Civil dialogue: Scottsdale mayoral candidates debate political points of the day

Candidate forum in partnership highlights community talk

Posted 5/27/20

Knowledge and passion shined through all five Scottsdale residents vying for the city’s top elected position during a May 27 virtual mayoral candidate debate.

Lisa Borowsky, Suzanne Klapp, …

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Civil dialogue: Scottsdale mayoral candidates debate political points of the day

Candidate forum in partnership highlights community talk


Knowledge and passion shined through all five Scottsdale residents vying for the city’s top elected position during a May 27 virtual mayoral candidate debate.

Lisa Borowsky, Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte, Bob Littlefield and David Ortega took part in the online debate, which lasted just under 90 minutes.

The debate was moderated by Independent Newsmedia Managing Editor Terrance Thornton, and put on through a partnership between the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow and the City of Scottsdale.

LINK: Watch the 90-minute debate here

The five candidates provided insight into their perspective of Scottsdale and, ultimately, the goals and visions they have for the city in the event they are elected.

Scottsdale will host a primary election on Aug. 4; one candidate must receive the majority of votes to be elected. If one clear winner isn’t identified during the primary election, a General Election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Today, Ms. Klapp and Ms. Korte are City Council members, while the other three candidates have each served on council in past years.

It was clear the five individuals have a good grasp on current city topics and needs as Mr. Thornton posed questions ranging from the General Plan to transportation to city funding.

The debate moved swiftly --- covering 12 questions in the allotted time --- as each person’s response was limited to about 30 seconds.

Themes woven through the debate included bringing the community together through various ideas and initiatives, particularly as Scottsdale embarks on its latest attempt to create and approve a General Plan.

In addition, the idea of special-interests groups and the roll they play at City Hall was a hot topic with differing opinions; and a future outlook on Old Town and how it should develop --- or remain the same --- in years to come.

Get to know the candidates

All five mayoral candidates are longtime Scottsdale residents, with deep roots in the city including raising families and owning businesses.

Ms. Borowsky has been a practicing lawyer for about 20 years, and served on council from 2009-13. Ms. Borowsky says she decided to run for mayor after hearing from other residents about their concerns related to development issues.

“I was absolutely motivated to step in and serve, and restore a great vision for what Scottsdale has been, what it can be and what it will be for the future,” Ms. Borowsky said, pointing to SouthBridge Two as the tipping point for deciding to enter the race.

Ms. Klapp outlined three qualities that she thinks makes her deserving of being elected mayor: commitment to improving the city; business experience, which helps shape her decision making for the council; and her leadership and consensus building abilities.

“I have graduated from two leadership programs in my hometown ... I also graduated from Valley leadership, I’ve led a number of successful ballot measures over the course of the last few years that were approved by voters while I was on City Council,” Ms. Klapp said.

Ms. Korte has served on the City Council for nearly eight years; and says she’s especially proud of her volunteer work with the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

“I believe as we move through the next couple of years that fiscal responsibility and transparency is going to be paramount. We need to be innovative leaders today and lead out of this COVID recession and leadership is going to matter,” Ms. Korte said.

Mr. Littlefield says he is a resident-friendly option for voters, pointing to citizen-led initiatives in recent years.

“I was a part of all those efforts, and I think that says a lot about why people should vote for me. All of this activism makes it clear: Scottsdale citizens want a change from the current policy of toxic over-development pursued by our City Council majority,” Mr. Littlefield said, noting he will lead Scottsdale to grow and evolve in a way that preserves the city’s character.

Mr. Ortega is a longtime architect, and points to being a city councilman as one of the highlights of his life, drawing similarities between his time on council during the fallout from 9/11 and the time of the novel coronavirus.

“As mayor, I will listen to all stakeholders, learn from their viewpoints and build a vibrant, sustainable Scottsdale,” Mr. Ortega said.

The debate featured questions posed by Mr. Thornton, and each candidate took turns responding. The event was civil between the five Scottsdale residents, and personal attacks were not a part of the discussion.

