PHOENIX — Beaten in his last three elections, former six-term Sheriff Joe Arpaio is attempting another comeback, this time running for mayor of the affluent Phoenix suburb where he has lived for the last two decades.
The former lawman on Tuesday announced his entry in the 2022 mayor’s race in Fountain Hills, a town of about 25,000 people on the northeastern edge of metro Phoenix.
After getting crushed by a Democratic challenger in 2016 after 24 years as sheriff, Arpaio finished third in a Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in 2018 and second in the GOP primary in his 2020 bid to win back the sheriff’s post. In both comeback attempts, Arpaio lost the vote in Fountain Hills.
In an interview, Arpaio said his last comeback bids failed because he entered those races too late in the election cycle and that his early entry in the mayor’s race is an attempt to avoid the same fate.
He rejects criticism that he should walk away from public life. The 89-year-old said he remains in good health and wants to push a pro-business agenda on behalf of the town. “It’s not in me to retire,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio, a skilled political fundraiser who spent more than $12 million in his 2016 sheriff’s campaign, has $284,000 in campaign money, according to his latest campaign finance reports.
Arpaio was voted out as sheriff in 2016 amid voter frustration over his headline-grabbing tactics and legal troubles, including his disobedience of a judge’s 2011 order to stop his traffic patrols that led to his 2017 criminal contempt of court conviction, which was pardoned by then-President Donald Trump.
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.
Fountain Hills doesn’t operate a police department and instead contracts with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
Arpaio and businessman Kelly Smith are the only candidates to file paperwork so far with the town expressing interest in the mayor’s race. Though she hasn’t yet filed such paperwork, incumbent Mayor Ginny Dickey said she will be seeking re-election next year.