Town Lake debate at heart of Tempe mayoral race
Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2012 1:14 pm
By Kristy Letterly, Special to Tribune
In their individual quests to become the next mayor of Tempe, there’s no denying that Linda Spears, Mark Mitchell and Michael Monti carry strong stances on a number of issues. That, notably, includes Tempe Town Lake – the 224-acre elephant in the room this election season.
Mail-in ballots are on their way back in and Tuesday’s in-person primary election is fast-approaching, while each candidate has made it clear that what to do with the lake, its surrounding area, and its need for a potentially costly new dam are high priorities this election season.
“I can’t wait for the next election,” said Steve Raths, a Tempe resident.
Raths said he will not elect another mayor who supports the spending of taxpayers’ money on the dam. Raths thinks Tempe Town Lake is a waste of Tempe residents’ money, and says that the lake should be drained.
Mitchell, finishing his third term on the Tempe City Council, has said he wants to protect the long-term viability of what he thinks is Tempe’s most important economic asset: the lake. Mitchell said he wants to find a fiscally responsible way to replace the lake’s dam with hydraulically-operated hinged-crest gates.
Monti, a longtime Tempe businessman, has also made no secret of his intent to keep the lake a viable part of Tempe’s landscape. Throughout the campaign, he and city council candidate Dick Foreman have advocated adding a sand swimming beach adjoining the lake; the proposed beach area would hold chlorinated water suitable for swimming. Monti’s intent is to continue to draw people and related businesses, like vendors and dining options, to the area.
Spears was a Tempe City Council member from 1994 to 1998 and was part of the council that originally approved the building of the lake. Spears’ election materials state that “what Town Lake needs are the businesses and residents that the lake was built to accommodate. A thriving lakeshore will increase city revenues and sustain the lake without supplemental city dollars.”
Doing more for less is Spears’ stance on many of her objectives.
“I want to provide desired services in a bad economy by increasing revenues by filling empty store fronts and creating neighborhood hubs,” said Spears, 61, who also notes that her experience is a key factor in her readiness for the job.
“Strong, demonstrated leadership is needed by Tempe now and I have that experience,” she said.
Mitchell, who has served on the city council for the last 12 years, agreed that “experience matters.”
“I have the experience and leadership skills needed to ensure Tempe remains an innovative and economically vibrant community,” he said.
In addition to finding a solution for the situation surrounding the lake, Mitchell has goals of adding a hotel conference center in downtown Tempe and making local business a priority in the city procurement process. He has, however, questioned the economic sense of the proposed downtown street car project.
“While I support the concept, I have some questions about its feasibility,” he said.
Mitchell said the city has already cut millions of dollars from transit and the streetcar would cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Mitchell instead would rather emphasize the Rio Salado Corridor as a connection between Arizona State University’s Tempe campus and Tempe Marketplace.
Monti, 44, is a new to the political arena, but not to Tempe. He wants to promote volunteering in Tempe and hopes to build on outgoing Mayor Hugh Hallman’s work in the seat.
All three candidates hold bachelor’s degrees from ASU.
Spears was born in Tucson and grew up in Yuma. She moved to Tempe to attend ASU and graduated in 1972 with a business degree in accounting. She is not married, but in 1996 she adopted her friend’s two daughters after her death. Spears volunteers for various nonprofit organizations, including Kiwanis Club of Tempe, Tempe Boys and Girls Club, Tempe Salvation Army, and the Tempe Industrial Authority. She was also the 2007 recipient of the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award.
Mitchell has lived in Tempe for nearly his whole life. He graduated from ASU in 1993 with a bachelor of science. He is currently the vice president of a locally owned business called Arizona Flooring and Interiors. He is married and has two daughters.
Monti graduated from ASU with a degree in Spanish, and from the University of San Diego with a law degree. He is currently the co-owner of Monti’s La Casa Vieja. He is married and has six children.
The general election is slated for May 15, but if one candidate gets enough votes – 50 percent, plus one more vote – after the primary concludes Tuesday, that candidate wins the election. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election.
Three Tempe City Council seats are also open this cycle, with five candidates running. The same rules apply for council – any candidate who is chosen on more than 50 percent of the ballots earns one of the open seats and is exempt from the May 15 general election run-off.
The council candidates include: Foreman, an executive with Southwest Gas; attorney Kolby Granville; retired business owner Angie Taylor Thornton; Tempe Union High School District administrator Corey Woods; and Phoenix Fire Department captain Joel Navarro.
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