Hiegel: What role does the chamber play in local elections?

We’ve watched Donald Trump’s unconventional run for the Republican nomination. We’ve seen Bernie Sanders surprise Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. It’s been an amazing presidential campaign, and it still has months to go.

But that’s not the only election worth watching, especially for those of us who enjoy living in Scottsdale. Voters here will make choices in the fall with a greater effect on our daily lives than who sits in the Oval Office.

Mark Hiegel

Mark Hiegel

I’m talking about Scottsdale’s mayoral and City Council elections. Four seats will be on the ballot, and at least eight candidates are working to win your support.

They may not be as visible as Donald, Ted, Marco and Jeb, but they’re working just as hard circulating petitions, raising money, and strategizing their campaigns. Our city’s political observers are measuring the candidates, and the first forums can’t be far away.

The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is contemplating what role it wants to play. I’ll get to that in a minute.

This will be an important election, with the kind of clear choices that essentially make it a referendum on Scottsdale’s future.

Mayor Jim Lane is seeking a third term, with potential challenges from former Councilman Bob Littlefield and downtown advocate Bill Crawford. (The deadline to file petition signatures isn’t until June 1 for the Aug. 30 primary election, so no one is actually on the ballot yet.)

When Littlefield served on the council with Lane, the two often clashed over development issues. Littlefield twice considered running for mayor before deciding against it. The third time looks to be the charm. If it happens, the mayor’s race will be an exciting campaign, a clash of contrasts in which voters will have no doubts about their choices.

Council Members Virginia Korte, Suzanne Klapp and Guy Phillips are seeking re-election. Dan Schweiker, the owner of China Mist Tea and a former Paradise Valley Town Council member, and neighborhood advocate Tom Giller also announced their candidacies.

So what role should the chamber play? We’re talking about it.

This is the first election since I became president and CEO, so it’s an opportunity to ask a few key questions, starting with a personal one: Should I personally be able to support candidates or have I lost that right due to my position?

And from the larger, Chamber perspective: What is the best way to be involved in this city election? Are we better off endorsing candidates or talking about what issues should be most important to voters?

Endorsing candidates is straightforward and unambiguous. Our colleagues with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce will endorse in legislative races. In Scottsdale, many civic groups and organizations will endorse mayoral and council candidates. No question, the endorsed candidates will be happy and the rest will be disappointed.

That’s politics; there are no trophies for participation.

We’ll work with whoever wins the election, and we’d like them to work with us too. If we endorsed the losing candidate, would the winner be eager to listen to us?

Which brings me to the other option. Maybe we should talk about which questions ought to be asked of all the candidates. Maybe we should ask: What issues are the most important for this city’s future?

The chamber will always favor quality development and redevelopment, as well as business-friendly city policies. We will always advocate for high-capacity transportation and economic and job growth. We are strong supporters of education and the Desert Discovery Center. We will always support community improvements and enhancement to Scottsdale’s high quality of life.

We’ll do that whether Jim Lane, Bob Littlefield or Bill Crawford is mayor. So does it make more sense for the chamber to endorse candidates, laying down a clear marker, or to talk about the vital issues of 2016 and let voters decide which candidates can best deliver on those issues?

That’s what the chamber’s volunteer leadership and I will be talking about over the next few months. By the time candidates file their petitions, you should know which direction we chose.

Editor's Note: Mr Hiegel is a resident of Scottsdale, a Charro and a longtime community advocate

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