The Gilbert political scene is in a post-election lull since the March 10 primary. Residents are mulling the ramifications of the defeat of longtime Mayor Steve Berman, and candidates in the May 19 runoff are gathering strength and funding for the battle.
But a jolt of electoral politics was injected into Tuesday's Town Council meeting when Andrea Garcia appeared at the beginning of the session with two black-and-white signs slamming Councilwoman Joan Krueger for accepting campaign contributions from developers and other business interests. One read "Krueger=Fraud."
"Joan was a good sport about it all. I have to give her that much," Garcia said later. "She just kind of waved at me and I waved right back. It's nothing personal. You're dealing with people who want issues to be voted on properly, and, if you don't, we're going to go after you."
"We" in this case is Garcia, a self-described newcomer to the Republican Party who is the GOP's treasurer for state Legislative District 22. Billy Rogan, whose name was in the "paid for" position at the bottom of the signs, is a longtime Gilbert resident who otherwise prefers to stay behind the scenes, Garcia said.
Garcia said she left shortly after the meeting began, planting the signs in the grass at the end of the sidewalk leading into the town's chief administrative building, where the council chambers are located. They have since been removed; Garcia said she knew they were probably illegal there anyway.
Garcia said her "fraud" allegation is based on Krueger's acceptance of money from people connected to projects that have been affected by her votes. She has taken contributions from two executives at Big League Dreams and from Valley developer Marty DeRito.
The money was reported in Krueger's campaign finance reports as required by state law, but "you should be required to recuse yourself from the vote if you took the money from a corporate contributor," Garcia said.
In response, Krueger mounted a spirited defense Thursday.
She said the original vote to award a ballpark contract to Big League Dreams came before she joined the council in 2005. She said she met the company's leaders while organizing a fundraiser at Big League Dreams for Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.
Krueger said Jeff Odekirk, chief operations officer for Big League Dreams, donated $390 to her campaign committee more than a year ago, and he and other business owners "give me money because they support my agenda on the council, which is pro-business."
Since she's been on the council, Krueger voted for changes to the Big League Dream's contract which increased the total cost of the park to about $40 million. The original estimated cost was $22.7 million. The park is owned by the town and operated by the California-based company.
Krueger said the importance of the donations, even if they meet the state maximum of $390, tends to be overplayed.
Referring to the check her campaign got from DeRito, Krueger said "It's not like he gave me $50,000. He gave me $390. Big deal. That buys one robo-call," she said, referring to automated campaign phone calls.
Garcia said she and Rogan are trying to form a political action committee to campaign against Krueger. She said she is not supporting any other candidate.
"My message to them is that if they're elected, I will hold you to the same standard that I hold them," Garcia said.