

When candidates canvass in your neighborhood, be wary if they’re not just campaigning for themselves but are also asking you to support a pal who is a newcomer-candidate.

New voices are important to keep the conversation at City Hall fresh with ideas. But if those new voices feel obligated to an incumbent who helped to get them elected, how do they maintain their independence?

Better they should campaign for—and think for—themselves.

Pam Goronkin is a former member of the Tempe City Council and past president/CEO of Downtown Tempe Community Inc.

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