Peoria mayoral candidate wants to continue her history of service. What voters should know about Bridget Binsbacher
Taylor Seely - Arizona Republic
"Bridget Binsbacher still remembers the day her mom took her and her siblings for ice cream — and then didn't have enough money to pay the bill.
She was maybe 6.
The trip to the ice cream shop near their home in San Diego was memorable, Binsbacher said, because her single mom typically struggled just to put gas in the car. And because she had to tell the cashier to take back the already licked ice cream cone.
The cashier did.
With an adult's perspective, Binsbacher wonders why the cashier didn't work with the family to see how much money they did have. But she also says it's the kind of moment that builds strength, coping skills and a sense of accountability.
"That’s how you get your fight," she said.
Binsbacher says despite her mom's struggles, financially and otherwise, she constantly encouraged her children to break the cycle and do better than the generation before.
That was hit home by her grandparents who she spent summers with in Phoenix. Her grandfather came to the U.S. from Mexico through a program for farm fieldworkers and her grandma was a wet nurse for Indigenous families.
She described her grandfather as a conservative man who condemned any sort of financial assistance, which ruled out college. He encouraged her to go into banking, which he viewed as a trusted and respected field.
Not long after high school she did, moving to Tucson and getting her foot in the door as a bank teller. She would spend more than 20 years in finance, working her way up to vice president operations manager for Johnson Bank.
Along the way, she learned to balance a career with motherhood. It was watching her son play youth baseball that built a relationship with Peoria Diamond Club, a nonprofit that provides volunteers to run the Peoria Sports Complex and uses its share of the revenue to support area youth groups.
In 2008, she became executive director of the Diamond Club and grew interested in city government, serving on a few boards and commissions and eventually the City Council.
Her interest in baseball remained. She become executive director of the Cactus League, which works with spring training ballparks throughout metro Phoenix. Some, including her competitor in the Nov. 8 mayoral election, Jason Beck, say her job is a conflict of interest since the city owns and spends money on its spring training ballpark.
Binsbacher rejects that assertion since the Cactus League doesn't earn revenue from the ballpark. However, if elected, she says she plans to resign from the job to be a full-time mayor for the growing city that is closing in on 200,000 residents.
Binsbacher has sought to establish herself as the experienced candidate with “respectful conservative values” who can hit the ground running, as her challenger has sought to carve out a position for himself as a changemaker more adept at getting things done given his background as a business owner.
Binsbacher is campaigning on the idea that residents are satisfied with the city's high quality of life, parks and open space, and the promise that she would focus on responsible growth when attracting good jobs.
She says serving at the local level is a symbiotic relationship; when you make residents' lives better, you make your life better.
“You live, worship, educate, walk, shop (and) socialize with the people you serve. Your world is their world. We all win. I mean just by serving others, it makes my life better,” Binsbacher said.
Binsbacher and Beck are engaged in one of the most contentious, expensive and partisan mayoral races in the city's history.
Learn about the opposing candidate:A closer look into Peoria mayoral candidate Jason Beck
Is there a conflict?
Questions over conflicts of interest between Binsbacher's job and an elected post in the city first surfaced during her campaign against then-Councilmember Ben Toma nearly a decade ago.
At the time, Toma, now a state lawmaker supporting her opponent in the mayoral race, proposed barring the leaders of nonprofits that receive city funding from participating in local politics, though the measure never gained traction.
Back then, Binsbacher was the paid director of the Peoria Diamond Club, which gets a portion of its money from the city for work done at the spring training ballpark.
Binsbacher said she would resign from her job with the Diamond Club if elected to the council, The Arizona Republic reported at the time. She won office in 2015 and, a year later, won a full four-year term. She said she transitioned to part-time contract work with the nonprofit and resigned in 2017.
She remained involved with the Cactus League, as the first woman to serve on its executive board and becoming the group's first executive director in 2019.
Two years later, questions of a conflict again surfaced, this time by Councilmember Denette Dunn who has since endorsed Beck.
Dunn raised the concern in June 2021 as the City Council was voting on an issue related to Peoria's spring training ballpark.
“It is a direct conflict of interest,” Dunn said, for Binsbacher to vote on anything related to the sports complex since "her employer directly benefits from funding." Dunn also pointed to a subsidy that Binsbacher and the council had approved for Stadium Point, a commercial project planned near the ballpark.
The Cactus League, which promotes spring training baseball and maintains relationships with the 15 Major League ball clubs training in Arizona, does not get any cut of funding from Peoria's spring training operations.
The Cactus League's operating money comes from private fundraising, the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA) and membership dues paid by participating cities, according to Kristen Pflipsen, a spokesperson for AZSTA and the Cactus League.
The city's annual membership fee is $3,000 — and doesn't require council approval, Peoria spokesperson Briana Cortinas said.
Vanessa Hickman, the city attorney, said at that June meeting that it was Binsbacher’s duty to declare a conflict of interest if she had one, but that “based on what I heard this evening, I don’t see a conflict of interest.”
Binsbacher said she would recuse herself from voting if there were ever a conflict, but there hadn’t been one so far.
Dunn filed a complaint against Binsbacher with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, saying she wanted legal clarity.
Binsbacher said the Attorney General's Office decided not to pursue the complaint because "there was no merit" to it.
The Attorney General's Office did not respond to The Republic's request for comment.
