Editor's Note: The print version of this story that appeared in the newspaper on Nov. 8 included results as of Nov.6. This version has been updated to include results as of Nov. 9.
Former City Councilman David Ortega is on track to win Scottsdale’s mayoral election while Betty Janik, Tammy Caputi and Tom Durham appear to have won City Council seats, according to unofficial election returns released Friday morning.
The returns showed Ortega leading former Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky with 52 percent of the vote. Ortega received 72,105 votes to Borowksy’s 66,106 as of Nov. 9.
In a tight race to fill three seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, retired teacher Julie Cieniawski leads 22 percent of the vote.
Dr. Libby Hart-Wells is in second place with 18 percent, followed closely by Zach Lindsay and Rose Smith, who both hold 17 percent of the vote.
After trailing Smith on Election Night, Lindsay held a slim 372-vote lead as of Nov. 9.
Smith conceded the race on Nov. 8 after results were updated.
Those results were still unofficial and there are under 30,000 ballots left to be counted throughout Maricopa County.
There was no way to tell how many of those ballots belonged to Scottsdale voters, according to City Clerk Carolyn Jagger.
Ortega declared victory on Thursday, stating, “I am grateful for the trust the citizens placed in me to represent them and lead our spectacular city. Ms. Borowsky was a formidable opponent and ran a strong campaign.”
“I look forward to working with the new councilmembers, combined with the sitting council, as we emerge from the pandemic as one of the most desirable cities in the world,” he continued.
Borowsky did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A record number of voters turned out in Scottsdale’s election.
As of Nov. 8, the County Recorder counted 155,549 ballots cast by Scottsdale voters, exceeding the previous record of 2016, when 128,244 residents voted.
Ortega said he is already taking steps to prepare for office.
“I’ve already met and spoken to the Council selections, the top three…I got a call from Mayor Lane, and we’ll be looking at this transition period right up until we take office in January to make sure we bridge the councilships,” Ortega said.
Ortega and Borowsky surprised many locals when they advanced out of the five-candidate August Primary Election, defeating incumbent Councilmembers Suzanne Klapp and Virginia Korte and former Councilman Bob Littlefield.
Ortega led the extremely tight primary contest with 21.2 percent of the vote, followed closely by Borowsky with 20.88 percent.
The pair barely edged out Korte and Littlefield, who each trailed Borowsky by around 500 votes.
The results of the election set the stage for a tough – and expensive – battle between Ortega and Borowsky.
Prior to the Primary, Klapp and Korte dominated the fundraising circuit, with each campaign bringing in well over $150,000 in contributions while the Borowsky and Ortega campaigns relied heavily on loans they made to their campaigns.
Borowsky’s fundraising took off in a big way, bringing in nearly $297,000 by Oct. 17, with $107,488 of that coming in after July 19.
The total contributions to the Borowsky campaign nearly doubled the $152,730 raised by Ortega.
For much of the election, Borowsky and Ortega ran on similar platforms that included creating a districting system for local City Council elections to improve representation in the south and ensuring local resident voices are included in all conversations about future development.
Ortega said he believed his opposition to several controversial developments, including a downtown medical marijuana dispensary and Southbridge Two, gave him an edge.
“You know what my track record has been for the last two years, you know, involved in downtown issues,” Ortega said. “I spoke freely; I spoke courteously and I spoke directly to Council.”
Ortega took some heat when the Progress reported in September that he received compensation for opposition to the dispensary project and that he allegedly sought but did not receive payment for opposition to Southbridge Two.
Ortega denied the Southbridge Two allegation and said he was only paid to consult for a group of local property owners opposed the dispensary case after speaking against the project on his own.
Ortega, a Globe, native who has lived in Scottsdale since 1978, also said he felt voters responded to his family’s longtime history in the community and his experience as former councilman and architect.
Politics also played a role in the officially non-partisan local elections this year and that is where each candidate’s tactics truly diverged.
Borowsky did not hide her Republican credentials and campaigned alongside state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who won reelection, and Joseph Chaplik, another Republican who won his legislative race.
Her campaign bus could also be seen parked at rallies in support of President Donald Trump.
“Party registration is not dispositive of one’s ability to lead our city,” Borowsky told the Progress during the Primary campaign.
“I’m asked frequently about party registration, indicating it’s important to voters this election,” Borowsky said. “I’ve responded: I am a conservative, endorsed by Arizona Free Enterprise Club.”
Ortega, a longtime Democrat who now has no official party affiliation, left party politics out of his campaign almost entirely, a move he said paid off in the end.
“At the city level, that’s the most essential, important part of government,” Ortega said. “And so I stayed away from that partisanship battle, and I think that’s the best way to serve as mayor to everyone.”
Ortega changed his registration to Independent in 2019, drawing allegations of gamesmanship from some in GOP circles who saw it as a purely political move to improve his chances in heavily-Republican Scottsdale.
Ortega denied those allegations, and said he changed parties after witnessing partisan gridlock in Washington D.C.
“One-party rule usually ends badly, so I registered as Independent,” Ortega said. “I do not depend on party machinery.”
In addition to new mayor, Scottsdale voters also selected three newcomers to council.
