In the midst of a contentious Scottsdale City Council election, several candidates have resorted to misinformation campaigns, fear mongering and outright lying in an attempt to discredit the competition.
In a letter sent to Scottsdale Republicans, incumbent Councilman Guy Phillips said Scottsdale would become “Seattle, Kenosha, Portland and Minnesota” if voters elect Tammy Caputi or John Little, alluding to social unrest in those cities.
Phillips, who is running for re-election to a third term, came in fifth place in the Primary Election, trailing both Caputi and Little.
The letter made unsubstantiated claims that Caputi and Little would “defund the police, raise your taxes, and allow criminals to run rampant as their punishment for perceived systemic racism,” and suggested the candidates would vote to paint a Black Lives Matter mural at City Hall.
Both Little and Caputi have called the allegations a complete fabrication, noting that throughout their campaigns, neither of them called to defund the police or pursued the other platforms listed in the letter.
In fact, Little and Caputi were both endorsed by the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association.
When reached for comment by the Progress, Phillips did not provide any evidence to support his allegations but argued that Democrat-controlled cities in general have pursued efforts to “defund the police.”
Both Caputi and Little are currently registered with no party affiliation but were registered as Democrats in the past and have connections to the local Democratic party.
“It begs the question that if Scottsdale becomes a Democrat-controlled city, could this potentially happen here?” Phillips said.
No candidate or sitting council member in Scottsdale has called for a reallocating money that goes to police.
“Not one of Phillips’ ridiculous assertions are in any of my campaign materials or public comments because they are complete fabrications from a desperate candidate who doesn’t have anything positive to say, so he resorts to lies and fear and false narratives,” Caputi said.
“I am not in support of painting murals of any kind at City Hall,” she continued. “That is completely absurd, and barely requires a response.”
Caputi also noted that she has long run on a platform of keeping property values high and property taxes low.
Little called the letter “the manifestation of Guy’s dark imagination.”
“No thinking citizen should give any oxygen to such outrageous lies from a troubled candidate who has already been deemed ‘unfit to serve’ by nearly everyone from the Governor to his colleagues on the City Council,” Little said. “Perhaps he will get the help he needs.”
Phillips said the Scottsdale Fashion Square riot on May 30, in which hundreds of people caused millions of dollars in damage to the mall and surrounding properties, “was a prerequisite to what can happen if socialist-leaning Democrats get on the council.”
Phillips, a Republican, did not address the fact that the riot occurred under the current Council, which has a six-to-one Republican majority.
Little’s comments referenced an anti-mask rally hosted by Phillips in June at City Hall during which he said “I can’t breathe” before removing his mask before cheering attendees.
The comments were seen by many as a mocking reference to the dying words of George Floyd, a black man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests.
Phillips denied those allegations and issued an apology to Floyd’s family.
But the comments, recorded by several local news outlets, quickly went viral, drawing widespread condemnation from all corners of the state, including members of his own party, including Gov. Doug Ducey and Sen. Martha McSally.
Phillips is not the only candidate accused of peddling misinformation.
In fact, Caputi has been accused by Tom Durham and Betty Janik of attempting to falsely tie them to Phillips’ controversial comments.
An ad put out by the Caputi campaign in recent weeks claimed “Guy Phillips will continue to embarrass our city and Betty Janik and Tom Durham will continue to defend him.”
In a statement to the Progress, Caputi accused Phillips’ campaign of “egregious, dangerous statements” and said Janik and Durham are complicit for failing to denounce them.
But both Durham and Janik – one-time allies of Phillips – denounced his statements shortly after the mask rally.
At the time, Janik called Phillips’ words “inexcusable” and criticized the protest against the mask mandate itself as “an offense to my very being.”
She said she has not supported Phillips since.
“This is just another in a string of false claims made by the Caputi Machine to disrupt my campaign,” Janik said. “This includes the untrue claims I am a no-growth candidate and that I want to destroy ‘the charm that makes downtown special.’ Since the Phillips rally in June I have not defended or supported Phillips.”
Durham said he has received some support from PACs that also support Phillips, but that he has not coordinated with those PACs and has not supported Phillips himself since June.
“The ad claiming I have defended Guy Phillips is totally false…shortly after the mask rally I made a statement in which I condemned the rally,” Durham said. “Since that time, I am not aware that I have made any statements defending Council member Phillips, and I continue to think his actions were wrong.”
Caputi pushed back at Durham, accusing him of also putting out campaign materials that distorted the facts after he accused her of voting to put the controversial Desert Edge museum, also called the Desert Discovery Center, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve when she served on the Development Review Board in 2017.
The $68-million desert museum proved wildly unpopular with voters and resulted in a citizen-driven ballot proposition that went before voters in 2018. Scottsdale voters approved Prop 420 by a wide margin, effectively killing the development.
A commercial produced by the Durham campaign alleged “Tammy voted yes to put the Desert Discovery Center in the Preserve” during a DRB meeting in September 2017 in which the board voted 3-2 to recommend approval of a master site plan for the project.
Durham argued, “The issue before the DRB at the Sept. 7 meeting was the approval of the site plan within the Preserve,” citing a report from city staff.
But Caputi said Durham is misrepresenting that vote, stating Council was responsible for selecting the site and the DRB did not have authority to propose a new location.
Council actually approved a previous Municipal Use Master Plan for the Gateway Trailhead in the Preserve that included a Desert Discovery Center back in 2007 and then confirmed support for the location with a unanimous vote in 2012, according to city records.
According to city staff, the DRB was not voting on whether or not to put the project in the preserve. It was only voting to make a recommendation on where to locate the project within the Preserve parcel already approved by City Council.
“What you’re really making a recommendation on, is the location that’s being proposed within the parcel,” Scottsdale Historic Preservation Office Steve Venker said at the September 2017 meeting.
“When the Development Review Board met in Sept. 2017… the City Council and the Planning Commission had already voted on and approved the location at the entrance/parking area of The Gateway,” Caputi said. “It was not within the jurisdiction of the DRB to suggest an alternative location, something City Staff stated 5 separate times during the meeting.”
Durham argued voting “yes” on the site plan was tantamount to approving the project in the Preserve and cited Caputi’s apparent personal support for the location.
At the meeting in 2017, Caputi said “I’m not sure how you would study the Preserve without being in the Preserve."