By PAUL MARYNIAK
AFN Executive Editor
As early ballots were scheduled to go out today, Ahwatukee residents have a better idea of the two candidates vying for their votes following the community’s only forum featuring the two hopefuls for the 6th City Council District seat.
Sponsored by the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce and the Ahwatukee Foothills News, the forum drew nearly 300 people to hear incumbent Sal DiCiccio and challenger Kevin Patterson exchange views on a number of local and citywide issues.
Those issues ranged from the city’s multi-billion-dollar pension problem to what the candidates can do about Ahwatukee’s economic development, its two beleaguered golf courses and the impact of the South Mountain Freeway.
On an individual level, DiCiccio was questioned about blocking critics on his Twitter account while Patterson was asked to explain why he did not vote in the last two City Council elections.
Of the four seats up for election, only the district that includes Ahwatukee has a contest.
The election is Aug. 29 and voters can begin sending their early ballots in as soon as they receive them or they can drop them off at Pecos Community Center, the only local voting center.
While registration is closed, voters have until Aug. 18 to request an early ballot at phoenix.gov/elections or at Ironwood Library.
Both candidates remained congenial throughout the hour-long debate with Patterson scoring perhaps the loudest laughter after DiCiccio said he had blocked some of his constituents, supporters of his opponent.
“Kevin is upset because his followers and friends want to put graffiti on my wall. I’m not going to do that,” DiCiccio said, claiming that during the campaign season, some people’s conduct “drives all the people out who want to be part of the discussion.”
Immediately after that answer, Patterson was asked what makes him the better candidate.
“I won’t block you on Twitter,” he said.
“The people who were blocked on Twitter, many of them were constituents in District 6 who had basic questions,” Patterson continued, adding, “I will always be open-minded. I am not on a one-man crusade to fix anything. I need you. This is going to be a community involvement issue that we’re going to fix our city.”
Here are some highlights from the forum:
City pension mess
Both DiCiccio and Patterson agreed that extending to 30 years the time it will take the city to pay off a $2.1 billion public safety pension liability – doubling the total cost – was unwise.
Patterson said the city had a responsibility to pensioners but that it needed to “not give tax breaks to rich corporations” and sell off some of the land it owns, which Patterson estimated is value at around $140 million.
DiCiccio called the recent city extension of the payoff time “insane” and noted he has a plan currently under review by Phoenix officials to borrow money at half the 7.4 percent interest rate it is currently paying now.
Both candidates addressed the stalemate between Ahwatukee Lakes residents and The True Life Companies over the deterioration of the defunct golf course as well as the quest to find cheaper water for Club West’s course.
On Ahwatukee Lakes, Patterson said it was “something we should have been working on well before it came to this point of impasse,” while DiCiccio said the matter would be resolved “by bringing the right people to the table.
On Club West, DiCiccio said the water issue “will be solved” and that he has been involved in ongoing negotiations to resolve the problem. Patterson complained that some residents feel shut out of developments in the ongoing effort to find a solution.
Asked about how the city can stimulate Ahwatukee’s economy, DiCiccio said, “The first thing you must do is create an environment that businesses want to come to.” He took credit for the city’s adoption of speedy permit processes.
Patterson said the city should provide “the same incentives for small businesses that we’re offering to large corporations” and “make sure neighborhoods are livable.”
Both candidates also decried last year’s property tax increase and said they would not favor raising taxes on working families or seniors.
Although the city has no control over the freeway’s construction, Patterson said sound barriers should already have gone up along Pecos Road, particularly since some already are in place on the western end of the thoroughfare.
DiCiccio called attention to his involvement in a bipartisan effort with legislators in trying to mitigate the freeway’s impact on Ahwatukee.
DiCiccio said the city did not have nearly enough police officers on the street, but said “more like 38” officers are usually on the streets of Ahwatukee.
Patterson contested that figure, saying “I’ve never heard we’re at 38,” adding that the “three is not acceptable.” He was referring to reports that most times on three officers are assigned to patrol Ahwatukee.
Both men clashed to a degree on whether Phoenix designates itself a sanctuary city for immigrants.
DiCiccio said he is “strongly opposed” to that effort while Patterson said, “We need to make sure this city is safe for everyone” and that “our public safety crisis is not such where we can support that right now.”