Mesa City Council candidate Dave Richins says he doesn’t put much stock in high-minded political ideology.
Esoteric rhetoric just doesn’t revitalize neighborhoods, beautify Mesa’s bridges often marred by graffiti, or lure public art projects to west Mesa, which is known more for its check-cashing stores and pawnshops than as a hip, eclectic destination.
However, Richins’ competitor in District 1, Matt Tolman, bristles at the notion that political views don’t play a vital role in city leadership.
*** NOTE: An earlier version of this story mispelled Matt Tolman's name.
“It’s thumbing your nose at your constituents,” Tolman said. “Politics is a definite consideration for voters. Voters want change.”
Tolman and Richins are vying for one of four available seats on the Mesa City Council in a primary election scheduled for March 11.
With the mayoral post also up for grabs, it will be a historic change in city leadership that is unprecedented in Mesa’s modern political history.
Richins, 38, is a well-known activist who has led the West Mesa Community Development Corp. since 2005.
The nonprofit organization makes a business of revitalization — such as painting over west-side bridges tagged with spray paint and coordinating neighborhood watch programs to help combat crime.
The initiatives may not be monumental in scope, but Richins said the approach could help attract new business investment in a city with a reputation for blight.
“I think people drive around Mesa, and we’ve put out the message that we don’t care,” he said.
Tolman, 41, operates JMT Management LLC, a property management company that specializes in low-rent apartments, largely in west Mesa.
Tolman takes a more by-the-bootstraps approach to turning around the city’s more depressed areas.
Individual property owners should be responsible for upgrading their properties, he says.
However, Tolman acknowledges the economics are tough, especially now.
“Owners are struggling to make the monthly mortgage payments,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a program the city can promote. It’s property by property.”
The problems associated with Mesa’s aging west side will be one of the most challenging issues facing the new District 1 council member.
The seat is now held by Vice Mayor Claudia Walters, who is running for mayor against businessman Scott Smith and former Councilman Rex Griswold.
Walters has tried — and failed — to limit check-cashing stores in west Mesa, and has lamented the large number of group homes in downtown Mesa, which attract the homeless in an area that the city sees as an eventual urban destination anchored by the Mesa Arts Center.
However, beyond west Mesa, City Council candidates face some issues that have inflamed many of Mesa’s 180,000 voters, 28,324 of whom live in District 1, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.
The most obviously controversial of Mesa’s issues is illegal immigration.
Richins says he supports plans to train Mesa’s jailers to enforce immigration law, a move that’s already been made by the City Council.
However, he stops short of dictating what other methods the city should try.
“Would we want a highway patrolman to be a Border Patrol agent?” he said. “I have a lot to learn about the issue.”
Meanwhile, Tolman said attacking the “root cause” of poor illegal immigrants could eliminate the need for check-cashing stores, which are used by the working poor.
“We need to crack down on illegal immigration and enforce the laws,” he said.