Jan 20, 2023 - Politics

Matt Salmon and Scott Smith are considering a run for Mesa mayor

Matt Salmon (left) in 2021 and Scott Smith in 2013. Photos: Brandon Bell/Getty Images) Scott Smith and Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Once-sleepy Mesa has captured the attention of two big-name former politicians.

What's happening: Former Congressman Matt Salmon and former Mesa Mayor both tell Axios Phoenix they are seriously considering running for mayor of the Valley's largest suburb. Both are Republicans.

State of play: Mesa is the 36th-largest city in the country, per census data, with populations bigger than Kansas City and Atlanta.

  • Yes, but: For most of its existence, it was just considered the quiet, conservative sibling of Phoenix.

However, that's changed in the past decade, as the city has invested in public transportation, redeveloped its downtown and added significant employment centers.

  • The city's next leader will decide whether to continue that trajectory.

Meet Matt: Salmon is a former state legislator who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001 and again from 2013 to 2017. He was the Republican nominee for governor in 2002 and ran in the GOP primary for governor last year before dropping out in June.

  • Salmon tells Axios Phoenix that Mesa has "moved in a very positive direction" in the last few years but that more needs to be done in terms of economic development, including coordinating with other East Valley cities and improving the downtown and Fiesta Mall areas.
  • Though he's always held partisan offices and was a founding member of the conservative Freedom Caucus in Congress, Salmon says he likes the idea of being in a nonpartisan or bipartisan arena.

Meet Scott: Smith served as Mesa's mayor from 2008 to 2014, when he resigned to run for governor. He then served as CEO of Valley Metro from 2016 until last year.

  • Smith tells us he believes that many of the positive changes Mesa has experienced over the past several years were byproducts of what he helped start during his previous tenure.
  • "I feel this need to maybe see that upward motion continue. That's got me really seriously considering whether to jump back in or not."

Of note: District 1 council member Mark Freeman has been floating the possibility of running for mayor as well.

  • Freeman is a farmer and former paramedic for the Mesa Fire Department. He's served on council since 2017.
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