Flagstaff Politicians Court Voters at Forum

Jan 27, 2012

Voters in Flagstaff’s city elections took part in a kind of political speed dating Thursday evening.

But instead of singles moving from table to table hoping to meet that special someone, politicians did. And voters got up-close and personal with the candidates who want to be a part of the city’s future.

At the forum hosted by Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, four mayoral candidates and five of the six city council candidates moved from table to table at Flagstaff High School.

At the table sat voters waiting for their next 10 minute “date” with a person who wants their support.

Flagstaff’s John Viktora says what he’s looking for in a candidate is someone who’s authentic and knowledgeable about local issues.

Mostly, he was impressed.  

“We have a couple of bozos here took,” Viktora says. “You do speed dating and you’re going to meet a couple of bozos too!”

Instead of asking their zodiac sign, voters wanted to know the candidates’ views on a variety of issues from using reclaimed water to attracting new businesses. 

Jeff Oravits is running for City Council.

He told the voters at this table that the City assesses too many fees.

“As someone who rents commercial office space, I rent to businesses, and that’s often their complaints is the fees have gotten so high, they’re having trouble staying in business,” Oravits says.

At another table, Council candidate Jim McCarthy tried to woo voters with his ideas on zoning.

 “I’m a strong proponent of mixed used zoning, which is what you see in Europe,” he says. “You walk down the streets, there are storefronts, but you look upstairs, there are people living there.”

As the night went on, some voters wanted answers to hard-and-fast questions.

Merle Henderson, a Flagstaff Tea Partier, says his ideal candidate would reign in spending.

“Budget. It’s always budget. It is out of control,” Henderson says.  

Flagstaff’s Gary Smith echoed the concerns of many at the forum.

 “I think the water issues are primary right now,” he says.

Council candidate John Malin says he’s not concerned about the safety of reclaimed water.

Malin is general manager of Continental Country Club, which uses reclaimed water on the golf course.

 “It ends up in the aquifer and gets cleaner and cleaner,” he says.  

Other candidates were not so sure.  Council candidate Avtar Khalsa says he wants more study.

 “We need to be very attuned to the emerging science that’s finding stuff in that water that probably isn’t good for us, and the emerging technologies that can clean it up,” Khalsa says.  

But while many wanted hard answers, others, like Elisha Dorfsmith, were going with their gut.  

“I love this format because you get an intimate conversation with the candidates and get to know them on a personal level,” Dorfsmith says.

Mayoral candidate Jerry Nabours says he is someone that voters can trust.

“What people are looking for is, is this person a leader -- especially in the position of mayor,” Nabours says. “Can this person bring the council together and lead them because they will have trust and confidence?”

Al White, who’s also running for mayor, says he believes he has the added ability to get the job done.

“When you’re running a meeting and calling on people and getting their opinions, how much do you listen, how much do you pay attention to what they have to say?” he asks. “Building consensus is the chairperson’s job.”

Moran Henn is the organization’s development director.

She says the speed-dating-style format is the best way to get to know a candidate’s position on the issues, as well as their disposition.  

“Their first reaction is what I look for, their facial expression, the energy they transcend to the group says a lot,” she says.

The primary for Flagstaff mayoral candidates is March 13, and the general election is May 15.

All balloting in Flagstaff is done through the mail.