In a lot of ways, Steve Berman's current election campaign isn't much different from his last two. He's been the mayor of Gilbert for the last eight years, but Berman hasn't become the "establishment" candidate.
He doesn't have the backing of his Town Council colleagues, the Chamber of Commerce or any other major community group. Even the upstart Gilbert Small Business Alliance announced this week it will endorse one of his rivals, John Lewis.
When Berman, who served on the council from 1987 to 1993, set out to unseat Mayor Cynthia Dunham in 2001 by campaigning door-to-door, Dunham had all the political endorsements anyone could ask for, he said.
"All I had was," he said, pausing to knock his fist on the conference table in the mayor's office, "'Hi, I'm Steve Berman.'"
In a way that's more true than ever, as he runs with his record as the longtime leader of a community where most of the 215,000 residents appear to be content, and against a series of public-relations nightmares that would have sunk most other politicians.
Few are counting Berman out of the race as he hits the pavement once again, going to the homes of likely voters to deliver a message of success.
"Crime is low, we have more parks, more fire stations, we've added 325 miles of more roads, 10 million square feet in commercial space, and we've lowered our taxes," Berman said. "What else could you ask for? My opponents all say 'Let's vote for change, we want change.' What do you want to change?"
Some Gilbert voters want to change to a mayor who might be less prone to drawing negative publicity, whether it's regarding public behavior or private life.
Probably the most talked about story has been the domestic violence allegations made by his wife, Michelle, last summer. Michelle Berman wrote a letter to the Maricopa County Attorney's office in September stating her husband had never hit her, blaming her false statements on side effects from prescription and over-the-counter medication. The Maricopa County Attorney's office closed the domestic violence investigation against Berman last month without pressing charges.
Berman has also been criticized for using a truck donated to the town, and for some combative statements he made to a TV news crew that helped to put him at the center of controversy over the expense of Big League Dreams ballpark.
Berman says he's moving forward with a campaign based on where Gilbert has been and where he wants to take it. Besides Gilbert's high ratings in resident surveys and national magazine surveys, Berman is also touting his "friend of the taxpayer" award from the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers.
He said he supports the economic development department's focus on "STEM" jobs - science, technology, engineering and math, and wants to hone in further on solar energy as a job generator for Gilbert. He said his interest in the solar field extends to a commercial real estate deal he's working on in southern Arizona.
But Berman points out that his vote is just one of seven on the council, taking exception to some of his opponents positioning themselves as consensus-builders. "I'm one of seven people on the council and believe the other six were elected by the residents of Gilbert for their experience," he said.
Longtime friend and Gilbert resident Daryl Colvin, the treasurer of his current campaign committee, said Berman's greatest accomplishment as mayor probably stems from roundtable discussions he and then-councilman, now-mayoral opponent Dave Petersen held with development interests to work out what were many kinks in the development process.
In 2003 Colvin himself ran unsuccessfully for the council with Berman as his campaign manager. "He did a good job with fundraising, but at that point we were kind of running against our own success, and the incumbents took a little more credit than they deserved," Colvin said.
So Berman is out campaigning for himself again, selling himself just like when he made his fortune selling copiers and cell phones. He will agree with his opponents on at least one point, brought up at the recent candidate forum.
"I do think we need a good salesman, and you're looking at one," he said.