Scottsdale mayoral candidates cover local politics at Sept. 27 debate

Mayor Jim Lane, on left, and challenger Bob Littlefield. (photo by Taylor Transtrum)

Mayor Jim Lane, on left, and challenger Bob Littlefield. (photo by Taylor Transtrum)

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane and opponent candidate Bob Littlefield traded insults and debated their differing visions for Scottsdale’s future on during a Sept. 27 debate.

The debate was held at the Doubletree Resort by Hilton and moderated by Scottsdale Independent’s Terrance Thornton.

Issues discussed by candidates included city growth and development, the Desert Discovery Center, conflicts of interest, Twitter feuds, the Scottsdale Waterfront, infrastructure needs and public transit, LGBTQ protections and the food tax.

Growth and development

Lane and Littlefield’s ideas about how Scottsdale should grow as a city are drastically different.

Throughout the debate, former city council member Littlefield repeatedly said that Lane was “over developing” Scottsdale.

“The reason that I picked my motto, ‘Keep Scottsdale special,’ is that Scottsdale can grow, but it can grow and keep its special character,” Littlefield said. “Jim’s open for business, but not to your benefit.”

Liz Dawn, a Scottsdale resident and local business owner, said that she had to move both her business and her home due to over development, which is why she supports Littlefield.

Since her last move, Lane voted for a huge increase in zoning near her new home, 16 miles north of her previous home in downtown Scottsdale, Dawn said.

“(Littlefield) cares about the people and he cares about the neighborhoods,” Dawn said. “I have not seen that with Mayor Jim Lane, or else I would be supporting him.”

Lane, on the other hand, is proud of the Scottsdale’s growth during his time as mayor and hopes to continue that trend.

“We’ve got a strong economy because we were able to put together a positive business environment and, frankly, make sure that not only they (businesses) were welcome but that we were able to regenerate an economic engine that had totally collapsed,” Lane said.

Desert Discovery Center

Littlefield said that while he supported the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Gateway Trailhead, a modest preserve in comparison to the proposed controversial multi-million dollar Desert Discovery Center, he does not support plans for the DDC.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re done,” Littlefield said. “I absolutely do not support the current iteration of the Desert Discovery Center, which I refer to as ‘Desert Disneyland.’”

Lane said that both he and Littlefield voted for a comparatively modest center of 20,000 square feet in 2008.

“I, frankly, am not also in favor of the kind and size of scope that’s been put on the plate since,” Lane said.

Lane added that the city council does not have a clear proposal in front of them, however when they do he believes the community should be able to vote on the DDC.

Littlefield said that request-for-proposals for the DDC contract and architectural award were “cronyism.”

“It’s what’s wrong with the way Jim and his allies do business,” Littlefield said. “He loved it (the DDC) in January and he doesn’t love it now that his polls went down.”

Conflict of interest

Littlefield’s wife, Kathy, is the vice mayor of Scottsdale. If Bob were to win the election, he could serve two years on Scottsdale’s governing board with his wife.

“I see where Jim put out an e-mail saying that ‘Two Littlefields is too many,’” Littlefield said. “I would say that one Jim Lane is too many.”

Littlefield added that there is no law permitting a married couple from serving on a local governing board at the same time.

“It’s not illegal, it’s not unethical, and it’s not a conflict of interest,” said Littlefield. “Jim just doesn’t like it.”

“Well, I’m probably not alone in that,” Lane said. “I’ve never suggested that it’s illegal. But it is awkward.”

Lane said that he felt it could be a conflict of interest and that Littlefield’s marital status could sway certain votes.

“Maybe it is one Littlefield too many,” Lane said.

Twitter drama

“Mr. Lane, in a Sept. 1 editorial published in the Scottsdale Independent, you accused Mr. Littlefield of retweeting comments calling Bob Parsons and Michael Bidwell ‘scumbags,’” Thornton said. “Also, Mr. Lane claims you called councilwoman Linda Milhaven the ‘great Satan’ due to her political stances. Do you agree with those labels, Mr. Littlefield? Are those your real feelings?”

