As he forges ahead in an effort to become the first Ahwatukee resident to be elected the mayor of Phoenix, Moses Sanchez has made City Hall’s unresponsiveness to families and neighborhoods a big part of his campaign.
That’s not hard to understand.
Family and neighborhoods have comprised a major part of life for the 41-year-old father of three.
His youngest daughter is his business partner. His oldest daughter lives next door. He brags how his son is probably one of the few people in the nation to have had his father not only present him with his high school diploma at graduation but sign it, too.
He credits his kids and physician wife with helping him readjust to civilian life after the E-6 noncommissioned officer took part in counterinsurgency operations in war-torn Afghanistan as part of his duties in the Navy Reserve.
He is a member of the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club and was its president for four years running. He worked on the Kyrene K-8 Committee for a number of years. He was a member of the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board. He’s coached school soccer and volleyball teams.
In other words, family and service are all over Sanchez’s resume.
And those two interests explain why Sanchez is running for mayor: He says it’s time City Hall pays families and neighborhoods more than lip service.
“I think it’s time we have someone who represents Phoenix families,” he said in an interview with AFN. “City Hall has done a real great job fighting – for City Hall. There’s a real disconnect between City Hall and the rest of us.”
“Most of the Phoenix families I’ve talked to feel the same way. It’s about time we have an outsider with a different perspective,” he added. “It’s about time we have someone who fights for the community. We haven’t had a mayor who came from outside City Hall in 34 years.”
The way this year’s mayoral race is shaping up illustrates the point stressed by Sanchez, a Republican in the nonpartisan election. He likely will be running in a three-way primary runoff with two longtime City Council members in August, leading to a two-way race in November.
A grateful immigrant
When he was 5, he and his family moved to the U.S. from Panama.
Even before he began a 25-year stint with the Navy Reserve that won’t end for three more years, he was determined to serve his newly adopted country by enlisting in a Navy Sea Cadet program in high school.
“I’m an immigrant and we’ve always had certain values,” he explained, adding that “a commitment to service” was one of them.
When he moved to Ahwatukee 14 years ago and his kids started going to Kyrene schools, Sanchez figured it would be a good time to do what he could for the school system serving them. So, he joined the committee of parents and educators who met regularly to discuss various district issues.
He got so interested that he ran for the Kyrene governing board. And after losing the election, he decided he was through flirting with politics.
Then his youngest daughter, Shannon, changed his mind.
But before that, Uncle Sam intervened.
The Navy shipped him off to Bagram, home of the U.S. military’s largest base in Afghanistan.
There, he worked in a detention facility, where his job was to “extract and collect information through direct questioning” of enemy captives.
“Ask anyone in our family and they all will say the most difficult year of our life,” he said.
He relied on Facebook and other social media to stay in touch with his family while neighbors in Ahwatukee frequent checked in with his and wife, Dr. Maria Manriquez, who was working her way up from a registered nurse to become a gynecologist. She now is interim associate dean for clinical curriculum at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.
Sanchez also couldn’t put aside his concern for the immediate community.
While in Afghanistan, females had just recently been allowed to go to school, but they didn’t have any classroom supplies.
He rallied his fellow servicemen and women, collected a few thousand dollars, then enlisted then-Ahwatukee Kiwanis President Mike Schmitt to buy pencils, paper and other supplies. At his own expense, Schmitt, who packed the supplies he bought with that money, shipped them off to Sanchez.
When he came back, Sanchez learned why the military had stressed to homebound service personnel the importance of family in readjusting to a life where rocket fire was a daily fact of life.
He was sitting on the lawn at Foothills Country Club with his wife and his children for the Red White and Boom celebration in 2012 when the first rocket exploded.
“I had a visceral response to it, very unexpected,” he said, recalling the “very difficult year for our family” that followed.
“It was tough, but it was rewarding as well,” Sanchez added. “It brought us together. Often deployments can tear up families, but this brought us tighter than we’d ever been.”
