'Mean-spirited' Gilbert election draws to a bitter end Tuesday - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

'Mean-spirited' Gilbert election draws to a bitter end Tuesday

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Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 4:03 pm | Updated: 12:43 am, Wed May 18, 2011.

An early indicator of the tone of the Gilbert Town Council election was exemplified in a roadside sign aimed at the three veteran incumbents on the ballot.

"Retire Abbott, Crozier and Presmyk: Union Owned," it read.

The sign was posted on the corner of Pecos and Cooper roads - in Chandler. A fitting location for an election where there has been enough vitriol to spill over into bordering municipalities.

"In the past, people had differences of opinion, and it got a little nasty," said Dave Crozier, the Council's senior member who is seeking a fifth term. "But I don't remember it ever getting this personal. It's gotten mean-spirited in ways. I'm not saying that about the other candidates, but some of the supporters are a little too intense. It gets harder to focus on the issues and positives about Gilbert."

Last year's failed sales-tax increase and the controversial Zinke dairy land deal have stirred the strongest passion, most of it toward Crozier, Linda Abbott and Les Presmyk, who have a combined 32 years of Council service. They, along with incumbent Ben Cooper and challengers Victor Petersen and Jordan Ray, are on the ballot in Tuesday's election.

At least one of the four incumbents will not be back when the new Council is seated on June 23; challenger Eddie Cook earned enough votes in March's primary to win a seat outright.

The vote totals from the primary indicate that Presmyk and Crozier needed to step up their campaigns to keep their seats. Presmyk was sixth with 4,258 votes; Crozier - who earned a seat in the primary in each of his four previous Council runs - was seventh with 4,151.

Abbott (7,336) was second, followed by Ray (7,068), Cooper (6,971) and Petersen (6,740).

"Campaigns are rigorous and require a lot of energy," said Abbott, seeking her third term. "I enjoy getting out and meeting voters, but it is a lot of hard work, and when it's over, a rest is needed and welcome."

Due for a break are consumers of some of the Gilbert election discourse.

Sign stealing. Accusations of sign stealing. A website that suggests the town should be ashamed. Gilbert, well-known hotbed of union activity and influence.

Finally - and in many ways, mercifully - it ends on Tuesday.

During the last 20 years, Gilbert has experienced tremendous growth while maintaining a level of safety and amenities that has earned it recognition. Last year, Gilbert ranked 36th among Money Magazine's "Best Places to Live," a study ranking American smaller cities and towns using an array of quality-of-life criteria. According to FBI statistics, it is the safest community in Arizona, and 24th-safest in the nation.

The incumbents believe that is evidence that past Councils have done something right.

Presmyk, running for his fourth term, was unavailable for comment. During a forum hosted by the Tribune on April 25, he said: "We've been the fastest-growing community in the nation for a decade. Today, we are poised to take that legacy and turn it into economic development and bring new business to the town. In the last 10 years, we developed the vision we set in 2001. All the roads, all the infrastructure, you see today, we have built."

Abbott said that, as heated as this campaign has been, it has not been her most challenging. That happened in 1991, when Abbott, then a stay-at-home mom, won a Council seat after an election in which the founding of the town's fire department was a hot-button issue.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a campaign with a higher level of intensity, passion and challenges for the community than that one had," Abbott said.

Crozier said that his success on Tuesday will depend on turnout. While social media is becoming a growing force in elections, Crozier said he increased his mailers budget in hopes of getting a campaign presence in as many Gilbert homes as possible.

"If the mainstream voter is not engaged, that makes it a lot harder," Crozier said. "I've had people ask me if the election is already past."

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