Scottsdale City Council election 2024: What to know as 2 factions battle for control (2024)

Sam KmackArizona Republic

Scottsdale City Council election 2024: What to know as 2 factions battle for control (1)

Scottsdale City Council election 2024: What to know as 2 factions battle for control (2)

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Scottsdale voters will decide who holds the City Council majority this upcoming election, a critical choice that will either largely preserve the status quo or empower a new majority faction that’s likely to either halt or reverse course on many existing city’ initiatives.

Scottsdale’s July ticket is crowded, with nine candidates vying for three seats. By and large, they’re mostly all conservative to some degree and can’t be easily grouped into blocks based on divisions around a single policy issue.

But there is an underlying ideological and rhetorical split between two loosely defined candidate groups, which indicates the outcome of this election will have major ramifications for how the city functions going forward.

The opposition slate consists of four particularly conservative candidates who tend to be more critical of Scottsdale's leadership over alleged fiscal irresponsibility and overdevelopment. They often speak about reducing what they believe is wasteful city spending.

Some of the things residents should expect if the opposition secures a council majority are a roll back in city spending, a reduction in city programs and initiatives overall, and a council that is even more opposed to multi-family housing than already is.

The status quo block consists of five less-partisan moderates. Its members don’t share a single policy platform, but all have views that resemble what’s been typical on the council since 2020 in regard to everything from sustainability to housing.The group includes two incumbents, Councilmembers Tom Durham and Tammy Caputi.

Some of the things residents can expect if this group maintains the majority is a council that’s still conservative when it comes to development, supports a broader range of city initiatives than the opposition and pursues planned infrastructure projects even if that means covering budget overrides with extra cash.

Both camps have more than enough candidates to clinch the majority. And within each group some of the contenders are well-positioned with everything from significant funding to incumbency to name recognition more broadly.

Arizona local elections: Read our full coverage of the Scottsdale council race

Scottsdale's division of power: What each side needs to take control

The three City Council seats that aren’t on the ballot this year are held by one official who would fall into the status quo camp, Councilmember Solange Whitehead, and two that are aligned with the opposition: Councilmembers Betty Littlefield and Barry Graham.

That means the opposition needs only two of its council candidates in order to secure an outright majority on the seven-person governing body. Its candidates include:

  • Adam Kwasman, 41, is a personal injury lawyer who served one term as a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives from 2013 to 2015.
  • Jan Dubauskas, 48, is a corporate lawyer for U-Haul who is active in the local Republican political scene. She’s among the most moderate of the opposition candidates.
  • Mason Gates, 21, is a sales agent at a commercial real estate investment firm who has also worked in business and marketing.
  • Bob Lettieri, 79, is the chief financial officer of a Scottsdale-based software company that served as the Arizona Republican Party's state treasurer from 2017 to 2021.

The status quo camp needs to win all three council seats in order to maintain its majority, but it has some advantages over the opposition despite the higher threshold of victory.

The block has both incumbents: Councilmember Caputi, 56, and Councilmember Durham, 69, who are both running for their second terms. It would have had incumbents for all three open spots, but Councilmember Betty Janik decided not to run for reelection.

It also has more candidates on the ticket overall. Aside from the incumbents, the status quo camp has:

  • Maryann McAllen, 60, a long-time resident who has served on numerous parent teacher organizations and as the chair of Scottsdale's Parks and Recreation Commission.
  • Justin Laos, 29, is a software engineer who has served on Scottsdale’s Board of Adjustment and is active in multiple community organizations.
  • Stephen Casares, 37, is a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and currently works as an economic intelligence analyst for a private firm. He was the only candidate who did not respond to The Arizona Republic's candidate questionnaire.

If the city ultimately ends up with three council members in each camp, the status quo group will also have the candidate numbers in the mayoral contest.

Incumbent Mayor David Ortega and former Councilmember Linda Milhaven would both be more in-line with the status quo block if they secure the top spot. Former City Councilmember Lisa Borowsky is the only mayoral contender aligned with the opposition.

