Three of the 15 people seeking election to Gilbert Town Council have dropped out – and the coronavirus played a role.
Two potential candidates’ aspirations were dashed by the coronavirus, which limited their ability to collect enough signatures by deadline to qualify for the ballot.
The mayor and three council seats are up for grabs in the Aug. 4 primary. Each potential candidate must collect at least 1,000 valid signatures on their nomination petitions by April 6.
Traditional spots for collecting signatures, such as public gathering places, are now off-limits as they are considered potential hotbeds for spreading COVID-19.
“I had to suspend it,” said Charles Jackson, who was planning to go to locations such as SanTan Mall over the weekend for signatures.
“It came down to being a father and husband,” he said. “I am not overly concerned about getting the virus but did make the decision based on the safety and welfare of my children and wife.
“It was important for me to run but not important enough for me to jeopardize the health and welfare of my family.”
Joining Jackson on the political sideline is Monique Keberlein, both seeking one of two seats that carried a four-year term. The other seat is for two years.
“I have 300 (signatures),” Keberlein said last week, “but not enough probably to make the deadline. I’m suspending the campaign.”
Tyler Hudgins said he was confident he will have enough to file his petition by deadline.
“We are actually doing great,” Hudgins said. “I’ve just been going around and not too worry about (coronavirus). It’s been good, I got more than enough (signatures).”
Sandra Reynolds, who at the last minute switched from running for mayor to Council, said she is prepared to run but suggested the April 6 deadline be extended.
“I fully believe the shutdown of all events has seriously impacted the ability to gather signatures,” Reynolds said.
“I also believe, because of this, and the fear of people to answer their doors, that the deadline to get signatures should be extended by at least 30 days for those who already have declared their intent to run,” Reynolds said, adding:
“This is most important for Gilbert, which has had, and continues to have, an almost complete turnover of the Council.
“We should not alter our ability to have candidates run because of this crisis. Choice is the basis for making our town and country the best it can be.”
Town Clerk Lisa Maxwell said the town’s hands are tied.
“When I talked to the Secretary of State last week, they said they could not make any changes since it is dictated by State Statute,” Maxwell said.
Two other council candidates said they submitted their nomination petitions last week to get on the ballot – Kathy Tilque and Busola Obayomi.
Tilque said she was able to collect over 1,600 signatures.
“Fortunately, I was able to gather my signatures over time and have essentially been done for a month, so I wasn’t impacted by the cancellation of events as other candidates have been,” said Tilque, the president and CEO of Gilbert Chamber of Commerce. She will retire from that position June 30.
Obayomi said he gave his petitions to the Town Clerk with 1,135 signatures, having started the process in October. “Yes, corona would have slowed me down in collecting signatures if I have waited until now,” he said. “I utilized friends and acquaintances to get signatures.”
Incumbent Scott Peterson said he’s in good shape, stating “I distributed my petitions and had people working on them prior to this current craziness.”
“I have just over the minimum 1,000 right now, but I would like to have about 1,200-1,300. I am collecting the petitions that are still out and it looks like I will be in the 1,200-1,300 range.”
Four people filed statements of interest for the two-year Council seat – Laurin Hendrix, Robert Ferron, Bill Spence and Yung Koprowski. The seat was vacated by Eddie Cook, who was appointed Maricopa County assessor in February.
Spence, said he was doing “extremely well” in getting signatures. He was appointed temporarily to Cook’s seat last week until it’s filled by election.
“It’s slowed down the last few days but I have a great team of neighbors knocking on doors and things are going well,” Spence said.
“As soon as I filed the letter of intent, we made a concerted effort from day one to do as much as we could. The progress we made in the first week and half more than made up for any shortcoming the coronavirus has. We are on track to (file) within the next week.”
Koprowski, who filed her intent to run for the seat last week admitted it will be an uphill effort to qualify for the race, given her late entry and the coronavirus.
“I’m giving it a good effort,” she said. “I have a lot of people helping me too. Primarily, I have been distributing signature forms to friends throughout the community and hoping that they are able to collect a few signatures from their neighbors and friends they may be in touch with. I’ve been going door-to-door in my own neighborhood and I’m asking people to come to me. I don’t want to offend anyone at this time.”
Koprowski was one of eight finalists for appointment to the seat.
Hendrix said he intended to file his papers.
“The coronavirus concerns have affected everyone’s ability to get signatures,” he said. But “I don’t anticipate having a problem obtaining the necessary signatures.”
Ferron last week said he’s no longer seeking the seat after he was not chosen as a finalist for a nine-month appointment to Cook’s seat.
My decision was based on time and effort needed to collect enough signatures,” he said, adding:
“I had signaled my desire to run, and applied for the vacant Town Council appointed seats, when I was not chosen as a finalist, I decided that instead, I will run when I have adequate time and support. I am looking to run in 2022 or 2024.”
In the mayor’s race, Matt Nielsen filed March 2, much later than the other candidates to begin collecting signatures but was determined nonetheless. Mayor Jenn Daniels announced in February she was not seeking re-election.
“Signature collection is going very well, but I am concerned that without online petition signing available we’re unnecessarily exposing Gilbert citizens during a time when we’re all trying to be careful and safe,” Nielsen said.
Three others running for the position also intend to meet the deadline.
“We are doing well,” Gary Livacari said. “We’re definitely seeing less traffic out there but the good news for us is we already collected 1,000 signatures before the virus became a public problem. Right now, we are trying to cushion the signature count.”
He said he’s no longer going to public places like he has before looking for the signatures.
“We are spending lot of our time talking to people in targeted ways, going to their homes, asking if we can come over if they are comfortable with us coming over and maybe invite some of their friends over to sign petitions so it’s more target instead of out in the public as we have been doing,” he said. “It’s a shame this has had to happen.”
King Smith was hopeful in her bid for office. “We are doing real well, honestly,” she said. “I don’t know what’s ahead in the coming days and how comfortable we will be knocking on doors and asking for signatures.
“So far people understand it’s the only way to get that done for the ballot. But we are on track, over half way there.”
Peterson, who will have to resign from Council when she filed her nomination petition, said she’s not collected signatures at large events, instead holding successful signing events with other candidates.
“I’m in the process of reaching out to friends and supporters carrying petitions and as such I don’t have a count right now,” Peterson said. “I’m definitely working on a comfortable buffer. I also have a local coffee shop offering to host me so I will be doing that too, as long as businesses are open.”
She noted she and her volunteers also are taking precautions by carrying wipes for pens and clipboards.
Those seeking to run for state Legislature or any statewide office like Corporation Commission can tell supporters to go online to the Secretary of State’s website at apps.azsos.gov/equal, where they can sign their candidate’s petition.
Groups seeking to get an initiative proposal on the November ballot must collect signatures by hand. Save Our Schools, pushing an initiative to limit private school vouchers, conducted a drive-by petition signing at a Mesa strip mall with volunteers wearing gloves and sanitizing pens.