First Black woman elected to Chandler City Council - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

First Black woman elected to Chandler City Council

August 18th, 2020 development
First Black woman elected to Chandler City Council

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Political newcomer Christine Ellis has become Chandler’s first Black woman to be elected to a seat on the City Council.
Official results from the Aug. 4 primary election show Ellis led with 19 percent of the vote in the six-way race for three seats.
Ellis was one of three candidates who met the threshold for outright claiming a council seat without needing to face a runoff election Nov. 3.
The other two are Councilman Mark Stewart, and entrepreneur OD Harris, both of whom have earned 17 percent of the vote.
The three other candidates – Rick Heumann, incumbent Councilman Jeremy McClymonds and Beth Brizel – each trailed Harris.
Heumann and McClymonds took 16 percent of the vote and Brizel garnered 15 percent.
Even before the City Clerk declared any winners, Ellis said she already was advised the day after the Primary Election advised by Mayor Kevin Hartke and City Manager Marsha Reed that she would be joining the City Council.
Ellis garner 26.171 votes, according to official results, while Stewart got 23,794 and Harris received 23,227 in an election in which only about a third of Chandler’s registered voters cast ballots.
“It’s been a wonderful race,” Ellis said the morning after the election. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Ellis, who has primarily worked in the healthcare industry, said she’s proud to potentially add some diversity to the all-male council and make history by being the first Black woman elected to local office.
“As a Black woman, it is very important to me,” she said. “The people of Chandler felt this is the time to make it happen.”
Coy Payne was the city’s first Black resident to get elected to the council in 1983 and later served two terms as Chandler’s first and only Black mayor.
Only 10 women have served on the council over the last century – the last being Nora Ellen, who quit midway in her second term for an unsuccessful run for the state House of Representatives.
Ellis said she was not aware of any Black women attempting to run for local office in previous elections.
Chandler’s lack of diversity didn’t discourage Ellis, she said, and only motivated her to campaign harder.
“I knew I was going to be able to make history being the first Black woman to be on that council,” she said.
A native of Haiti, the candidate said she’s also is excited to represent her home country from a position of elected office.
Ellis started campaigning early on and spent the last year attending community events, hobnobbing with local leaders and staying active on social media.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t detour Ellis from her objectives and may have made her messaging more appealing to voters.
Ellis said her campaign tried to always convey a genuine and authentic message – something she thinks may have been attractive at a time when the world has been turned upside down by a global health crisis.
“People needed hope and I came across as a very hopeful person,” said Ellis, who plans to prioritize Chandler’s response to COVID-19 once she’s on the council.
Ellis didn’t make it through the election completely unscathed by critics.
An investigation into the candidate’s finances was launched last month after a Chandler resident accused her of improperly accepting campaign contributions from private businesses.
Arizona law strictly prohibits a business from financially supporting candidates and Ellis reported getting donations from local companies on her campaign spending reports.
Ellis has previously said it was not clear to her campaign team whether some of these donors were actual companies or a limited liability partnership.
She’s indicated she will return any donations that may have been improperly given.
City Clerk Dana Delong said Ellis has amended her campaign finance reports and that her office is in the process of reviewing them.
The city will then make a decision on whether any legal enforcement needs to be taken against the candidate. Those suspected of violating Arizona’s finance laws may be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor offense.
The outcome of the election appears to have signaled a desire by Chandler voters for some new perspectives onto the council.
An incumbent and a former council member were both outperformed by Ellis and Harris, two newcomers who had never run for local office before.
McClymonds, who earned 4,550 fewer votes than Ellis, had a somewhat underwhelming performance at the polls – especially considering the amount of cash his campaign has spent in recent weeks.
Finance records indicate that McClymonds spent about $41,000 – more than any other candidate – on advertising and campaign materials between April and July.
McClymonds was appointed to fill a council seat in 2018 and ran his first campaign this year. Not long after his appointment, McClymonds got to work on campaigning for re-election and gathered about $42,000 in contributions throughout 2019, records show.
Although McClymonds and Stewart often share similar viewpoints and vote the same on most matters brought before the council, Stewart garnered 2,100 more votes, according to unofficial results.
During a candidate forum sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce in May, Ellis and Harris notably disagreed with Stewart’s opinion that Chandler already offered enough public transportation options.
Stewart and McClymonds also said they would not support any future bond initiatives taken by the city, but Ellis and Harris approved of this possible prospect.
“This election cycle is very different than any other election cycle,” said Heumann, who served two terms on Council before being termed out.
He has spent the last four years in a variety of public and community activities, including chair of the city Planning and Zoning Commission and the Chamber’s public policy committee.
Heumann said for a few days was holding out hope for the prospect of a runoff election against Harris, who only had a slim margin above the threshold needed to win a majority.
But Heumann also was prepared the day after the election to accept whatever final tally is made by election officials.
The COVID-19 pandemic added some unexpected dynamics to this year’s election, Heumann said, though he added that there is nothing he would have done differently this year about his campaign.
Heumann said he’s the type of candidate who enjoys knocking on doors and meeting strangers at community events – activities that suddenly became impossible when the pandemic hit and residents were encouraged to stay home.
The civil unrest recently seen across the country as a result of Black Lives Matter protests could have additionally swayed the decision of some local voters to seek more diverse candidates, Heumann added.
“I can’t speak for the voters exactly but that obviously had some kind of an influence,” he said.
Another factor impacting this year’s election could have been turnout, which was slightly higher than the 2018 primary election. About 45,500 ballots were cast two years ago in Chandler city races and this year voters turned in more than 55,615 ballots.
Councilman Sam Huang, who chose to run for a seat in Congress instead of another term on the council, ended Election Night nearly 30-percentage points behind Dave Giles in the race for the Republican nomination in Arizona’s 9th Congressional District. Huang’s council term will conclude at the end of this year.