Replacing longtime Peoria City Councilman Carlo “Rocky” Leone has been an arduous task. And the process may not be over.
Citing health concerns, Leone retired in April; he passed away two months later.
Denette Dunn, who unsuccessfully challenged Leone in 2018, assumed the Pine District seat on an interim basis. Dunn and Randall “RJ” Rains were to face off in a special Aug. 27 primary election, but Rains withdrew his candidacy, citing health.
Facing only write-in candidate Cordero Delgadillo, Dunn won the Pine District by a landslide, taking 88% of the votes.
At the Sept. 17 council meeting, Dunn was officially sworn in.
So that would be the end of the saga …
But wait: There’s more.
Delgadillo, who is an attorney, has filed a lawsuit, alleging the council seat was “won by Dunn via illegitimate and unconstitutional means.”
Tim LaSota, attorney for Dunn, called it “a frivolous lawsuit. The allegations are ridiculous.”
Delgadillo, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and data security, was asked why he filed the lawsuit.
“It’s not like I have some third party funding this,” he said. “This is something I believe. My campaign platform was I wanted to stand up for people’s rights.
“What other right is more important than the right to have information?”
In a “Petition to Set Aside the Special Election” Delgaillo filed with the Superior Court of Arizona on Sept. 4, Delgadillo states “the untimely death” of his brother shortly after Leone’s resignation “(led) to a circumstance where Mr. Delgadillo, who was ultimately endorsed by the Leone family, became a write-in candidate, not on the ballot.”
Here, the plot alleged by Delgadillo thickens.
Rains pulling out of the race “provided opportunities for city officials to exert their influence over the election, including ... improper city announcements, incorrect regulations used by city officials to harass Mr. Delgadillo, and egregious misconduct that unfortunately rises to the level of outright theft of property, lies, and corruption.
“....Misconduct began to become evident when Mr. Delgadillo was disadvantaged through the election officers’ failures to provide access to voter data files as requested.”
Then, the former write-in candidate claims, he was “improperly harassed” about his campaign signs. “Ultimately, the City of Peoria acknowledged that it was using incorrect regulations,” he says.
Later in the filing, Delgadillo insists that Peoria was misleading in letters sent informing voters of Rains’ resignation:
“...the City of Peoria sent a notification, not in compliance with A.R.S. 16-343(G), which discusses procedures for handling the withdrawal of a candidate, to all 15,000 registered voters in the Pine District, that based upon extensive discussions with voters in this election, caused extreme confusion and appeared to many voters and to Mr. Delgadillo to be an official endorsement of the other candidate, shortly before the ballots arrived in the mail.”
Delgadillo’s conclusion: The Superior Court of Arizona should nullify the Aug. 27 vote, return Dunn to her “interim” title and require Peoria to hold a general election in November.
Dunn responded that the suit was without merit, filing a motion for dismissal.
The legal tennis match was back to Delgadillo, who on Sept. 23 returned with an incendiary response.
“Dunn’s recent financials that were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request underscore that offenses were taken against the election franchise that should not be ignored and do not go to support a dismissal of this action,” said the Delgadillo motion.
“For instance, Dunn managed to donate, out of city funds, an amount of $4,999 just $1 below that amount requiring the approval of the city attorney, to the Peoria Fire Firefighters Association of Charities—one of her influential endorsements was received from the Peoria Fire Department.”
Dunn’s attorney said Delgadillo is way off base, here.
“The donation was approved by the city attorney,” LaSota said. “Her predecessor made the same donation. This isn’t something new.
“It’s just cheap politics. It needs to be called out for what it is.”
Delgadillo further claims that “(Dunn’s) donation and the other surrounding expenditures of $28,235.74 used to ingratiate herself to the City departments and its residents when she was an unelected, appointed official is simply untenable, unethical, and a corrupt offense against the election franchise.”
Delgadillo’s net spreads fairly wide: “Dunn or others in the city, including the sitting councilmembers and other officials, in an effort to improperly influence the election results.”
Delgadillo’s lawsuit and response were filed by Brittany Burback, Delgadillo’s sister. Burback also ran for Peoria City Council, losing to incumbent Vicki Hunt in 2018.
Delgadillo says he is not ready to give up his fight.
“I felt compelled to run for the city I love,” Delgadillo said.
“And I felt compelled to do the lawsuit.”