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Municipal election gives Coyotes another headache

Jobing.com Arena, where the Phoenix Coyotes NHL team plays home games, as shown Wednesday, June 13, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Voters in suburban Glendale backed an increase in the city's sales tax in Tuesday's municipal election but that does not mean it was all good news for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Even though part of the $25-million (all currency U.S.) was expected to go towards payments to the NHL team, which will average $15-million per year over the 20-year arena lease, there is no guarantee the new lineup at city council will keep the lease in place. The current council, which will remain in office until January, was shown a reworked Coyotes lease that lowered the payment to prospective owner Greg Jamison from $17-million to $11-million in the first year but it has not officially approved it.

The new mayor, former Arizona lawmaker Jerry Weiers, issued a shot across the bow of the NHL and the Coyotes on Tuesday night after he won the race to replace outgoing mayor Elaine Scruggs. Weiers said Glendale, a cash-strapped city of 250,000 that had to handle a $35-million deficit in its 2013 budget, "is not your cash register." He also professed his love for the Coyotes but said, "we cannot sacrifice our way of life so they can maintain theirs."

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At this point, two of the races for council seats are so close it is not known if they will be filled by those in favour or opposed to the Coyotes lease. City officials said a final count of the ballots may not be completed until next week.

In Arizona, the entire city council is never up for election at once. In order to prevent a new slate of inexperienced politicians taking over at the same time, only some of the council seats are elected each time. On Tuesday, four spots on council including the mayor's, were up for election.

Under the old council, the Coyotes and the NHL could count on four of seven votes but two of those votes are gone. Vice mayor Steve Frate did not run for re-election and councillor Joyce Clark, the most vocal supporter of the Coyotes on council, was defeated on Tuesday.

Two of the three opponents to the Coyotes lease payments are also on their way out. Neither Scruggs nor councillor Phil Lieberman ran for re-election, and Lieberman left early when he recently resigned. Not only is Weiers opposed to the lease, both candidates in the tight race to succeed Lieberman are also against it.

However, it is not clear that Clark and Frate will be replaced by supporters of the lease. Sam Chavira, who defeated Clark, is not opposed to the Coyotes but wants a lease that makes sense for the city, according to the Arizona Republic. This means Frate's seat could be the key race. According to the Republic, Gary Sherwood, who is in favour of the lease, has 50.91 per cent of the votes while Diane Douglas, who is opposed, has 49.09 per cent.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who is hoping to finally unload the team the league bought out of bankruptcy and has spent more than $200-million keeping afloat, will be watching the outcome closely during any breaks he has during collective bargaining.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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