PHOENIX (AP) — Joe Arpaio, the 90-year-old former Phoenix subway sheriff who was impeached in 2016 by voters frustrated by his headline-grabbing tactics and legal troubles, has narrowed his opponent’s lead in the race for mayor of the affluent suburb where he lived for more than two decades.
But the former Maricopa County Republican sheriff, who has lasted six terms in office, was left behind on Wednesday in his bid to oust Ginny Dickey, a Democrat who served her second term as mayor of Fountain Hills on the fringe of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Arpaio, who is making his third comeback attempt since he was voted out of office as sheriff, said he was waiting for the ballots to be counted at polling stations Tuesday. The race was too close to mention, but he said he believes those voters will strongly support him.
“It will be very close,” Arpaio predicted. “Very close.”
Dickey said she was cautiously optimistic about her chances of winning.
“I went through a lot of racing before that changed,” said Dickey, who previously served on a school board and on Fountain Hills Town Council. “I want to wait for every vote to be counted.”
The stakes for Arpaio in the mayor’s race are much smaller than when he was the top law enforcement officer for more than 4 million people. Now he is seeking the top leadership position in a community of approximately 24,000 people.
Arpaio was crushed by a Democratic challenger in 2016 after serving 24 years as sheriff and was convicted the following year of criminal contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s order to stop traffic patrols targeting immigrants, though he was later pardoned by then-President Donald Trump.
Arpaio went on to finish third in a 2018 Republican primaries for a seat in the U.S. Senate and second in the GOP primaries in 2020 in a bid to reclaim the sheriff’s office.
In both attempts, Arpaio lost the ballot in Fountain Hills.
Arpaio, a veteran political fundraiser who spent more than $12 million in his sheriff’s 2016 campaign, has earned $161,000 in the mayor’s race, six times the amount Dickey spent.
Dickey said that when she learned that Arpaio was up against her, she wasn’t sure how his candidacy would affect the race. She eventually concluded that it didn’t change much except that he has a fundraising advantage and fame and she didn’t change her campaigns.
Before the federal government and the courts took away his immigration powers, Arpaio led 20 large-scale traffic patrols targeting immigrants and more than 80 corporate raids to arrest people who were working in the United States without authorization.
Although his defiant streak played well with voters for years, Arpaio faced heavy criticism for adopting policies he knew were controversial, bringing in $147 million in taxpayer-funded legal bills.
Though he labeled himself America’s strictest sheriff, his agency botched the investigation of more than 400 sex crime complaints filed with his office.