Lots of agreement, not much debate in candidate matchup

From left: Mark Mitchell, Corey Woods, Doreen Garlid, Joel Navarro, Marc Norman and Casey Clowes spoke at Tempe History Museum in an election forum sponsored by Tempe Interfaith Fellowship.

Story and photos by Lee Shappell

For anyone hoping to glean what separates those running for Tempe City Council and mayor in the

March 10 election, a candidates forum at Tempe History Museum was not necessarily the place to be. None of the candidates articulated what separates them from the field. Nobody challenged positions of their rivals. Of course, that’s largely because their opponents’ stances mostly seem to reflect their own.

And, after all, sponsored by Tempe Interfaith Fellowship, it was a civil, nonpartisan forum, not a debate.

The candidates agreed that homelessness is a major problem and something must be done. Put feminine hygiene products back in women’s public restrooms, everybody said. Give the three public-education districts that serve Tempe all the support possible.

Yes, they all said, they’re concerned about congestion downtown and hope to find better, multimodal ways to move people around without fouling the environment.

And, for heaven’s sake, let us vow to meet at least once a year with the Tempe Interfaith Fellowship, the two mayoral candidates affirmed.

“I would say more than once a year,” Mayor Mark Mitchell said. “I’d even be receptive to once a month, schedule permitting. It’s important to know the issues we’re having and keep communication open.”

Quipped mayoral challenger Corey Woods:

“To have a little fun here and try to one-up the mayor, I’d even do once a week. The faith community plays an integral role in everything we do, and it’s my commitment to develop a robust working relationship to position Tempe for its brightest future.”

Questions dealt almost exclusively with matters north of the U.S. 60, in the city’s burgeoning downtown. Essentially nothing was said about South Tempe during the 90-minute session.

So while candidate after candidate said nearly the same thing during each one’s allotted 2-minute response to questions posed by a team of Interfaith Fellowship moderators, all made clear where they stand on a variety of issues.

Even if it’s about the same as their election-seeking colleagues.

Mitchell, Tempe’s two-term mayor who was elected to City Council for three terms before moving up, is challenged by Woods, a former vice mayor and two-term councilman. Publicly, they seem to get along. During the forum, they laughed together and at times had their arms around each other.

Evidently, though, there is more than meets the eye behind the scenes.

Woods has the endorsements of current Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce.

They’ve eschewed Mitchell, who has served in city government for 20 years, presiding during a period of unprecedented change as Tempe became the Valley’s most urban and most socially progressive suburb.

Five candidates are vying for three seats on City Council, including incumbents Joel Navarro, seeking his fourth term, and Randy Keating, going for his second.

They are challenged by Doreen Garlid, a South Tempe resident, who has been active on committees for three decades and currently chairs Tempe’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission; Marc Norman, an artist and champion of marginalized and displaced populations; and Casey Clowes, an attorney, who sits on the Arizona State Bar’s Council on Persons with Disabilities in the Legal Profession as well as the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Council.

Keating was ill and did not attend.

As to Mitchell’s goals, he said, the No. 1 priority is “maintaining and improving quality of life, providing the necessary resources.” For Woods, “My biggest issue is affordable housing. That’s a major concern of mine.”

Garlid hopes to build a stronger, closer community by “involving as many people as possible in more forums.”

Navarro, a Phoenix Fire Department division chief, is concerned about human services that address homelessness and addiction, “not limited to opioids.”

Norman said homelessness and affordable housing are linked, and he hopes to find “common-sense solutions to both.”

Sustainability, “specifically the climate crisis,” is Clowes’ top concern.

All six want to find additional funding support for the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program (IHELP) and to partner with faith communities to address human-service needs.

“Tempe should ban conversion therapy,” Clowes said when questioned about the city’s dealings with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “It’s harmful to people emotionally and physically. We should not have this in Tempe.”

And when candidates were asked about difficulties parking downtown for faith- based groups’ services and gatherings, Clowes, who attended Corona del Sol High school, said:

“We should invest in public transit. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to single out faith groups and give them preferential treatment over other groups who have experienced the same challenges.”

The hottest topic was traffic and the carbon footprint downtown near Town Lake, where businesses continue to relocate, and near the Arizona State University campus, where several massive multi-housing projects are under construction.

Navarro was vocal about traffic and its peripheral issues.

“People want to park right next to the restaurant, want to pull right in and park right there, ‘and that’s how I want it—although there is a parking garage I see a block away and I know it’s over there, I just refuse to do that,’” Navarro said.

“It does take education. Use other opportunities to get around. That’s one way to alleviate congestion.”

He added:

“I don’t think I’m going to win over south Tempe urging people to get out of their cars.

“You might have a chance in downtown Tempe because of what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve. We have 200,000 to 300,000 people coming into the city daily.

“That’s a lot of cars.”

Mitchell pointed out that Tempe has invested in the Orbit bus system in the southern part of the city. He supports continued expansion as well as free passes to youth for mass-transit use “to educate our next generation.”

Woods suggested that telecommuting as much as possible also would get cars off downtown streets.

“There are times when I get some of my best work done in a tee shirt and basketball shorts with a laptop on my couch,” he said.

Keating’s campaign information says that he has served on 26 committees
and that he is especially proud of his first-term work on traffic, homelessness, revitalizing parks, repairing roads, protecting neighborhoods, public safety, economic development, animal welfare and maintaining high-quality city services.

Since there are no more than two candidates for each vacancy, the March 10 primary becomes the general election. If needed, a run-off election would be May 19. Elected candidates will be sworn in to four-year terms in July.

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