So tight that he let Shannon talk him into running for Tempe Union school board.
A big career change
“She told me, ‘If your dad is on the board, you get to give her the diploma.’”
So, he ran and won, achieving an even bigger big deal in 2015 when his son was graduating from Desert Vista High School, the same school where his daughters got their diplomas.
“I was board president and the board president signs the diplomas,” Sanchez said. “So, he is one of very few kids in America whose father signed their high school diploma.”
Sanchez, who holds an MBA and teaches business at South Mountain Community College, attributes his Tempe Union election victory and a big career change to Shannon’s knowledge of social media.
A banker at the time, he kept hearing from his small-business customers, who asked him if he knew how they could grow their social media footprint.
A graduate of ASU Barrett the Honors College, Shannon had become so adept at social media that she was his campaign manager in the Tempe Union race and used it to help him win.
When those business owners started asking him about social media, he suggested to Shannon, then 19, that they start a business and that he’d be her operations manager. They named the business Nonnahs – her name spelled backward.
“The growth in our family business has happened in the last three years. We went from managing six or seven accounts to well over 100,” he said. Now, “we manage hundreds – a lot of small business owners and we have some have some larger accounts and franchises in the Valley. We’ve gone from just the two of us to a company with 12 employees.”
Sanchez quit the Tempe Union board to run for a seat on the Maricopa County Community College Board in 2016.
And after losing that bid, he again decided politics was in the rearview mirror.
‘It’s been a ride’
Then, people last year started approaching him after Mayor Greg Stanton announced he would be resigning soon to run for Congress.
“People kept saying, ‘Would you consider it?’ I’m thinking I have a great company. I’m blessed. I have a great life. I considered it. What it would take? Once we started picking the brains of people who are smarter than I am when it comes to this, we saw a path to victory.”
After many talks with his family and other as well as “a lot of prayers,” he said, “I decided, ‘OK, this is what we want to do.’ It’s been a ride since.”
Sanchez said he’s learning a lot about the parts of Phoenix he didn’t know, logging an average of 18 meetings a week with groups and others across the city.
“I’ve handed over my duties as operations officer to my daughter, and she hired some more people. I’ve dedicated full-time work to this.”
“There’s lots of long nights, but it’s important for me to talk to as many people as possible. And whoever will let me in their homes, in their communities, we’re there.”
The reason is simple: “If you’re gonna fight for Phoenix families, you’ve got to talk to Phoenix families, not developers and City Hall.”
He has found “the one thing everybody had in common was the disconnect from City Hall. City Hall is focused on these national issues, these state issues, but they’re not addressing the issues that matter to Sunnyslope or to Maryvale or to the West Valley or even out here in Ahwatukee. That was a consistent theme.”
He sees mayors elsewhere – such as those in the East Valley – “more focused on their community than the mayors in Phoenix.”
“If you called the local council members and asked them what’s the No. 1 call you get, it’s never about developers. It’s about water leaks, roads, potholes, the lack of police officers on their streets – especially here in Ahwatukee. City Hall’s not talking about that ... These have been ongoing, long-term problems.”
And, he added, “That’s what the mayors should be leading in.”
Those beliefs were forged by his work in both school districts.
“We focused on what we’re doing for our schools, the individual sites, not getting involved in the national debates.”
He said a recent meeting with some small-business owners convinced him that his campaign is on the right path. They told him that it would be nice to have “maybe a roundtable discussion, even an informal one, with the mayor.”
“I sat there and said, ‘How did that not happen?”
Sanchez said he’s found enthusiasm for his candidacy.
“People didn’t know there was a third option, there’s a viable option, there’s a better option. We’ve been very much welcomed with open arms.”
He’s had to make some sacrifices – like not cooking much at home even though cooking and physical fitness are his two favorite pastimes.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I think I’m blessed that I have a lot of energy and a family that’s extremely supportive. They understand the sacrifices they have to make for this campaign.”