Tucson city council members Lane Santa Cruz and Paul Cunningham won their races in Tuesday’s primary election and will move on to the general election in November.

Unofficial results show the two incumbents ahead of their challengers, Miguel Ortega and Lisa Nutt.

The voter turnout for the mail-in election was about 18%, higher than other city council primaries in recent years. In total, 52,851 ballots were cast by mail.

There has been unprecedented outside spending in this city election cycle, including: 

  • About $92,000 from the Arizona Multihousing Association and the National Association of Realtors Fund to support Nutt, a real estate agent.
  • Nearly $80,000 from political action committees Mijente AZ and Working Families Party to support Santa Cruz and $11,490 from the Arizona Prosperity Initiative to support her opponent, Ortega.
  • About $76,000 so far from Living United for Change to support Mayor Regina Romero’s reelection campaign.

Santa Cruz, the representative for Ward 1, now faces Republican candidate Victoria Lem in the general election in November as she seeks a second four-year term on the council.

And Cunningham, the representative for Ward 2, now faces Republican candidate Ernie Shack and Libertarian candidate Pendleton Spicer as he seeks a fourth — and he says final — four-year term on the council.

This is also an election year for Tucson Mayor Romero and Ward 4 city council member Nikki Lee. Both ran unopposed in the primary, so their races are kicking off now.

Tucson has an unusual election system. Voters in the primary can only vote for city council candidates in their own party and in the ward in which they live. Then, in the general election, voters citywide can punch the ballot on the complete slate of candidates in all parties and all wards. The mayor is elected citywide.

Having a city election in an odd year is also unusual in Arizona. Only Tucson and Prescott are holding city-level elections in 2023.

Who and what will be on the November ballot?

🗳️ Election Day is Nov. 7. Register to vote.

Tucson will elect:

All of the positions are 4-year terms.

In November, Tucsonans also will vote on whether the city council members should be paid more, and some voters will have school district budget overrides or bond questions on their ballots.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero speaks at a news conference on Aug. 11, 2022 about the projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Credit: Michael McKisson for Arizona Luminaria

Who is running for mayor?

Janet Wittenbraker Credit: Courtesy Janet Wittenbraker

Romero — the first woman and first Latina elected to this office — was the only Latina mayor in the nation’s 50 largest cities when she was elected in 2019. She was a city council member for three terms before becoming mayor.

Romero and the Republican candidate Wittenbraker were unopposed in their parties’ primary elections, so both advance to the general election.

Ed Ackerley Credit: Courtesy of Ackerley for Mayor campaign

The independent candidate, Ackerley, joins them in the race. Independent candidates are not included in the partisan primary election cycle.

This is Ackerley’s 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 as an independent candidate.

What would you ask the candidates for Tucson mayor?

Arizona Luminaria wants to hear your thoughts and ideas as we plan coverage that helps you stay informed, advocate, and vote in 2023. Reach us at info@azluminaria.org.

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Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.