Ripley: Mayoral challenge - Prove Gilbert needs change - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Ripley: Mayoral challenge - Prove Gilbert needs change

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Posted: Friday, February 6, 2009 8:02 pm | Updated: 12:56 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Five candidates have lined up to stop incumbent Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman from winning a third term.

Our View: To claim the good in Gilbert, Berman must also claim the bad

But if the Tribune’s candidate forum on Tuesday is any indication, none is yet making a defining case for change.

My guess is they feel they don’t have one. Berman has received a fair share of bad press including from the Tribune over ethics questions, marital discord that erupted into public view and the costs for the Big League Dreams ball park for which Berman holds no more responsibility than any of the other council members and city management.

So maybe it’s enough to talk, as John Lewis did, about how his most important role in life is as a husband and father and that he will base is decisions on “the values of the city of Gilbert.”

I don’t know what that means either. Well, yes, I do. It’s code talk for “I’m more principled than he is” and “I’m a good family man and you fill in the blanks.”

To that point, the fight Berman had with his wife stemmed in part from his attempts to use his wife’s income tax statement to secure a college loan for his daughter from a previous marriage. So I think he cares about his kids, too.

Lewis also puts emphasis on his leadership skills, which evidently stem from his service to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a stake president. I’m not saying anything others haven’t thought, but it gets weary to hear family-centered code talk for “I’m Mormon. All you Mormons should vote for me.”

Town Councilman Don Skousen was the early frontrunner to unseat Berman and is a man with an enviable resume of public service and no known scandals.

“I won’t embarrass anybody or rock the boat” seems to be his message.

But he can’t clearly separate himself from Berman in Council decisions and he’s not identifying a new direction or making a compelling case for change. Maybe he doesn’t have to. Many a vote have been cast on the basis of character assessment and a desire to not rock the boat.

Candidate Adam Turner pledges to end “the divisiveness of the past” and foster a team approach to city government. He uses the word “team” a lot, as one might expect from an Arizona Cardinals executive. Cute, but that’s about it.

It’s not clear to me what divisiveness he’s talking about. The battle over whether the town should provide fire services to county islanders? Maybe he should say.

Dave Petersen is a candidate who does march to a different drum and says so to whoever will listen. He called for Town Manager George Pettit’s resignation at the Tribune forum. That may have been the most controversial statement of the evening.

But Pederson is a long shot. He’s to the right of conservative mainstream Gilbert politics and couldn’t hang on to the council seat he once held.

Young Eric Hurley spent most of the night agreeing with the other candidates, which doesn’t take you far when you are the youngest and least experience candidate in the field. Though he did score one of the few points of the night when he asked why Chandler had landed a warehouse on the opposite side of the railroad tracks from Gilbert.

I had to do some research on that one, but he was right. When it comes to landing industry and good jobs, Chandler leads the pack. Perhaps that’s OK. People can live in Gilbert and drive to work in Chandler.

Above the din of code talk, Berman has created a clear message and supports it eloquently. Why change?

Gilbert has won national accolades for being a great place to raise a family. It’s minded its P’s and Q’s on spending; so the town is not in as dire straits as many other cities and Berman has been recognized as a fiscal conservative.

He’s a regional player in connection with the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, which hugs the borders of Gilbert and Queen Creek, and the Maricopa Association of Governments.

He makes a powerful opening statement when he ticks off a litany of changes that have marked Gilbert’s growth in this decade and says, “If you like what has happened to the community, chances are I had something to do with it.”

So what about the future? When it comes to economic development, Gilbert pales next to its neighbor to the west, and one might think Berman could be vulnerable as the town’s titular leader in the lack of bringing livable wage jobs to the town.

But like good politicians everywhere, he has anticipated the weakness and grabbed the microphone to call on the town “to bring in more sustainable businesses” and to proclaim “the future of Gilbert is solar energy.”

Don’t confuse this column with an endorsement. The mayor and I have had our differences.

But the Tribune’s forum convinced me of one thing: When it comes to the art of politics, nobody up on the dais is better than Berman.

Jim Ripley is former executive editor of the Tribune. Contact him at

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