Mixing business with politics nothing new in local elections - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Mixing business with politics nothing new in local elections

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Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 3:07 pm | Updated: 12:44 am, Thu Jun 14, 2012.

Monti’s La Casa Vieja has been serving steak lovers since 1956. Along the way, it’s witnessed the city of Tempe evolve around it, while possibly nurturing its next leader.

The restaurant’s owner, Michael Monti, is a candidate for mayor, running against Mark Mitchell, currently a Tempe city councilman, and Linda Spears, a certified public accountant who served on Tempe’s city council herself from 1994-1998.

Monti cites his business background and private sector perspective as key qualifications in his run for the city’s top elected spot.

He said he aims to run a smaller, yet smarter, government, and boost Tempe’s economy by encouraging entrepreneurs to find new businesses in the city.

“I believe the experiences of 18 years of business gives me the type of vision it takes to improve the way that city government delivers services,” Monti said.

A business mindset is favorable in today’s government settings, said Chandler vice mayor Jeff Weninger. In addition to the seat he’s held since 2006, Weninger owns of five restaurants of his own: Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta in Chandler and four Dilly’s Deli locations – two in Tempe, one in Chandler, and one in Scottsdale.

“My business experience makes me a more efficient councilman,” Weninger said.

But a business background isn’t always free of questions or controversy. In Monti’s case, he’s using the same logo for his campaign that he uses for the restaurant, located on Mill Avenue. That’s something he admits might concern some voters.

“It did cross my mind that I could alienate some people,” Monti said. “But everybody who has advised me about politics has told me that name recognition is invaluable, and I would be foolish not to borrow the name recognition from my business.”

Monti said use of the same logo is not bothering the restaurant’s staff and customers so far; his staff collected signatures to support his campaign, and the business got better.

“Nobody seems to be punishing me for this,” Monti said.

Conflict of interest also has the potential to bite a businessman-turned-politician when voting on a something business-related that comes before the Council.

“If there’s anything you are going to vote on that may possibly enrich you, there may be a conflict of interest,” Weninger said.

But Weninger said he has not faced such situations often – only one or two cases, he estimates – in his six-year career on the Chandler City Council. So unless the conflict is obvious and irreconcilable, business owners-turned-politicians should still vote, he said.

The different nature of a small business and city government provides a challenge, too.

“He has a lot less people in the business to answer to,” said Cindy Dach, co-founder with Monti of “Local First! Arizona,” an organization that encourages residents to support local business.

As mayor, Monti said he would answer to all Tempe residents.

“When you are in the city, it’s no longer your own business.”

Unlike the flexible business environment, many ways of doing things are fixed in the government setting; the distinct routines can, for a business owner, be hard to adapt to, Weninger notes.

“Sometimes you are not the most popular person in the room,” he added, “but you have to be loud and vociferous in your opinion.”

Because of established procedures, government seemingly works inefficiently at times; as a result, citizens often look for innovative politicians who can help foster positive changes, Weninger said. This is what Goitia anticipates the most from Monti if he is elected Tempe’s mayor.

“Whenever we say we’ve often done it this way, Michael says ‘Challenge that thought’,” said Goitia. “We need a true independent businessman.”

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