Read below for snippets of the debate and responses. To watch the debate in its entirety, go here.

Q: Scottsdale is facing a daunting financial challenge due to pandemic precautions wreacking havoc on revenue streams. What qualifications do you have that will give you insight on how to lead the city through uncertain financial times ahead?

Borowsky: “I have direct and relevant experience with this experience we’re confronting. I got elected in 2008, which was right in the midst of the Great Recession. I led the charge to establish the citizen’s budget commission, and that was a very instrumental body of citizens... with the budget commission they were very effective of digging in with us, the council at the time, to identify and really flush out what we could do to stop the bleeding and to recover slowly, but surely, as we saw our way through that.”
Ms. Borowsky says she would immediately look to restore the citizen budget committee.

Klapp: “As I mentioned, I’ve got 40 years experience in business, including my own businesses as well as working for other businesses. I’ve have an MBA which teaches me a lot about how to run a business and about how to create a budget for the city. I have run my own business through 9/11 and through recession. I’ve worked on 12 budgets now for the City of Scottsdale, and so I think I know how to work on this one and on the ones to come in the future.”

Korte: “With 20 years of experience at Ray-Korte Chevrolet, I’ve lived through three different recessions, and when sales plummet you look to other sources of income to sustain your organization. It’s called the ability to adapt. I also headed up the Chamber of Commerce for several years, and that was bringing back the chamber from a time of low income to a vibrant organization. Also I headed up STARS --- Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services, a nonprofit for developmentally disabled. I started in 2007, the beginning of the recession, I ended in 2014. I brought that organization back to a healthy state.

Littlefield: “I have had many years of experience as a manager, general manager, of several large computer companies. I spent 10 years running my own Scottsdale-based computer networking company. In the 12 years I was on the City Council I was on the budget committee, I was on the economic development committee and I was on the audit committee. So I believe I probably have more experience in terms of budget and economic development than anyone up here.”

Ortega: “I’ve been an architect for almost 40 years, which always involves spending other peoples money. But when I served on City Council, we were shocked by the 9/11 attack; we had to re-group, we had to work in collaboration and come up with Plan B and C. What that meant was organizing your leadership, getting the city management and all of their resources and looking at our assets. That’s how we’re going to get through this COVID-19 presently in our face.”

Q: Do you think it is proper to accept political contributions from anonymous sources for any reason? Further, do you think the city should adopt a stricter code to better understand where political contributions are coming from?

Borowsky: “I don’t believe that anonymous contributions, political to a campaign, should be allowed and I don’t believe they are allowed. If you receive a political contribution for your campaign or while in office, you’re required to disclose it. I guess the disclosure would be ‘anonymous’ at that point. I don’t want to make any confusion, because I don’t think that was the recent case with the ethics investigation that was just before the council --- so I think that’s a different set of facts. However, I will say I think there has to be a real close look at the ethical rules, the code, that governs contributions at the City of Scottsdale. I think most glaring is it’s perfectly allowable for people who have an interest before the city to make political contributions, which certainly would seem to sway the outcome of a councilmember’s decision.”

Klapp: “The ethics code that was mentioned is being reviewed right now. And I do believe we need to revisit the concept of anonymous gifts, that was brought up in the case related to councilman Phillips. There should be no provision anywhere where a candidate or a boardmember, a commissioner can take an anonymous gift --- it should not be allowed.”

Korte: “Please know that with the ethics code and the conversation we had last week, that I was the only councilmember who objected to the findings of the three-judge panel. They created in their findings the loopholes that allowed anonymous donations to a city councilperson or candidate. And allows personal gifts to be given anonymously, and other things. Yes we are moving forward with that closing the loopholes, but it should have been done on Tuesday.”

Littlefield: “Well anonymous political contributions are currently not allowed. They all need to be reported. There is probably always some people who are trying to game that system. It’s also incumbent on you guys in the press to report on that. So when our campaign finance reports come out, you need to let people know --- most people are not going to go on the web and read the campaign finance reports directly themselves. But they are not allowed, they should be reported and people should know where that money is coming from --- yes.”

