FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ — Joe Arpaio, the 90-year-old former Phoenix metro sheriff who was ousted in 2016 by voters frustrated with his headline-grabbing tactics and legal troubles, has narrowed his opponent’s lead in the race for mayor of the affluent suburb where he has lived for more than two decades.
But the former six-term Republican sheriff of Maricopa County was still trailing Wednesday in his bid to unseat Ginny Dickey, a Democrat serving her second term as mayor of Fountain Hills on the edge of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Arpaio, who is attempting his third comeback attempt since being voted out as sheriff, said he was waiting for ballots that were dropped off at polling places on Tuesday to be counted. The race was too close to call, but he said he believes those voters will strongly support him.
“It’s going to be very close," Arpaio predicted. "Very close.”
Dickey said she was cautiously optimistic that about her prospects of winning.
“I have been through many races before that turned around,” said Dickey, who previously served on a school board and on the Fountain Hills Town Council. “I want to wait until every single vote is counted.”
The stakes for Arpaio in the mayor’s race are far smaller than when he served as the top law enforcement officer for more than 4 million people. Now he is seeking the top leadership post in a community of about 24,000.
Arpaio was crushed by a Democratic challenger in 2016 after 24 years in office as sheriff and was convicted the next year of criminal contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants, though he was later pardoned by then-President Donald Trump.
Arpaio then finished third in a Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in 2018 and second in the GOP primary in a 2020 bid to win back the sheriff’s post.
In both of those attempts, Arpaio lost the vote in Fountain Hills.
Arpaio, a skilled political fundraiser who spent more than $12 million in his 2016 sheriff’s campaign, has shelled out $161,000 in the mayor’s race — six times the amount spent by Dickey.
Dickey said that when she first learned Arpaio was running against her, she was unsure how his candidacy would affect the race. She ultimately concluded that it didn’t change it very much except that he has a fundraising advantage and notoriety and she did not change her campaigning.
Before the federal government and the courts stripped away his immigration powers, Arpaio led 20 large-scale traffic patrols that targeted immigrants and more than 80 business raids to bust people working in the United States without permission.
While his defiant streak played well with voters for many years, Arpaio faced heavy criticism for taking on policies that he knew were controversial and racking up $147 million in taxpayer-funded legal bills.
Though he billed himself as the toughest sheriff in America, his agency botched the investigations of more than 400 sex-crimes complaints made to his office.