Littlefield said that he did not agree with the Cardinal’s president Michael Bidwell’s campaign donations to Lane, nor did he agree with Bob Parsons, the founder of GoDaddy, also donating to Lane’s campaign. Littlefield said he also did not agree with Milhaven’s political views, but said his remarks about her being the ‘great Satan’ were a compliment.

Waterfront emergency clause

Lane said that Littlefield voted for an “emergency clause” on the Scottsdale Waterfront, one of the tallest buildings in Scottsdale. The “emergency clause” prevented a public referendum on the real estate deal.

“I, frankly, worked hard to get that ‘emergency clause’ used with developers taken away,” Lane said.

Littlefield responded defensively, and said that Lane was using the “emergency clause” as a mere campaign strategy to attack him.

“If everything is so wonderful under the Jim Lane regime, why does he spend so much time talking about me?” Littlefield said.

Littlefield said that he did think, at the time, that the Scottsdale Waterfront was a good idea for area revitalization.

“I voted for one tall building, and I really don’t regret that vote,” Littlefield said. “Jim, over the past eight years, voted for hundreds (of tall buildings), and now he complains about my one.”

Lane said that the issue wasn’t that Littlefield voted for the project, but that he voted to nullify the public’s opportunity to vote on the matter.

Infrastructure needs and public transit

As Scottsdale’s population grows, so do complaints about gridlock and traffic issues as the city tries to implement a new transportation plan.

Lane said that he supports general obligation bonds to fund Scottsdale’s infrastructure needs. A general obligation bond would use legally available resources, such as tax revenues, to repay bondholders, and would go to a public vote.

“One of the most hilarious aspects of Jim’s campaign is that he said ‘I didn’t raise your taxes,’” Littlefield said. “Well, he sure tried.”

Littlefield said that taxes weren’t raised because citizens voted against bond projects, which he said he opposed.

Littlefield said that infrastructure needs could be paid for out of the general fund instead of general bonds.

“Our traffic problem would be solved if we stopped over developing,” Littlefield added.

Both candidates said they are opposed to implementing the light rail as a public transportation solution.

“We might as well put some tracks into the Museum of the West, because that’s where it will end up – as a museum piece,” Lane said.

LGBTQ protections

The city council has yet to institute anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, declining to enact a non-discrimination ordinance. Sexual orientation and gender identity remain unprotected classes from federal law prohibited discrimination.

Twenty states have approved protections for this community, however Arizona is not one of them. Both Phoenix and Tempe have passed laws against discrimination against the LGBTQ community in employment, housing and public accommodation, while Scottsdale lags behind, despite increased pressure for the civil protections.

Lane said that Scottsdale is not a community that wants to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and that businesses should not do so.

He said that protections at a city level would be much more difficult than instituting protections for the LGBTQ community at a federal level though.

“This really is something that should be handled at a higher level than all these different municipalities,” Lane said.

Littlefield said that Scottsdale should be doing more, and that protections being implemented at a federal level are unlikely.

“I think the issue, although it shouldn’t be, is probably dead for the foreseeable future,” Littlefield said.

Food tax

Scottsdale has been implementing a 1.65 percent sales tax on all grocery goods sold within city limits since 2004. Last January, the Scottsdale City Council voted to allocate 1.1 percent of food tax funds (approximately $7.8 million this fiscal year) to the capital improvements forecast.

Littlefield said that getting rid of the food tax, although difficult, is a high priority. There are other areas of the budget we can cut (to supplement the funds), Littlefield said.

Lane said the city government is currently trying to phase the food tax out.

There was a pledge to get rid of the food tax in 2008, but it had to be eliminated because due to economic reasons, it would have been “totally irresponsible” to eliminate the tax at that point in time, Lane said.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Transtrum is a student journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment