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Tempe vote: Linchpin moment for Coyotes looms

Craig Morgan Avatar
May 11, 2023

The most critical date in Coyotes history is five days away.

All of the eligible mail-in ballots have been sent. The drop-off ballots are still coming in. We won’t know the tenor of those ballots before 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but one thing is clear: Tempe voters are turning out in record numbers for the special election for propositions 301, 302 and 303 that will decide the fate of the Coyotes’ proposed arena and entertainment district along the south bank of the Salt River.

“I’ve been really encouraged by the high voter turnout,” Tempe Wins committee chairman and Tempe resident Nick Bastian said. “I really do feel like the high voter turnout is to our advantage. To me, that says that people are really looking at it and paying attention to the facts of the deal and how it affects all of us.”

Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer said that as of Wednesday afternoon — a day after the mail-in ballot deadline — 27,201 ballots had been returned. There are 89,575 eligible voters in Tempe, which means that 30.37 percent had turned in their ballots and Tempe was heading toward a record-breaking turnout for any special election.

A look at voting trends for the Coyotes proposal.
A look at voting trends for the Coyotes proposal.
All graphics courtesy of Sam Almy.

Tempe councilmember Randy Keating said that it has greatly aided the pro side’s campaign efforts that it enjoys so much support from experienced and knowledgeable Tempe leaders. Former Tempe mayors Harry Mitchell, Neil Giuliano, Hugh Hallman and Mark Mitchell all support the project. So do most former councilmembers, including Onnie Shekerjian, Robin Arredondo-Savage, Shana Ellis, Pam Goronkin, Joseph Lewis, Don Cassano, Linda Spears, Barbara Carter, Joe Spracale, Pam Goronkin, Hut Hutson and Dennis Cahill.

In addition, the entire current city council supports the deal (it voted 7-0 in favor of sending it to referendum). So do numerous community leaders including the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, Firefighters Local 493, Carpenters Union-Arizona Local 1912, Tempe Tourism President and CEO Michael Martin, Michael Monti, the former owner of Monti’s La Casa Vieja, Chicanos Por La Causa CEO David Adame, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Monica Villalobos, Four Peaks Brewing Company co-founder Jim Scussel, and former Cardinals quarterback John Skelton.

“I think it speaks to the nature of the deal and the benefits to the city that you have such a broad coalition of current and former Tempe representatives, community leaders and organizations that are all urging voters to support this project,” Keating said. “This broad group of people and organizations brings a lot of credibility and a lot of inside knowledge about the city and the project itself. These are people who have served the City of Tempe.” 

Keating was critical of the Tempe Wins campaign in its early days, but he has seen the campaign ramp up its efforts with a broad approach that includes email blitzes, phone banking that included franchise icon Shane Doan, social media and mainstream media campaigns, neighborhood meetings hosted by supporters, and door-to-door canvassing that included Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo, his family, GM Bill Armstrong and numerous other Coyotes staff members.

“I think it shows their commitment and how much they want to be ingrained in this community,” Tempe Wins spokesperson Sophie O’Keefe-Zelman said. “It says a lot about the organization when you have Alex Meruelo knocking on doors, talking to every-day Tempeans and answering their questions. 

“The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honored him as man of the year on Saturday and I had to get him out of the field to get him changed for the event. He was like, ‘I love talking to people,’ and I was like, ‘I know, but let’s get you some water and get you in a tux.'”

A look at voting trends for the Coyotes proposal.
A look at voting trends for the Coyotes proposal.
A look at voting trends for the Coyotes proposal.

While the mail-in deadline for the special election has passed, voters are still permitted to drop off their ballots at designated polling places until Tuesday, before 7 p.m. daily. Until Tuesday, the Tempe History Museum, 809 E. Southern Ave., will serve as one of those sites. Its hours are weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On election day, it is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Through election day, on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Tempe voters can also drop off their completed ballot at Tempe City Hall, 31 E. Fifth St. Due to construction at City Hall, there are several free, 10-minute parking spots on the south side of Fifth Street. Residents can use those for quick ballot drop-offs. The entrance to City Hall is temporarily located at the southeast corner of the pyramid. Follow the signs to the drop-off location.

With five days remaining before the vote results are released, O’Keefe-Zelman said the Tempe Wins campaign won’t be slowing down.

“There’s a lot of votes still out there so we’re knocking on doors, we’re talking on social media or making phone calls, neighbors are hosting neighbors, there’s phone-tree activations. It really is a grassroots campaign,” she said. “But we have people power, too, and that people power and energy is what’s going to help us cross the finish line.

“Our volunteers are a great mix of fans and people that love Tempe; people that have been in the Tempe community for a long time and have seen that landfill just sit there for years. They see this as a great opportunity for the future of their city.”

Top: Artist rendering of the TED courtesy of Arizona Coyotes

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