By Mark Carlisle
Three Glendale City Council incumbents seeking re-election and two challengers answered questions from the public during a candidate forum Wednesday, Aug. 8 at the Glendale Women’s Club, at the corner of 56th Avenue and Glenn Drive.
Coalitions have begun to form as the two challengers have been endorsed by the mayor and some sitting council members. Both challengers voiced support for each other during the forum and one incumbent encouraged a vote for all incumbents.
Ray Strahl is challenging incumbent Bart Turner to represent the Barrel District. Emmanuel Allen is challenging Jamie Aldama to represent the Ocotillo District. Vice Mayor Laurent Tolmachoff is running unopposed for the Cholla District.
The primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 28 and the general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6. If any candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary election, he or she will be elected to the seat. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two vote-getters will be put on the ballot for the general election.
For information on voting, visit glendaleaz.com/clerk/elections.cfm.
Mr. Strahl is a retired banker and insurance worker and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam. Mr. Allen is the pastor of Breakthrough Life Church and runs a nonprofit with his wife, Belinda, called R.O.O.T.S. that the city selected to provide after-school programming at two of its recreation centers. Mr. Allen also sits on Glendale Human Relations Commission.
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Shot by Independent Newsmedia contributor Ed Sharpe.
The questions for the two-hour forum were submitted by members of the public beforehand and read by Grace Kobejek, president of the Glendale Women’s Club.
Discussion stuck to the issues for most of the event, until the challengers, Mr. Strahl and Mr. Allen, switched to attacking their opponents’ credentials during the closing statements. Both praised the Council as a whole but painted their respective opponents as faulty cogs in an otherwise well-functioning machine.
The Council “has gotten much accomplished, even though he (Mr. Turner) was more of an obstacle than a supporter,” Mr. Strahl said.
Mr. Allen also suggested his opponent was an obstacle to the Council.
“As the Council was making progress, Jamie Aldama was dragging his feet, objecting and playing political games,” he said.
Ms. Tolmachoff, running unopposed, also took aim at Mr. Aldama during the closing statements, though she did not mention him by name.
She criticized Mr. Aldama for “try(ing) to be on both sides of the issue” of the Council’s decision to add school resource officers at five public high schools so that each of nine public high schools in the city had a full-time Glendale police officer working on campus.
Ms. Tolmachoff also, again, without addressing anyone by name, claimed a fellow incumbent has behaved inappropriately during Council discussions.
“It requires working collaboratively without throwing tantrums, without name-calling, and that’s not something that everybody up here has done,” Ms. Tolmachoff said.
This comment appears to be directed at Mr. Aldama as well.
In a separate phone interview before the candidate forum, Ms. Tolmachoff said one of the reasons she is endorsing Mr. Allen over Mr. Aldama was because she could not trust him. She said she could not disclose more details because she was referencing Council’s executive sessions, which are closed to the public.
Coalitions are quickly forming in the two contested races. Mr. Allen has been endorsed by all sitting members of Council except for Mr. Aldama and Mr. Turner – Ms. Tolmachoff, Mayor Jerry Weiers, Councilman Ray Malnar, Councilwoman Joyce Clark and Councilman Ian Hugh.
Mr. Strahl said he’d been endorsed by the mayor and “others on the Council.” Both Ms. Tolmachoff and Mr. Hugh have said they don’t plan to endorse a candidate in the Barrel District race between Mr. Strahl and Mr. Turner.
In his closing statement, Mr. Strahl pushed back on the suggestion that he was being endorsed for a supportive vote but said he would think and vote independently.
While he did not make an endorsement, Mr. Allen voiced support for his fellow challenger, Mr. Allen, about whom recent media reports have stated that his church, Breakthrough Life Church, was behind on rent to the city. Reports also stated that Allen’s nonprofit overestimated its projected budget when applying to run after-school programming at the city-owned O’Neil and Glendale recreation centers. Both centers are in the Ocotillo District, which Mr. Allen is hoping to represent.
“It’s disgraceful (what) some people are trying to do to Emmanuel Allen. Pastor Allen is a good man,” Mr. Strahl said while becoming choked up with tears for a moment, “who has given selflessly to his community, and it’s shameful that anyone would cast dispersions upon him and ruin his reputation over petty politics.”
Near the start of the forum, Mr. Allen immediately addressed those reports in his opening statement. Mr. Allen, who described himself as a “professional volunteer” pointed out that the city does not pay him to operate the afterschool programs at the rec centers and that all of his volunteers are workers as well. He also acknowledged that his church has fallen behind to the city on rent in the past.
“The rent has, on occasion fallen behind,” he said. “As I said before, our members of our church, they’re rich in spirit, but not in the pocket.”
Mr. Allen said that the financial hardships of his church and the R.O.O.T.S. program were not intended to deceive anyone, but done in an effort to serve the community.
“I see only two possibilities here: either I’m the worst con-man in history, paying for the privilege of working for free and convincing others to do the same, or I’m someone deeply dedicated to this community and our children,” Mr. Allen said.
Later, in his closing statement, Mr. Allen acknowledged that his financial skills would not be his strength on Council, if elected.
“There’s a reason our that off that five of the seven council members have endorsed me, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because of my money management skills,” he said with a smile. He then went on to explain why both he and Mr. Strahl, should be elected to the Council. “A city council needs to be a team. People with different skills and abilities who can work together toward a common goal. Right now, the team has some problems. That’s what this election is about. Ray Strahl’s financial experience will strength the team. I’m more focused on the people in the heart of our community, and the majority of the Council believes my skills would also bring value to them, to the team. I hope you agree.”
Mr. Aldama did not mention the other contested race during the forum, but Mr. Turner, on multiple occasions, encouraged a vote for all incumbents.
“Don’t trade a proven success – and that’s what we have here: a proven, successful Council – for vague accusations without any substantiation to it,” Mr. Turner said.
The majority of the discourse during the forum was far less dramatic, with candidates allowed one minute each to address questions, most on specific city issues, from the public.
Mr. Turner, Mr. Aldama and Ms. Tolmachoff all touted accomplishments of the Council since the each were elected for the first time in 2014, namely stabilizing the city’s finances. The city’s unassigned general fund reserve has reached nearly $45 million after the fund was at a deficit in early 2014. The city has also improved its bond ratings, receiving top ratings from the three main credit rating agencies.
Throughout the event, the three incumbents proved more knowledgeable about most topics, with Mr. Strahl and Mr. Allen occasionally admitting they were unfamiliar or had to do more research before making a decision.
Both challengers acknowledged this as natural for political newcomers challenging incumbents.
“Mr. Allen and I do not have the benefit that the other council members have as far as some of the numbers and the particular facts,” Mr. Strahl said.
Mr. Allen said he can adjust to the job.
“I understand that there is a learning curve when it comes to city government, but at the end of the day and that’s something that we can learn,” he said. “And I can learn a lot of different things, but at the end of the day I have the heart for the city, I have the heart for the community, I have the heart for you, and I want to make sure that your voice is heard, and I want to make sure that we not only hear you but we take action.”