Of all the good things the town of Gilbert has going for it, you can add the number of quality candidates for the Town Council to that list. The East Valley Tribune hosted a forum for the six remaining candidates to the Town Council on April 25, and our editorial board found no shortage of expertise and passion among the group.

But only three will be elected when Gilbert goes to the polls on May 17.

Eddie Cook was the lone candidate to garner enough votes during the primary election on March 8 to earn a spot on the seven-member Council. Bidding to join him for the three remaining open seats are an interesting mix of three incumbents (Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier and Les Presmyk), two challengers (Victor Petersen and Jordan Ray) and another incumbent (Ben Cooper) who was appointed to the council in May 2010.

In determining who we would endorse heading into the election, the Tribune editorial board took two main factors into consideration.

First, we looked for candidates with the background and knowledge to move Gilbert forward. In our minds, Gilbert is at a crossroads as a TINO (Town In Name Only): It maintains a lot of its small-town charm and appeal, but with 208,000 residents and growing, it has obviously joined the list of big cities in Arizona.

As a TINO, Gilbert cannot keep relying on rapid growth to sustain itself. As the community matures and nears build-out, it needs leaders who understand that economic development and job growth will be the key factors that keep the town thriving.

Second, we wanted candidates who are consensus-builders - people who can work together with city planners and citizens and fellow council members to get things done in a positive fashion. Gilbert is already one of the least-taxed municipalities in Arizona with one of the most efficient governments. Continuing that tradition will require the right type of leadership.

With that criteria in mind, the Tribune is endorsing Cooper, Ray and Abbott for the three vacant seats.

Cooper, 39, is in the most enviable position among the candidates. He's an incumbent, but he wasn't on the Council when the controversial Zinke land purchase took place - a pricey deal that has many voters calling for the removal of current council members. And, unlike the other incumbents, he was not in favor of Proposition 406 - the quarter-cent sales tax increase that voters rejected last November.

Cooper is the only candidate endorsed by both the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce and the Gilbert Small Business Alliance, and the only candidate endorsed by Mayor John Lewis. It's easy to see why. We think Cooper has the most expertise when it comes to economic development and job growth. He's a business owner with experience in real estate investment, land development and entitlements, and has a long history serving both the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Gilbert Economic Development Advisory Board, and the subcommittee charged with updating the Gilbert General Plan 2011.

Ray, 32, doesn't have the history in Gilbert that the other candidates possess - he moved there a little over a year ago. But we like his cooperative approach and his focus on fiscal discipline and job growth.

Ray, vice president for InData Corp. - a small Gilbert-based legal technology company - stresses the creation of new revenue, not cutting expenses, as a way to battle future budget issues. And he handles himself well, even when being critical of things like the Zinke land deal.

Abbott, more than any other candidate, is completely engaged in Gilbert. She's been a teacher in Gilbert Public Schools for 18 years, a council member from 1991-95 and 2007-11, was instrumental in the creation of the Citizens Outreach Committee and is very involved in the community. Her litany of endorsements from business leaders, citizens and Gilbert town officials is a testament to her work ethic and history of creating a cooperative work environment in Gilbert.

Abbott, 52, is passionate, has a strong sense of what Gilbert is, and is the type of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.

While there are many things we like about the other candidates, we think Cooper, Ray and Abbott are the right candidates to take Gilbert into the future.

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