Despite calls from the mayor and a majority of the City Council, Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips will not resign from office after a national backlash against comments he made at a protest against the city’s mask mandate on June 24.
“I was elected twice by the voters of Scottsdale and will most likely be reelected again,” said Phillips, who is running for his third term.
At the June 24 protest, organized by Phillips, the councilman opened his remarks by stating “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” before removing his mask.
Many interpreted the comments as a reference to the dying words of George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
The comments elicited criticism from leaders across the state, including Gov. Doug Ducey and East Valley NAACP President Roy Tatem, and made headlines across the country.
“I thought that it was very insensitive to use that language,” said Armonee Jackson, NAACP state youth and college president. “That just goes to show, one, how he feels about the black community.”
Phillips said he has not yet met with the East Valley NAACP.
“I have not but I’ve talked to somebody who is reaching out to them now and hopefully we’ll have that conversation,” he said.
Phillips apologized to Floyd’s family after his comments went viral, but insisted they only related to wearing a mask and were not a reference to Floyd.
He doubled down on that explanation at the press conference, saying the choice of words was inadvertent and blamed it on nerves as he hosted his first rally.
“I want people to understand, I had no intention of mocking anybody,” Phillips said. “My mind was so totally focused on the mask mandate; first time I held a rally and very nervous and excitable.…”
Angela Simmons, a Black woman who spoke at the press conference, said she works at an establishment patronized by Phillips and that “he’s a very respectful person.”
Simmons said she did not think Phillips had any ill-intent when he spoke those words.
Some critics did not buy his explanation, though.
“He knows well the protesting occurring here and across the country and the use of the ‘I can’t breathe’ term by protestors to condemn the strangulation killing by police of George Floyd,” Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp said in a statement, calling for Phillips’ resignation.
At the press conference, Phillips said “I take full responsibility for that mistake and ask for those who were offended or hurt by my words to forgive my insensitivity.”
But he also placed the blame for the backlash on “bullying and crowd madness.”
“I will not sell out the public for campaign contributions just to stay in office, nor would I throw them to the lions for political expediency, like Mayor Lane and mayor candidate Suzanne Klapp have done to me,” Phillips said.
Council members Virginia Korte, Linda Milhaven and Solange Whitehead also called for Phillips’ resignation.
Additionally, a Change.org petition with over 16,000 signatures asked Phillips to resign from office. Phillips’ supporters organized a separate petition on Change.org to show support for keeping him in office, which gathered 563 signatures as of July 1.
“If the voters want me to go, the primary election starts in eight days,” Phillips said, referring to the July 8 start of early voting.
Scottsdale resident Brian Adamovich, a member of Scottsdale’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, sent a letter to Phillips requesting his resignation, and told the Progress he would consider starting a recall petition if Phillips remained in office.
However, the Progress found out that a recall of Phillips is not possible right now under state recall procedures because Phillips is already up for re-election on the next ballot.
In order to recall a sitting councilmember, a political committee has to gather over 18,000 signatures in support of the recall.
Under the City Charter, the Mayor and City Council can only remove a sitting council member if that individual is convicted of a crime involving “moral turpitude,” such as murder, child abuse, fraud and theft, according to the city.
Still, Phillips has suffered some political ramifications from his comments.
Phillips lost endorsements from the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale and the United Scottsdale Firefighters Association. The Progress also confirmed that Phillips is not endorsed by the Police Officers of Scottsdale Association, despite some social media posts to the contrary.
The fallout from Phillips’ comments could extend to the city as well and negatively impact its tourism industry, which is already suffering amidst the pandemic.
The president of the San Francisco Giants, one of the city’s larger tourism draws in the spring, condemned Phillips harshly for both his words and stance on masks.
Giants President Farhan Zaidi told the Athletic “I mean, (expletive) that guy. You can quote me on that. (expletive) that guy.”
City spokesman Kelly Corsette said city staff has been in contact with the Giants in recent days to talk about the city’s operating procedures in the COVID-19 environment.
“The conversation also reiterated that Councilman Phillips’ stance on the mayor’s face covering order and the callous way in which the councilman delivered his comments, absolutely do not represent the city in any way,” Corsette said.
“The city’s partnership with the Giants is very important to Scottsdale, and we will continue working together toward the day baseball returns to Scottsdale Stadium.”
Experience Scottsdale, the city’s tourism arm, also weighed in the controversy.
“We could not stand by our work if we did not believe our visitors and clients, including our Black visitors and clients, would feel safe and welcomed in Scottsdale,” according to statement from the organization.
”That is why we cannot remain silent about the events of June 24. The statements from an elected official that made light of the tragic death of George Floyd were reprehensible, and they do not reflect the values of our organization or our community.”
Despite the backlash, Phillips said he does not regret hosting the rally because he believes the city government should have focused on educating the public instead of issuing a mandate with legal repercussions for those that do not wear masks.
Phillips said the protest included education for attendees provided by speaker Dr. Peter Steinmetz, who focused on a lack of consensus among medical professionals about the effectiveness of wearing masks to combat COVID-19.
But many medical professionals and organizations have pointed to masks as a key tool in preventing spread.
When asked directly by the Progress, Phillips declined to answer directly whether or not he believes masks are an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I’m not a physician,” Phillips said. “I can’t tell you if it’s effective, but I’ll wear a mask around anybody that wants me to, because I’m considerate and I’m courteous.”