Teresa Brice-Heames, a Hispanic woman known for her activism and strong community ties in Mesa, filed paperwork Monday challenging incumbent Keno Hawker for mayor.
Backers said Brice-Heames' background makes her a credible challenger who would bring change to Mesa's historically conservative mayor's office. A former lawyer and a Mesa native, Brice-Heames is especially active in the Hispanic community, which makes up roughly 25 percent of Mesa's population.
"I think I have to say in talking with a lot of different types of people, not everyone is represented by our current leadership," Brice-Heames said.
Brice-Heames, 48, said she will push for affordable housing, higher education for Mesa residents, and opportunities for minorities and residents of older neighborhoods to participate in city government.
She said she will also push for a city property tax, which Hawker has opposed.
Mesa, the 40th-largest city in the country, is one of a handful of Arizona municipalities without a property tax. The city relies instead on state shared revenue, a sales tax and utility fees to pay for city services. City leaders had to freeze more than 200 positions and cut some city programs to balance the city's current budget.
"I'm real concerned about Mesa's financial future," Brice-Heames said. "I think it's time we talk about a property tax. I know it's a dirty word, but somebody has to say it."
Brice-Heames is vice president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens and vice president of Housing for Mesa, an agency that helps low-income people buy homes. Previously, she was a lawyer with community legal services in Phoenix and Mesa. She said she resigned from the state bar last year, and she will take a six-month leave of absence from Housing for Mesa beginning Oct. 1 to campaign.
Hawker, 56, is a business owner who espouses Libertarian views and generally votes along conservative lines. He is a registered Republican who has served 10 years as a council member and is finishing his first four-year term as mayor.
Hawker said Monday he respects Brice-Heames. He characterized the race as a classic matchup between Republican and Democrat. But Brice-Heames, who is a registered Independent, said she wouldn't frame it as a race that adheres to party lines. She said many people who support her hold some conservative views.
Last week, Brice-Heames called for the formation of a citizens review committee for the police department, which Hawker also opposes. The move came in light of the Aug. 25 fatal shooting of a 15-year-old Hispanic boy by Mesa police. The shooting remains under investigation.
Brice-Heames said Hawker's opposition to the citizens review committee was one of the factors that motivated her to run.
The chairman of Brice-Heames' political committee is former Vice Mayor Jim Davidson, who said Brice-Heames will bring up issues that haven't been raised in Mesa mayoral elections.
Hawker called Davidson a friend and said they entered a senior triathlon together last year. The mayor said he was disappointed to learn of Brice-Heames' candidacy from a city employee late Monday.
"That was a big surprise for me, especially not getting a call from Jim first," Hawker said.
Davidson said Brice-Heames made a last-minute decision Friday, and there wasn't time to tell the mayor.
Last week, Hawker, Davidson and Brice-Heames attended a two-day low-income housing conference in San Jose, Calif. No one mentioned that Brice-Heames was considering running for mayor, Hawker said.
Phil Austin, a lawyer and chairman of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said he is backing Brice-Heames because she is committed to serving the community.
"Teresa has one of the sharpest minds and altruistic and community-minded spirits I've ever experienced," said Austin, who heads the law firm Phillip A. Austin.
Matt Salmon, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Arizona gubernatorial candidate, said Monday he is backing Hawker because the mayor is experienced, an advocate for Williams Gateway Airport and committed to economic development. Salmon said hadn't heard of Brice-Heames.
"I predict Keno Hawker will retain his seat and serve another four years," Salmon said.
Mesa Councilwoman Janie Thom, who is active in the local Republican Party, said she was pleasantly surprised by the entry of Brice-Heames. The contest will be more interesting now, she predicted.
“I'm glad she entered the race,” Thom said. “I don't think conservatives are going to find a lot in common with her.”
Dec. 10 is the deadline for candidates to file nomination paperwork. To run for mayor, a candidate needs a minimum of 2,022 signatures, which is based on 5 percent of votes cast for the last mayoral election. A candidate must get 50 percent of the vote to be elected. If there are more than two candidates and no one gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters enter a run-off election.
In related news, Charles Powell filed paperwork last week with the city clerk to run for Mesa City Council District 1. He is challenging City Councilwoman Claudia Walters.
Three council seats and the mayor will be on the March 9 ballot.
- Tribune writer Ray Stern contributed to this report.