Special interests have been a big topic of discussion among candidates in Phoenix's mayoral race. But after a question last week at the mayoral debate sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, many candidates are calling for a mayor's office free of lobbyists.

The question that came near the end of the debate asked Wes Gullett how his position at First Strategic would work if he were elected.

"My intention is to take a leave of absence from my firm," Gullett said during the event. "I've worked for nine years to build that company up and my opponents all want me to sell all my interest in my stock so that I don't have anything left that I've built up. I've thought a lot about that and I may do that, but what I am looking at right now is taking a leave of absence and setting up a system so that I don't make any more money or any less money depending on how the firm does. I think that's fair. I think it's only fair for me to be able to keep the stock that I have in the company that I've built for the last nine years."

Gullett says he is not a lobbyist. He says lobbying is only 10 percent of what he does and that his company is a strategic planning company. He believes if he is making no money off of the company, there would be no conflict of interest, and that his experience as a planner will make him a better mayor.

At the debate, candidate Greg Stanton made a vow to residents of Phoenix that: "Neither myself or no one in my administration will have a financial interest in a lobbying firm as mayor."

Since then the candidates have gone back and forth with statements about Gullett's position at his firm. Claude Mattox released a statement calling for Gullett to choose between his firm or the mayor's office.

"Wes needs to tell the voters of Phoenix if he intends to represent them, or continue to look out for the interests of the photo-radar billboard companies, utilities, private water companies, developers and the home-building industry his firm has represented over the years," Mattox said. "It's an old adage, but so true: You cannot serve two masters. Wes needs to tell the people of Phoenix that should he be elected mayor, he will be fully committed to represent them, and not his special interest clients."

Peggy Neely released a statement reminding voters of the need for lobbyist reform. Neely's AWARE program (accountability, wisdom, accessibility, representation and ethics) would include posting lobbyist registrations online with increased financial reporting requirements. She also vowed to strengthen the conflict of interest policy by developing a clearer conflict of interest statement.

"We need more transparency in government. We don't even know who Mr. Gullett's clients are. How could the taxpayers ever trust he was serving them instead of himself?" Neely said in the statement.

Stanton challenged each of the candidates to sign his vow, which reads: "During my time as mayor, neither I nor any member of my staff will hold a personal financial stake in any firm or organization that lobbies public officials in the state of Arizona or accept payment of any kind from any company that lobbies public officials in the state of Arizona."

Stanton's campaign says Anna Brennan has agreed to sign the pledge while Neely and Gullett have declined.

"My opponents - and Wes Gullett especially - have an obligation to sign the ‘No Lobbyists in the Mayor's Office' pledge," Stanton said in a statement. "The people of Phoenix shouldn't have to wonder whether a mayor is making decisions because his household stands to profit."

Gullett released his own statement about conflicts of interest.

"Over the past several days, two of my opponents in the race for mayor have filled our residents' mailboxes with so-called campaign literature that is childish, misleading and full of outright falsehoods about me personally and my business," Gullett said. "Today, former council members Greg Stanton, Peggy Neely and Councilman Claude Mattox all issued statements that reek of hypocrisy... Their hypocrisy knows no bounds."

Gullett accused Stanton's co-chair of his campaign, Paul Lopez, of being a powerful city hall lobbyist. Neely employs Fiesta Bowl lobbyist Chuck Coughlin as her primary campaign consultant.

Gullett also said that Mattox has refused to resign his seat as public safety subcommittee chairman "and has accepted the endorsement and significant campaign contributions from the very union he oversees."

Candidate Jennifer Wright, who was not allowed at the chamber's forum, said she did not sign Stanton's pledge but she will release one of her own soon. Wright said she has always believed Gullett's company was a conflict of interest.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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