One independent candidate bounced another independent out of the Tucson mayoral race on Thursday, leaving voters with at least four candidates to choose from.
Zach Yentzer was disqualified in a ruling by Pima County Superior Court Judge Gary Cohen after Ed Ackerley sued, saying Yentzer lacked the petition signatures needed to get his name on the ballot.
Both men were running as independents to challenge incumbent mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat who is completing her first four-year term and seeking reelection.
Primary Election Day is Aug. 1, The deadline to register to vote is July 3. None of the candidates have primary challengers, so eyes are on General Election Day, Nov. 7.
Yentzer said in a statement that he turned in “nearly 4,000” nomination petition signatures, and the City Clerk’s Office accepted 3,864 of them.
An independent candidate would need 2,952 valid and accepted signatures to qualify for the ballot. Ackerley challenged a number of the petition pages Yentzer turned in and won in court. Some of the objections to signatures included signers whose voter registration didn’t match the address they wrote on the petition, voters who signed more than one candidate’s petition, missing dates or missing verification signatures.
In all, 1,359 signatures were invalid, according to court records, leaving Yentzer short of the amount needed.
Ackerley turned in 4,700 signatures and 4,543 were accepted, he said on Friday.
Independent candidates have a higher number of required signatures than party candidates in the city’s process. Romero qualified for the primary ballot with 3,961 signatures. Republican candidate Janet Wittenbraker qualified with 2,593 signatures, and Libertarian Arthur Kerschen with 40 signatures.
Yentzer issued a statement by email and social media Thursday night.
“It is with sadness our team shares today’s news,” he said, “but our tomorrow is filled with purpose and intent to continue working towards the direction for Tucson that fueled our campaign from the beginning.”
He declined to comment for this story, as did Romero.
Yentzer had filed paperwork for candidacy in July 2022 and kicked off his campaign on Jan. 4 with a speech in the Menlo Park neighborhood, where he was previously president of the neighborhood association. He’s currently the executive director of Tucson Young Professionals. Some voters are familiar with his perspectives on a variety of issues because he hosted a live radio talk show about civic life in Tucson.
Romero was Tucson’s first Latina mayor, as well as the only Latina mayor in the nation’s 50 largest cities when she was elected in 2019. Prior to being elected to lead the city, the daughter of immigrant farmworkers served as Ward 1 City Council member from 2007-2019. Her background is in neighborhood reinvestment and youth mentorship.
Ackerley, an advertising executive, declared his candidacy for mayor in May 2022. This is his second time running for mayor against Romero. In the 2019 election, Romero won about 56% of votes and Ackerley about 40%.
Ackerley was previously registered as a Democrat before running for mayor. Independents can choose which party ballot they want to vote in a primary election and Ackerley typically chooses the Republican ballot.
His political alignment is “right down the middle,” Ackerley said, joking that he’s “a Kennedy Republican and a Reagan Democrat.”
About 32% of registered voters in Pima County are registered as independent of a political party. And Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema changed her party registration from Democrat to independent in December.
Republican candidate Wittenbraker is a subcontracts administrator at a major defense and information technology firm and a former executive assistant in the city manager’s office. She said she’s “not terribly concerned” about the independent candidates.
Wittenbraker said it’s unfortunate Yentzer’s campaign ended the way it did, adding that she sent him a note.
Her own petitions were not challenged by other candidates.
Before Wittenbraker entered the race on April 3, both Ackerley and Yentzer called her and implied she shouldn’t enter the race and make the pool more crowded, potentially making the election an easier victory for Romero, she said.
“Tucson is in need of change in our city government and that’s why there are so many people on the ballot,” Wittenbraker said. “This is what democracy looks like and now it’s up to voters to decide.”
Because there is only one candidate in each party, Romero, Ackerley, Wittenbraker and Kerschen have a clear path to the ballot in November, unless a write-in candidate jumps in.