Ortega: “I believe in full transparency and all disclosures must be made. There is no room for anonymous donations or any corruption in our election system. I think the latest cases did expose some areas that need to be addressed by the city council and both the ethics reviewed. That will take an agendized item. It’s not going to be handled as a subset to an ethics complaint or accepted in an ethic’s complaint. So it’s important that judge group expose those deficiencies and we’ll see if we can correct them.”

Q: Specific to downtown Scottsdale, when elected mayor how will you balance develop desires with resident perspectives?

Klapp: “Well I do that now in listening to the business community and the residents about a variety of issues that come before the council. When surveys have been taken about the City of Scottsdale and our ability to react to what the businesses and residents of the city want -- the majority, 96% of people in the city --- feel the city is doing a great job and listening to their interests, and providing the services that they want. I believe we should continue to do that. If we can make it 97% or 98%, then even better, but from my perspective we are now listening to both the business community and residents and trying to strike a balance. When it relates to downtown, it has to be what’s good for the entire 258,000 citizens in Scottsdale, not just a small group of people.”

Borowsky: “I think that there has to be a healthy balance. You certainly have to factor in the residents in the downtown area; you asked about downtown but this same principle applies to all over our city. Balancing new development or redevelopment, with the existing citizens, veteran residents and business owners, and it has to be about moderation. It has to be in-keeping with the character of Scottsdale historically. Just because someone wants to build something 15-stories high and massive, does not mean that should happen. There has to be a collaborative effort to make sure the citizens and stakeholders that currently exist there are respected and brought into the process. I think we can do really great things, I’m the first one to say I think downtown and Old Town needs restoration and some redevelopment, and it can be spectacular --- there needs to be a vision though.”

Ortega: “I’ve lived in Scottsdale 41 years, I’ve practice architecture, I’ve done over 20 buildings in Old Town Scottsdale. I know Scottsdale downtown inside and out now --- and those buildings fit by the way. Scottsdale is about understanding what the draw is; and yes, all buildings will wear out. The basic fundamental problem that has been occurring is speculators come in with options on property. For instance, the Blue Sky property, that developer had options of land. On SouthBridge, he had options on property, in other words, subject price and the profit was based on some spreadsheet, not what Scottsdale is about. I am what Scottsdale is about. I’ve lived it, I’ve designed it. I understand it. And I understand when speculation, and really a spreadsheet, gets too big for its pants. It causes problems, agitation, and regular citizens know it. We can change that. The more sensible balance with lower profile buildings.”

Korte: “We do have a vision for Old Town, it’s called the Old Town Character Area Plan. We spent several years in creating that; it’s also built on many tourist consults and research programs called [Scottsdale] 2.0, and other studies, that have really developed our Old Town vision. Only about 5% of our Old Town is designated for high density, which lets face it, SouthBridge Two was the controversial issue. That’s where this question comes from, the premise, that SouthBridge Two created, I think, some confusion amongst our residents. We have two mayoral candidates that supported a referendum to put to bed SouthBridge Two and they were successful. But let’s face it, SouthBridge Two the developer had 150 adjacent property owners supporting that SouthBridge Two and only three against, so let’s talk about who’s listening to whom and I believe that development in Old Town, the Character Area Plan, provides that template and let’s listen to not only the residents but also the businesses in Old Town and live with that degradation.”

Littlefield: “Well if you look at the results of the last two years, you can see clearly that the citizens of Scottsdale don’t believe their interests are being balanced with the interests of developers. If you look at [Prop] 420, if you look at the SouthBridge referendum, if you look at the results of the last council elections, it’s pretty clear the citizens of Scottsdale are not happy with the direction the current council majority is taking and they want something different. Right now the developers are ahead, that’s the only conclusion you can draw from what’s been happening from the last four years. I think SouthBridge was really an indication of that. In 28 years, the poeple organized the SouthBridge referendum, managed to get 17,000 signatures, a herculean task, but they did it.”