The Peoria Sports Complex opened in 1994 on 83rd Avenue, just south of Bell Road, an area now known as P83 that is lined with numerous restaurants.
In the years since then, the city has continued to put money into the ballpark. For example, in 2012 — three years before Binsbacher was first elected to council — city leaders agreed to spend $48 million on ballpark upgrades to keep the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners' through 2034.
The city spent about $5.5 million operating the Peoria Sports Complex last year, while it brought in about $2 million in revenue, according to the 2023 budget. City officials often tout the indirect benefit that comes through sales taxes from spring training attendees eating, shopping or staying at hotels in the city.
A 2018 report by Arizona State University pegged spring training's economic impact across Arizona at $644 million.
Experience built along the way
Binsbacher is a mother of four and takes pride in having built her career around her family. She lobbied for flexibility when her children were young and her baseball mom experience led to a baseball career.
She also says she put in the time to learn city government. She was intermittently involved with the Peoria Chamber of Commerce starting in 2004 and was appointed to the city's Planning Commission in 2014, recommending to the council whether to support or reject proposed developments.
She called it "great experience" that was "one step closer to council."
That opportunity came when Carlat resigned to run for mayor in 2014, but the council appointed Toma to fill the seat representing north Peoria's Mesquite District.
Binsbacher, who had sought the appointment, turned around and beat Toma at the polls in 2015.
She won reelection in 2016 and 2020, before resigning in April to run for mayor.
Binsbacher says her tenure in city government has taught her how the work can affect residents' lives, from a quality development to a community park.
"I mean, we can create jobs in our city that keep people from having to commute to Tempe for a similar job," she said, noting that is the work that motivates and inspires her.
That experience is one reason former Peoria mayor Bob Barrett says she has his support.
"It’s not easy being mayor," he said, highlighting the relationships that must be cultivated on many levels, from water to Luke Air Force Base.
“She’s smart, she knows what she’s doing," Barrett said.
Bridget also is supported by past Peoria Mayor John Keegan, former Gov. Jan Brewer, sports team owner turned developer Jerry Colangelo and more than a dozen Valley mayors, including Carlat.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said Binsbacher is "best suited to maximize the opportunity" to Peoria and the region that comes with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company under construction nearby on Loop 303 in north Phoenix.
Goodyear Mayor Joe Pizzillo praised her work advocating for transportation funds to better connect the West Valley.
Brewer called Binsbacher a "truth teller" who supports fiscal responsibility and public safety.
Beck has been endorsed by City Council members Dunn and Jon Edwards, while councilmembers Mike Finn, Vicki Hunt and Bill Patena support Binsbacher.
Finn said it’s her “passion” for the city and “intelligence” that makes him confident in her ability to lead. If there were one thing residents misconceive about her, Finn said, it’s that she’s a copy of the mayor.
The council members may not disagree much at the dais, Finn said, but that’s because they work things out ahead of time. To extrapolate the council’s agreeable presentation to mean they never disagree or that Binsbacher is a mini Carlat would be false, he said.
Binsbacher has been outspent by Beck by a 5 to 1 margin, but she says she is confident her quiet campaigning will pay off.
She’s campaigning inside people’s homes and meeting with residents multiple times a week.
Binsbacher has seven years of voting decisions, unlike her challenger who has not served in public office.
One of the council decisions, which came just after Binsbacher resigned to run for mayor, was approving a 45-acre development called The Trailhead that included restaurants and apartments at 83rd Avenue and Happy Valley Road. Critics, many of whom wore Beck for Mayor T-shirts, said they were concerned over traffic, school crowding and whether apartment dwellers would care for the community.
Binsbacher, as a council member, had worked with the developer on outreach and supported the project.
Critics questioned whether her support was influenced by the developer’s attorney, Paul Gilbert, who said he fundraised for her mayoral campaign. Gilbert and Binsbacher say the fundraising had nothing to do with The Trailhead and pointed out that she did not vote on the development.
Most recently, Dunn and Peoria resident Eva Osuna have criticized degraded road pavement and park conditions in south Peoria, raising questions over fairness to residents and whether Binsbacher’s platform to preserve open space and improve quality of life with amenities like parks applies equally to everyone.
“There’s a divide. It’s obvious,” Osuna told The Republic. “The people in north Peoria look at south Peoria residents as below them.”
Binsbacher has pushed back on talk of south Peoria and north Peoria, saying there is "one Peoria." She says she wants to offer “the same amenities and quality of services throughout our city” and “to every citizen in Peoria.”
The city's three regional parks are positioned throughout the long city.
Rio Vista Community Park was the city's first regional park near Loop 101 and Thunderbird Road in west central Peoria.
Pioneer Community Park followed in 2013 near 83rd and Olive Avenues in south Peoria.
Paloma Community Park opened in 2020 near Lake Pleasant Parkway and Dixileta Road in north Peoria.
Binsbacher, who championed the completion of Paloma Park in her 2015 and 2016 council campaigns, said she’s happy to let Beck harp on parks.
“The more they talk about, ‘Why is she so obsessed with parks,’ the more they say that out loud, the happier I am,” Binsbacher said. “People want the identity of our city to be about a quality of life that offers an outdoor, active lifestyle.”
Reach reporter Taylor Seely at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-476-6116. Follow her on Twitter @taylorseely95 or Instagram @taylor.azc."
To read the original article, visit: azcentral.com