Based on early results, it looks like Janik, Caputi and Durham will fill those seats.
Each candidate expressed optimism based on the vote count so far when they spoke to the Progress on Nov. 4 but stopped short of declaring victory.
Janik, who came just short of being elected outright in the Primary, took the lead with 19 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
“I feel reasonably confident that Tammy, Tom, and I will be on City Council, Janik said. “However, my lead is slim and we need to wait until the results are certified to know if there is a change in the positions Tammy and I currently hold.”
Caputi also had 19 percent of the vote but trailed Janik by 1,203 votes as of Nov. 9.
“I never like to get ahead of my skis, but at this point I am feeling pretty confident that the current election results will hold in my favor,” Caputi said. “I worked as hard as I could to get my positive, forward-thinking message out to as many voters as possible, and it looks like all the hard work paid off.”
Durham, who ran on a slate with Janik, held the third spot with 18 percent, followed by John Little with 17 percent.
Durham said he is “cautiously optimistic” the lead will hold.
“My lead increased overnight, but I am not sure which ballots remain uncounted,” Durham said. “The results look good for my candidacy but I will wait until all the votes are counted.”
Durham leads Little by 2,894 votes for the final seat and his lead has only grown as more votes have come in.
Little appeared to concede the race in Facebook post on Nov. 4.
“Well, last night’s moon slowly vanished along with our hopes,” Little wrote. “But the sun rose in her majesty this morning and filled my heart with thanks, gratitude and love. Congratulations to the winners of last night’s election. We wish you all good fortune.”
Two-term incumbent Guy Phillips sits in distant fifth place with 15 percent of the vote, followed by Realtor Becca Linnig with 12 percent.
Linnig said she did not see a path to victory when she spoke to the Progress after the initial results.
“I believe the difference in the totals have a great enough gap that it tells the story of who will be serving the city as the next council members and I will not be one of them,” Linnig said.
Phillips, who trailed Durham by over 12,000 votes for the third seat, did not respond to a request for comment but appeared to concede in a post on his Facebook page.
"Thank you everyone for all your support. We came up short. The Dems now control Scottsdale," Phillips wrote on Nov. 4.
Fifth place is the same position Phillips secured in the Primary, suggesting a year of controversies may have affected his support citywide.
After fighting off an ethics complaint earlier in the year, Phillips drew negative press nationwide in June after uttering the phrase “I can’t breathe” into the microphone at an anti-mask mandate rally he organized at City Hall.
Some saw the quip as mocking the final words of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man whose death at the hands of a police officer sparked protests nationwide.
Phillips denied the allegation, but the comment drew criticism from his fellow council members and even Gov. Doug Ducey.
SUSD Governing Board
In the school board race, Kathleen Angelos and Lucy DiGrazia trailed the pack with 14 percent and 13 percent of the vote, respectively.
Angelos courted controversy earlier this year after the Progress reported on Facebook posts she wrote or shared that included anti-Islamic sentiments.
Like the Council and mayoral races, party politics showed up in the school board election with both the local Democratic and Republican parties actively supporting candidates in the race.
Based on unofficial results, the LD 23 Democrats, who supported Cieniawski and Hart-Wells, came out on top.
The LD 23 Republican Party supported Angelos and DiGrazia, neither of whom are in line to take a seat.
Lindsay, currently in third place, is also a registered Republican but did not receive an endorsement from the local party.
Republicans had more luck in the Legislative District 23 election.
A bid to turn the district purple did not go according to plan as Republicans look safe to capture all three seats in the district.
In the LD 23 state senate race, incumbent Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita holds a comfortable 18-point lead over Democrat Seth Blattman.
Incumbent Rep. John Kavanagh, R- Fountain Hills, and Scottsdale Republican Joseph Chaplik currently lead Democrat Eric Kurland for the two seats representing the district in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Kavanagh holds a sizable lead with 37 percent of the vote.
Chaplik (35 percent) is leading Kurland (28 percent) by over 14,000 votes and his lead only grew as more results came in from the county.
That margin of victory was likely a shock to many local Democrats, who saw Kurland as the first Democrat to stand a legitimate chance of flipping a house seat in heavily-Republican LD 23, which includes parts of Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Rio Verde and Fort McDowell.
Two months before the election, Arizona Capitol Times ran a story with the headline “If LD 23 is in play, everywhere is in play”, citing a poll from Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling showing Kurland was the top choice for 37 percent of voters in the district.
Kurland also out raised newcomer Chaplik, who knocked off Rep. Jay Lawrence in the Primary, $266,157 to $187,663.
Overall statewide results showed little surprises in legislative races and Republicans appeared on track to control both the House and Senate. Indeed, House Republicans on Thursday reelected Mesa Rep. Rusty Bowers as House Speaker.
Further south, legislative district 24 looks like it will remain solidly blue.
Incumbent Democratic Reps. Jennifer Longdon and Amish Shah secured 35 and 36 percent of the vote each, respectively.
Republican challengers Robyn Cushman and David Alger have only 15 and 14 percent of the vote, respectively.
Incumbent Sen. Lela Alston is ahead of challenger Ray Michaels 71 to 29 percent.