As of Friday’s vote count, incumbent Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey had secured a second term with a 67-vote lead over Jennifer Smith.
Morrissey expressed gratitude for the support.
“I want to thank everyone who voted in this election,” he said. “Your vote for me confirms that we have been focusing on the issues you care about.”
The lead changed hands from election day as the county election department counted 15,115 ballots in the week’s course, 3,800 of which were mail-in ballots turned in at the polls on election day.
The race was one of the most expensive mayoral campaigns in Payson history. Morrissey spent at least $18,000 and Smith about $12,000.
During the campaign, Morrissey touted his efforts to empower citizens and his effort to curtail the power of the “good old boy” network, including longtime businesses and political leaders and especially the MHA Foundation.
The spending and the accusations drove a big turnout for a primary election. Gila County’s turnout came in close to 47.85%, compared to a turnout closer to 30% statewide.
Morrissey said he looks forward to getting back to work.
“I will advocate (for) policies and projects to improve your quality of life,” he said. “I will work to bring new economic opportunities so our children and young families can have their dreams realized here while protecting our seniors who have chosen Payson to enjoy their retirement years.”
In the coming years the town faces crucial issues, including coping with the pandemic, overhauling Firewise and building codes, jump-starting economic development, dealing with the homeless population, major initiatives on Main Street and supporting businesses struggling to survive in the face of the shutdowns and a drop in spending and a host of other issues.
Morrissey has had a reliable block of four votes during his first term — leading to a persistent council split. The final vote count in the council race will determine whether he maintains that block.
During his tenure, Morrissey created a council subcommittee that picked apart contracts on the C.C. Cragin pipeline to try to find corruption. Although the committee found few problems with the millions of dollars in contracts, Morrissey said the effort delivered on his promise of greater transparency at town hall.
The council majority Morrissey led also removed longtime town staff, including former Town Manager LaRon Garrett. Morrissey also put a lot of new faces on town boards and committees.
Also during his first term, Morrissey faced a recall triggered both by Garrett’s firing and the increasingly bitter dispute with the MHA Foundation.
It didn’t help that the MHA Foundation has spent nearly a decade to convince Arizona State University to build a campus in town.
Morrissey and other council members criticized the effort to build a university, maintaining the money from the sale of the hospital should have gone to the town, sought to dissolve the town’s links to the university project and criticized the MHA Foundation board members like Smith and former Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
Morrissey also led efforts to address the homeless issue. He successfully launched a homeless warming center during the winter that provided a hot meal, shower and warm bed for those who needed it.
That effort will continue with his next term.
Morrissey’s campaign message that voters should give him another two years to force open the doors of town hall and conclude a series of proposed reforms seems to have awarded him a win.
Major initiatives under way include efforts to improve Main Street, a plan to spend millions on a second access from the highway to Main Street, adding a splash pad water feature to Green Valley Park and other plans.
He has plans to stimulate economic development to bring more high-paying jobs to Payson and work with developers to create affordable housing.
To top it off, Morrissey hopes to tighten up the contract process to ensure “a level playing field for all.”
“Thanks to your contributions over the years, we are poised to realize our full potential through new and bold moves,” he said. “I am humbled that you have chosen me to lead the way. I earnestly seek your input as we provide ‘Government by, of and for the people.’”
Contact Morrissey at firstname.lastname@example.org.