Joe Arpaio, the 90-year-old former metro Phoenix sheriff ousted by voters disenchanted with his tactics and legal troubles, is attempting another political comeback as he runs for mayor of the affluent suburb where he has lived for more than two years. decades.
The stakes for Arpaio in Tuesday’s election are far lower than when he served as the top law enforcement officer for 4 million people as Maricopa County Sheriff for six terms.
Now he’s trying to unseat Ginny Dickey, the two-term Democratic mayor of Fountain Hills, a community of about 24,000 Republicans on the edge of Phoenix.
“My secret weapon has always been: Go to the people,” Arpaio said. “You sure need that to get elected in a small town.”
Dickey said when she first learned Arpaio was running against her, she wasn’t sure how his candidacy would affect the race. She ultimately concluded that she didn’t change it much, except that she has a fundraising and reputation advantage and didn’t change her campaign.
“I think I’ve run the same way I always have,” Dickey said.
Nearly six years out of office, Arpaio acknowledged that it’s getting harder to get his political message out. But Arpaio rejects criticism that he should leave public life.
“I’m still in good health and will continue to fight for what the world needs,” Arpaio said. “It can be crazy. What else is there?”
Arpaio was defeated by a Democratic challenger in 2016 after 24 years in office as sheriff and was convicted the following year of criminal contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s order to stop traffic police officers targeting immigrants, though he was later pardoned by then President Donald Trump.
Arpaio then finished third in a Republican primary for a 2018 U.S. Senate seat and second in a GOP primary in a 2020 bid to win back the sheriff’s seat.
In both of those efforts, Arpaio lost the Fountain Hills vote.
Like Arpaio, Dickey is a longtime member of the community. He previously served on the Fountain Hills school board and city council.
Arpaio, an accomplished political fundraiser who spent more than $12 million on the 2016 sheriff’s campaign, has spent $161,000 in the mayoral race — six times what Dickey spent.
Before the federal government and the courts stripped him of his immigration powers, Arpaio led 20 large-scale patrols targeting immigrants and more than 80 business raids to root out people working in the United States without permission.
While his defiant streak played well with voters for years, Arpaio faced heavy criticism for adopting policies he knew were controversial and racked up $147 million in taxpayer-funded legal bills.
Although he billed himself as America’s toughest sheriff, his agency blocked investigations into more than 400 sex-crime complaints made in his office.
Arpaio said he’s not worried about his past haunting him in the mayoral race.
“All that baggage didn’t make a difference, except in 2016. But I had baggage in 2012 — big baggage,” Arpaio said. “And he was re-elected.”