Race to become Phoenix's new mayor winds down

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Phoenix's mayoral race winds to a close Tuesday when voters decide whether to pick a Democrat who wants to improve education and diversify the city's struggling economy, or a Republican who has zeroed in on job creation and shaking up City Hall.

The mayoral runoff in America's sixth-largest city pits Democrat Greg Stanton against Republican Wes Gullett in a quest to replace term-limited Mayor Phil Gordon.

The race has been a more vigorous campaign than in the past, as Phoenix has struggled to cope with the pain that came from the economic downturn. The city's mayoral races are traditionally nonpartisan, but party politics were under the surface as a field of seven primary candidates was narrowed to Stanton and Gullett.

"There is a protest that seems to be driving everybody," said David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy and author of four books about Arizona politics. "It's a question of who can be the outsider and get the protest vote."

Neither candidate is an outsider. Stanton is a former City Council member and worked for the Arizona attorney general's office, while Gullett has served on a city planning commission, worked as state director for U.S. Sen. John McCain's office and is a partner in a political consulting firm that does lobbying work.

Stanton has criticized Gullett as a lobbyist who can't be trusted and said his rival won't look out for the interests of the people.

"With me, they know that I'm on the side of the people in this city," Stanton said. "I am not going to get caught up with special interests and lobbyists and do deals that end up hurting our economy."

Gullett has cast his opponent as a status-quo candidate who's out of touch with people's need to make ends meet.

"I don't think we can trust Greg Stanton because he was a career politician," Gullett said.

Stanton said his priorities would be to improve funding for early childhood education and make after-school programs based more on academics. He also aims to make the city's economy more diverse with a focus on technology and health care jobs, rather than relying on growth on the desert's edge as was done in the past.

"Where the rest of the country goes through a recession, we go through a depression here," Stanton said. "Phoenix needs a more diverse economy."

Gullett said he would focus heavily on job creation, repeal a sales tax on groceries, reduce water rates and overhaul compensation for city employees.

"You have a fundamental flaw in your system when you institute a food tax on the people who can least afford it to balance your budget," Gullett said.

Berman, the political scientist from Arizona State, said the difference this year is that no incumbent is seeking the office and the financial pain that people have felt has upped the stakes.

"People are angry at everybody -- all the politicians," Berman said. "You run as an outsider even though you aren't one."

There are 26 voting centers located throughout the city; they will be open until 7 p.m. Phoenix residents can vote at any one of the centers.