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City of Tempe pulls out of candidate forum, accusing organizers of bias

(Facebook Photo/AZ Youth Climate Strike)

PHOENIX – The city of Tempe pulled out of a mayoral and city council candidate forum scheduled for Wednesday because of bias allegedly shown by an organizing group, but the event has been relocated.

Tempe City Attorney Judi Baumann told Arizona Youth Climate Strike the city-sponsored debate might violate a state law barring municipalities from using resources to influence elections.

The city said Monday the decision was made because members of the climate activist group have made social media posts showing a bias against certain candidates.

The event had been scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Tempe History Museum and would have been televised on the city’s cable channel.

The Arizona Youth Climate Strike said Wednesday the forum would instead be held at Community Christian Church, 1701 S. College Ave., at the previously scheduled time. The group said it was contacting the candidates to see if they would still attend.

Arizona Youth Climate Strike, March For Our Lives ASU and Poder in Action are co-hosting the event focusing on issues facing Tempe’s youth.

Before relocating the event, Arizona Youth Climate Strike denied the allegation of candidate bias and asked Tempe to reconsider, saying the city misinterpreted a single meme posted on the personal account of one of its members.

The group said the meme was in response to its members being told to remove environmental and social justice messages written on their faces at Tempe’s MLK Diversity Award event Jan. 17. The city apologized for its actions later that day.

The group said the city treated the meme, which used the phrase “status quo Tempe Mayoral/Council Candidates,” as opposition to incumbent candidates, but it was intended as a specific response to the award event incident.

“This tweet does not reflect the entirety of Arizona Youth Climate Strike and was misinterpreted by the city of Tempe in reference to the use of the phrase ‘status quo,’” the group said Monday in a press release.

“The ‘status quo’ is not any one person or policy, it is an institution that both incumbents and newcomers can serve to reinforce and benefit from.”

In October 2019, Tempe solicited community groups to organize candidate forums on three dates in January and February. Wednesday was the second date offered. Another city-sponsored debate is scheduled for Feb. 19.

The mayoral race has two candidates, with Corey Woods challenging incumbent Mark Mitchell.

Five candidates are running for three council seats: incumbents Randy Keating and Joel Navarro along with Casey Clowes, Doreen Garlid and Marc Norman.

The primary election will be held March 10, with the general election set for May 19.

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