Jon Altmann Vies for Empty Phoenix Council Seat
The Phoenix City Council meets Tuesday, June 30th at 2 PM to decide who will temporarily fill the seat vacated by Maria Baier. Baier resigned suddenly on June 17th to join the Brewer administration as state land commissioner.
A leading candidate to fill the spot is Jon Altmann. Altmann, 54, is a business owner who ran against Baier for the then open seat in 2007. Altmann beat two others in the primary to face off against Baier in the General Election He then received a respectable 44% of the vote. Baier raised more than $280,000 for what is traditionally a $50,000 race. It seems after 17 months on the job, she left her city hall investors high and dry and retreated back to her previous favorite spot – state government.
Altmann has a long history of working neighborhood issues in Phoenix and Scottsdale, chairing one city committee and most recently, served two terms on a Phoenix planning and zoning committee. He owns a national level pubic safety consulting practice that has done work in several states. Altmann himself had formerly been with Rural/Metro as their national marketing director, scoring about $40 million in new business before starting his own firm nine years ago.
Even with the interim fill, state law still requires a special election in November to fill the remaining two years of Baier’s term. At last count, 20 people applied to fill the job, but only a handful are likely to be serious contenders. A liberal LD10 Democrat, Jim Mapstead, who lost to Altmann in 2007, is one and another left winger, Jim Larson, who twice ran against LD 6 State Senator Pamela Gorman and got trounced. Mapstead, who turned around and endorsed Baier after losing to Altmann, was rewarded a few months ago with an appointment to the Phoenix planning and zoning commission.
Former city councilman Tom Milton is also in the mix. Milton left the council in 2002 after a term in another district and is now living in an apartment in District 3. Milton is probably DOA with the council – an Arizona Republic story quoted veteran councilwoman Peggy Neely as saying she was looking for “new blood” rather than recycling old members.
Former District 3 councilwoman Peggy Bilsten’s name came up also, but she is now off on another mission in Africa, having left last week. Bilsten’s last six months in office were disrupted with an investigation of staff irregularities and charges her staff was used to paint parts of her home. The investigations immobilized her final days in office while she ran around doing Tsunami relief visits in Indonesia.
Altmann has substantial voter approval from 2007 and revalidated his claim by narrowly losing a LD 11 State House race last year by about 1%, even though the Democrats threw $113,000 against him in a desperate effort to retain the seat. In looking at the numbers, about half of LD 11 is Council District 3 – coincidentally the half that Altmann did extremely well in (he lost ground in the more Democratic west end of the district).
The Phoenix Council is non partisan and Altmann has shown a great ability to bring together widely different groups for endorsements and grass roots campaign work. Altmann also serves as an elected precinct committeeman and got elected as a Republican Party state committeeman. During the LD 11 race, Phoenix Councilwomen Thelda Williams and Peggy Neely endorsed him – Neely even did some autodial calls for him.
Altmann seems off to a strong start – his campaign organization filing has a well-campaign chairman with some business clout with the Council and he is already racking up some major endorsements. State Representative Adam Driggs has also thrown his name behind Altmann again.
One city hall insider said Altmann has “quite a machine” going – with neighborhood and other supporters racking in about 300 calls last week to Mayor Phil Gordon and each of the seven council offices.
The Phoenix City Manager last week reported that city tax revenues continue to decline at a rate of 13% per month and it is rumored whoever joins the council will be looking at a drastic cut of up to 20% of the city budget to make ends meet.
Altmann has a history of building public/private partnerships and his consulting work does strategic budget planning for cities and counties. His last major project was in the very conservative area of Colorado Springs and surrounding El Paso County – Altmann brought together 20 some jurisdictions for a joint process that boosted 911 services with an ambulance contract that costs the county nothing.
The Council has three possible ways to go Tuesday – pick someone else, and risk seeing Altmann wage an even stronger campaign, this time potentially with more contributors and a solid win – pick a “lame duck” who will be a place holder and not run in November – or pick Altmann and have someone who hits the ground running on the issues with about five minutes of warm-up time.
The deadline for filing for the November election was Saturday.
Looking at how his campaigns have worked, one District 11 veteran said Altmann gets a lot of mileage out of a dollar – “just think of what kind of campaign he can run with his grass roots machine and a few more dollars.”