Rhetoric and promises: what candidates on either side are saying

The one area that all candidates agree on is short-term rentals. Each candidate supports the city’s existing regulation and wants the state to return more regulatory power to local governments.

On most other issues, the status quo block has a more diverse slate of policy positions among its candidates than the opposition, who only deviate slightly on most of their views.

Casares’s platform is mainly centered around veterans advocacy but isn’t fully fleshed out in many other areas. He has acknowledged that he has more to learn on key issues like water and short-term rentals during public forums.

Durham and McAllen are the only two candidates who openly support a new sales tax to fund the Scottsdale Preserve and city park improvements, which is expected to be on the November ballot. Advocating for the Preserve tax is McAllen’s primary campaign focus.

Housing and development

McAllen is likely the candidate who's the most supportive of city intervention in affordable housing, backing efforts such as Scottsdale seeking federal and state funds to help facilitate the development of affordable housing.

Durham and Caputi have supported some initiatives like that on the council, including a small grant-funded project that would have provided a limited amount of cheap housing for needy seniors and one temporary housing site for homeless families.

But such initiatives in Scottsdale are few and far between. Both incumbents favor smaller city-driven affordable housing efforts, like negotiating with developers to include a certain number of workforce units, rather than larger or more direct city intervention.

“Truly affordable housing in Scottsdale isn’t economically feasible,” Caputi told The Republic. “We can and have negotiated some dedicated ‘workforce’ units from new developments with discounted rent for teachers and first responders.

Caputi, Durham and Laos have all emphasized a "balanced" approach to housing and development that allows for things like economic development and the inclusion of city workers in Scottsdale's housing market but doesn't intrude on single-family neighborhoods or substantially alter the suburban character of the city.

When it comes to housing development, Laos explained, “We have to make sure our supply is keeping within reason with demand. My platform for development is an emphasis on ownership, quality, and commonsense.”

Durham and Caputi said apartments are needed to allow for economic growth, but that they need to be located in places that won’t disturb existing residential neighborhoods. The former said “the choice between some higher density housing and community interests is not an either-or choice.”

Scottsdale’s City Council is notoriously picky when it comes to multi-family housing projects, and the incumbents insist Scottsdale approves very few.

Even Caputi, who’s largely seen as the most development-friendly City Council member, said that “during my first term on council, we’ve cut our housing pipeline in half. We’ve approved only a small handful of projects with demonstrable public benefits.”

But overdevelopment is one of the opposition’s key talking points. During a recent candidate forum, Gates took shots at the incumbents for that very issue.

“A lot of members of the council, especially two of (whom) who are up here right now, have voted in-favor of high-density housing time and time again,” he said. “Ms. Caputi talks about how we need to be conscious of growing our economy. We’re hurting it in the process..”

None of the opposition candidates signaled support for high-density apartments of any kind in Scottsdale.

Gates said Scottsdale is an “affluent and exclusive community,” rather than one that should worry about increasing the housing stock. Kwasman echoed that by saying Scottsdale is not for “temporary” dwellings and suggested limiting home building regulations to reduce some costs.

Dubouskas and Lettieri take slightly different stances. They both want to help make housing more affordable by boosting the supply but suggested allowing for smaller single-family homes and backyard casitas instead of any higher-density housing.

“Building smaller housing in established neighborhoods manages the concern of density while allowing for more affordable housing,” Dubouskas said.

City finances, spending and project budget overruns

Dubouskas is the only opposition candidate who hasn’t made criticizing Scottsdale’s financial management a centerpiece of her campaign. The others point to “reckless” spending that they have pledged to drastically reduce.

They cite the city’s Bond 2019 program, a voter-approved initiative that allowed the city to take on $319 million in bond debt to fund about 60 infrastructure projects. Early last year, it was $115 million over budget, sparking frustration among many residents and officials.

“Scottsdale doesn’t have a budget shortfall problem, it has an out-of-control expenditure problem,” Kwasman said.

City staffers blame the overrides on post-pandemic inflation, which has caused funding issues in communities across the country. But some projects have increased in cost at a rate far greater than inflation, something that the city has never fully explained.

