Running for local office as an independent

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“I’ve been kind of a political junkie all of my life. I’ve enjoyed national politics and certainly local politics. I’ve been in business for 44 years and I’ve kind of watched the parade go by,” says Ed Ackerley, who ran for mayor in Tucson. “And so when the current mayor had announced that he was no longer running, I had a conversation with him and kind of made the decision that I would jump in and be part of the processes. Kind of like watching the parade go by, but now wanting to be part of the parade.”

So Ackerley decided to take it upon himself to run for office, to try to make his city better. He also had a more personal motivation for running for mayor: his family, specifically, his two young grandsons.

“Their names are Nolan and Patrick. The question is: what is Tucson going to be like in 50 years when Nolan is 57 and Patrick is 55?” Ackerley asks. “What is going to be said about the City of Tucson … 50 years from now and 70 years from now? So the personal motivation is to leave my town better than I found it.”

Ackerley ran on a platform of quality of life issues. His top campaign priorities included increasing the number of police officers and firefighters, improving local parks, and fixing Tucson roads.

But despite his eagerness and qualifications, Ackerley faced several unique challenges in his bid for office. He has never held political office before. He also ran as an independent in a city that is historically liberal and that leans Democratic. He said his decision to run as an independent was strategic and a choice that he thought would benefit him in the long run.

“Running as an independent was a choice that I made strategically,” explains Ackerley. “There is a democratic contingent here, and of course, the candidate that is running is a lifelong Democrat and it has kind of moved to that left-liberal side. I’m more of a moderate and a Republican can’t win in the City of Tucson. (We thought that) the best way for me to win is to build a coalition of all three—Democrats, Republicans and independents.”

When he wasn’t out on the campaign trail, Ackerley spent his days in his office which doubled as his campaign headquarters. He could be found working at his desk in the large open office space. A sign announcing his candidacy hung over the front door along with a purple sign with one of his campaign slogans: “Tucson, it’s pretty cool.”

The whole operation was small. There were about 40 volunteers for the campaign, and even though the team was small, Ackerley says they were incredibly dedicated. 

If he won, Ackerley would have been the first independent mayor of Tucson. He believes that Tucsonans are looking for less partisan, more moderate leaders on both the local and national level. He believes that voters care less about partisan bickering and more about politicians following through on their promises.

“So the voice of an independent who is fiscally moderate is very attractive to voters because they’re looking at this from a perspective of ‘How can we fix Tucson for the future?” argues Ackerley. “I think people are just like, ‘Please stop already? Can you please just fix the country, and fix this immigration issue; fix these issues that are causing our country to look bad in the world?’ And let’s come together. Where’s the patriotism? Where’s the oneness, the one nation under God that we are, we’re founded on? And that trickles down to the local level.”

Ackerley believed that he could use this push for moderation to his advantage. And the way he sees it, he had a realistic chance of winning a mayoral election in Tucson. But on election day, November 5th, Ackerley lost. He got almost 40 percent of the vote—pretty high for an independent candidate, but not high enough to win.

Voters who were aware of his candidacy generally responded well to his proposals, especially regarding roads and public safety, which were two key issues that Ackerley campaigned on. There was also the issue of Proposition 205, which asked Tucsonans to vote on whether or not they would like to make Tucson a sanctuary city. If the proposal had passed, it would have restricted local law enforcement officers from trying to determine a person’s immigration status or from contacting federal law enforcement agencies to do so. Ackerley was opposed to Prop 205. And on election day, 70% of voters voted no and the measure was defeated. 

Ackerley participates in a “speed dating”-style forum in Tucson. (Photo courtesy of Ackerley for Mayor).
Ackerley participates in a “speed dating”-style forum in Tucson. (Photo courtesy of Ackerley for Mayor).

“Many people are very excited about that opportunity and the ability to call ourselves a sanctuary city and help those that are less fortunate,” says Ackerley. “I’m on the other side. I don’t believe it’s in the best interest of the city to have sanctuary cities be a label that we adopt here in southern Arizona.”

In the final days leading up to the election, Ackerley had been cautiously optimistic about the outcome. He admitted that almost a year on the campaign trail had been taxing, but despite the difficulties, he still felt good about his chances of winning. 

On the night of the election, Ackerley hosted a Returns Watch Party. The event was held at St. Philip’s Plaza on the north side of Tucson. It drew about 150 people: a mix of voters, donors and campaign volunteers. Supporters milled around the courtyard where large screens displayed broadcasts from two different local news stations. The 7 p.m. deadline to drop off ballots passed and results began to trickle in around 8:00. By about 8:15, it was clear—the results were not in Ackerley’s favor.

He stood in the center of the plaza and addressed the crowd, congratulating the newly elected mayor and thanking all of his supporters for everything. He may have lost, he said, but Tucson is his city and he wasn’t planning on going anywhere.

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