As the polls closed and ballots were counted, Tempe’s mayoral race paused Tuesday night with a giant question mark. With the race too close to call, and mail-in and other ballots yet to be tallied, candidates Michael Monti and Mark Mitchell would have to wait to see who would replace Hugh Hallman and become the city’s next elected leader.
The answer to that question came Thursday afternoon, as Mitchell – a third-term Tempe councilman who trailed hours after the polls closed on election night – became a second-generation mayor of one of the East Valley’s benchmark cities.
Though the results are still considered preliminary, the city announced Thursday that Mitchell, the son of former Tempe Mayor and congressman Harry Mitchell, had garnered enough votes to win the contentious battle over local restaurateur Michael Monti.
According to numbers provided by the city, Mitchell had received 11,351 votes compared to 11,212 for Monti – a difference of just 139 ballots cast.
Also up for grabs in this election cycle was the final Tempe city council seat. With 11,698 votes, attorney Kolby Granville defeated Southwest Gas executive Dick Foreman by more than 2,300 votes. Two other council seats were filled after the March primary, with incumbents Corey Woods and Joel Navarro each earning enough votes to earn a stay from the general and regain their seats outright.
Mitchell’s win in the general wasn’t that unlike the lead he took after the primary election back in March. Monti, owner of the well-known Monti’s La Casa Vieja steakhouse, initially led by three votes after polls closed the night of the primary. But after all mail-ins and other ballots were officially tallied, Mitchell took the ultimate lead by more than 275 votes.
With the two squaring off again in the general, Monti led by 222 votes this week as Tuesday turned into Wednesday. But mail-in ballots proved key for Mitchell again.
Even while waiting for final word Tuesday night, the slight deficit didn’t dampen spirits at Mitchell’s election night party.
“I’m proud of the volunteers – proud of the citizens of Tempe – because Tempe is a great city. We made over 100,000 attempts to reach people whether it be making phone calls or knocking on doors,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s so-called ground game gave him reason to believe that he could come from behind after remaining ballots are counted – just as he did in the primary.
Mitchell added Tuesday that if he won he planned to focus on jobs and the community because “Tempe means different things to different people.”
Monti himself was cautious Tuesday despite the lead, knowing full well that the results could change.
“Nothing worth winning should be given… I don’t believe in counting my chickens before they’ve hatched …” he said.
Monti congratulated Mitchell Thursday, saying “there is a time for campaigning and a time for governing.
“For the good of Tempe, it is time to get behind Mayor-elect Mitchell. I sincerely appreciate everyone who worked on my campaign and those who supported my innovative agenda. I urge those people now to rally behind our new mayor,” he said in a press release. “Tempe must now move forward as we thank Mayor Hallman for his service and dedication, and as we usher in Mayor-elect Mitchell. Good luck and wishes to him, and our community.”
What appears to be the final result comes after what one Mitchell supporter called “the nastiest campaign that has ever taken place in the city of Tempe.”
It was indeed an emotional one for the Mitchell team, as they found Mitchell facing allegations of sexual misconduct dating back to 1983, when he was 13- or 14-years-old.
The campaign released a statement after the claims went public saying the attacks were “false, vile, and clearly politically motivated.”
Tuesday night, Mitchell himself said he had no comment, but Bill Scheel, a Mitchell campaign consultant said they were “unfounded, salacious and they continue to be. It is satisfying to see the Tempe voters saw it for what it was – negative campaigning.”
Monti, however, said Tuesday that he did not buy into the idea that this particular race was the most unpleasant one in city history.
“It seems to like a lot of times people say this is the nastiest race just because it is the freshest one in memory,” he said on election night.
The city plans to make the results official by 5 p.m. Friday, with three conditional ballots – those cast in person by voters who did not have proper identification at the polls – and write-in votes are still to be counted.