By: Robert Leger
The Arizona Republic
Scottsdale City Councilman Bob Littlefield is thinking about challenging Mayor Jim Lane in this year’s election, raising doubt among skeptics and amazement about how these onetime allies became foes.
For a Littlefield-Lane race to happen, 2012 will have to be different than 2008. And it would be good to remember the two were never more than allies of convenience.
Turn back to the last mayoral election.
Littlefield had been pressing since 2006 for someone to take on Mayor Mary Manross. Lane answered the call, declaring his candidacy in January 2008. Littlefield’s response? Within hours, he said he, too, was thinking about running.
Allies? That’s not how friends treat each other. Even after backing out a month later, Littlefield continued disparaging Lane. “I was hoping others would show up,” he said in April.
He didn’t endorse Lane until Aug. 12, as early voting began. Lane wasn’t Manross. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
For the next two years, though, the two worked closely.
“I’m going to apply the same standard to Jim that I applied to Mary and that I would apply to anybody in that chair,” Littlefield said shortly after the election. “When he’s right, I’ll be with him. When he’s wrong, I won’t.”
At first, they shared common goals: They wanted an independent city treasurer and a new city attorney. They pushed greater fiscal conservatism into the city charter. They pulled the city out of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. They agreed on so many issues they could finish each others’ sentences at council meetings.
Lane endorsed Littlefield in 2010 and tracked results at his home.
But Lane was about to go “wrong” in Littlefield’s world.
The mayor voted for tall buildings that Littlefield declared the ruin of Scottsdale’s special character.
They clashed over budget issues, a topic on which they were once united. Lane made peace with SkySong and the chamber; Littlefield could not join him. They poked each other at council meetings. A Lane confidant resigned as chairman of a city commission over a difference with Lane. Littlefield promptly reappointed the man.
But Littlefield repeated the refrain he began in 2008.
“The more intelligent choice is for me to stay where I am and fight for what I believe is right,” he said in May. “If I’m upset with what Jim is doing, it does not automatically lead to going out and running against him.”
So what changed in seven months?
“No one else is stepping up to the plate,” Littlefield said. “Maybe I’d be better off being mayor than a lone voice on the council.”
Plenty of political observers doubt he’ll follow through, that this is another stunt as in 2008. But there is a major difference: Littlefield created an exploratory committee. He’s raising money.
“I wanted people to know I’m serious, and this isn’t just monkeying with the system,” he said.
That makes it harder to step away from a race and retain credibility.
Littlefield criticizes Lane as vociferously as he did Manross four years ago. But this time, no one else will challenge the incumbent, especially with Lane having raised $120,000.
It’s Littlefield or an uncontested race.
Littlefield, loved by activists who can mount a grass-roots campaign, may be the only person in town able to mount a credible campaign against such long financial odds.
So, don’t be surprised if Littlefield follows through this time. But drop the ally vs. ally narrative. The better story is whether the councilman wants to be more than the boy who cried wolf.