PHOENIX — Democrat Greg Stanton defeated Republican Wes Gullett on Tuesday to become the new mayor of Phoenix after a campaign that focused heavily on pulling the nation's sixth largest city out its economic and foreclosure slump.
The 41-year-old former City Council member replaces Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat who has been the city's top leader since 2004 but is ineligible to run again because of the city's two-term limit.
Stanton had captured 56 percent of the vote in Tuesday's runoff election, while Gullett had nearly 44 percent.
Stanton served nine years on the City Council before resigning in February 2009 to accept a job as a top official in the state Attorney General's Office. Stanton, who is a lawyer, has since left the Attorney General's Office.
Stanton has vowed to be Phoenix's "education mayor" and diversify the city's economy so that it isn't so vulnerable to volatile swings like it experienced during the boom and bust of the housing market.
"Our vision is about helping our small businesses thrive and lifting up our entrepreneurs and innovators so we can create the jobs of the future," Stanton said in a speech to supporters.
As a City Council member, he was an advocate for getting the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which is devoted to studying the genetic makeup of disease-causing pathogens, to locate in Phoenix. He pushed for getting Arizona State University to open a downtown campus and locating a new University of Arizona medical school there. He also proposed the city's 2007 ban on text-messaging while driving.
The city's mayoral elections are traditionally nonpartisan, but party politics were under the surface as a field of seven primary candidates was narrowed to Stanton and Gullett. The race was more vigorous this year because no incumbent was seeking the office and the financial pain that people have felt has upped the stakes.
Phoenix is among America's cities that are hardest hit by the housing crisis. The city has been dogged by home foreclosures, and housing prices have reached their lowest points since the housing bust more than four years ago. And the unemployment rate has hovered around 8 percent this year for Phoenix and the surrounding cities that make up the metro area.
The election broke a city record for voter turnout with 27 percent of Phoenix's registered voters casting ballots. The 160,000 votes cast on Tuesday broke the previous record of 143,000 set in 1989.
David Berman, senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said Gullett couldn't corral enough from Republicans who had been eliminated earlier in the race and suffered from Stanton's criticism that his opponent was a lobbyist who wouldn't look out for the people's interests.
"Stanton was pretty well known and had good party support," Berman said. "I think Gullett was probably not well known, and the people who thought of him often thought of him as a lobbyist."
Stanton said his priorities included improving funding for early childhood education and making after-school programs based more on academics. He also aims to make the city's economy more diverse with a focus on technology and health care jobs, rather than relying on growth on the desert's edge as was done in the past.
Gullett, a former aide to Sen. John McCain and now a partner in a political consulting firm that does lobbying work, ran on a platform of job creation, repealing a sales tax on groceries, lowering water rates and overhauling compensation for city employees.
Gullett accused the former City Council member of being a status-quo career politician who's out of touch with people's need to make ends meet.
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Gullett campaign, said the Republican candidate conceded the race to Stanton and wouldn't likely speak to reporters Tuesday night about his loss.
Scarpinato said Gullett was proud that his message of shaking up City Hall left its mark on the race. "It was a dialogue that we needed to have and wouldn't have otherwise have had," Gullett said.