Existing officials often defend their record on Bond 2019. They claim it as a victory because they covered some of the most immediate shortfalls thanks to other savings created through “conservative” budgeting — but much of the bond program still has yet to be funded, so the short-term fix hasn't satisfied critics.

All of the opposition candidates have made standing up to “road diets” a staple of their campaigns, as well. A road diet is a program through which cities reduce travel lanes on roads, something that candidates like Lettieri believe increases traffic congestion and reduces road safety.

“The City Council has endorsed ‘road diets’ to remove car lanes for bicycle lanes,” his website reads. “Maybe if the mayor and council were forced to bike to City Hall they would come to their senses.

But elected officials and city staffers are adamant that the road diet issue is completely imagined — they say the city is not engaged in any such program and has only done one road diet project in recent memory.

Opposition united on public safety funding, yet failed to get police endorsem*nt

The final stance that’s shared by the opposition candidates is a promise to increase police staffing and the department’s funding levels.

“We have to re-prioritize our public dollars to fully fund police and fire while being extremely careful not to raise taxes in a time of high inflation and economic uncertainty,” said Kwasman, whose campaign theme is “family-first.”

Dubouskas was the only opposition candidate who had secured an endorsem*nt from the police union.

The incumbents, who also secured police endorsem*nts, have not made changes to public safety funding a major point during their campaigns.

How has the Scottsdale campaign unfolded?

Some candidates have noticeably failed to garner as much financial and political support as their competitors.

Lettieri from the opposition and Casares from the status quo group both fit that description. The latter has raised no money, while the former has raised less than $600 — or four times less than the next lowest fundraiser. Neither have any public endorsem*nts.

Two other candidates have underwhelming funding numbers and endorsem*nts.

Gates has secured $5,200 this year, $1,400 of which came from his own pocket, and he has received only six sizable in-state contributions. His endorsem*nts include Arizona Rep. Joseph Chaplik and College Republicans of Arizona, but no prominent local groups.

And McAllen has raised just $2,400, including $550 she loaned to her campaign. She has more relevant endorsem*nts than Gates, including Scottsdale REALTORS and Councilmember Whitehead, but still has relatively few compared to others on the ballot.

That leaves oppositional challengers Dubauskas and Kwasman, as well as status quo contenders Caputi, Durham and Laos as the most well-backed candidates. Some of the most prominent local groups to endorse them include:

  • The Scottsdale Firefighters Association endorsed Caputi and Durham.
  • The Scottsdale police union, called the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association, also backed the incumbents and endorsed Dubauskas, too.
  • Scottsdale REALTORS endorsed Laos and Caputi, in addition to McAllen.

Laos also got an endorsem*nt from former Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane and Arizona Rep. Matt Gress.

Councilmembers Littlefield and Graham endorsed Kwasman and Dubauskas, both of whom also received backing from Gress and State Reps. Joseph Chaplik and Alex Kolodin.

On the financial front, Durham and Laos haven’t received much support.

The former has raised about $13,000, of which roughly $12,000 came from Durham himself. The latter has raised about $14,000, which includes nearly $11,000 from Laos’ own pocket.

The campaign coffers for Caputi, Kwasman and Dubauskas dwarf all of their contenders, although they aren’t getting their cash from the same places. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Caputi has raised $160,000, partially because she kept her campaign account open since first elected in 2020. She raised about $46,000 of that this year, almost all of which came from in-state donors who range from semiconductor manufacturers to realtors.
  • Kwasman has $81,000. He loaned himself $50,000 of that total, and another $12,000 came from out-of-state donors like Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. That means only about 11% of his funds came from donors inside Arizona.
  • Dubauskas has raised about $42,000. That includes about $35,000 from in-state donors, most of whom are retirees. She also loaned herself about $4,000 and received another $4,000 from out-of-state donors.

Reporter Sam Kmack covers Tempe, Scottsdale and Chandler.Follow him on X @KmackSamor reach him at sam.kmack@arizonarepublic.com.

Scottsdale City Council election 2024: What to know as 2 factions battle for control (2024)

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