KINGMAN - Mayor John Salem has filed official legal challenges to both of his prospective opponents' eligibility to run for office in next March's primary election.
Salem filed his challenges against Art Jones and Jason Marino late Wednesday afternoon, alleging that neither of the two men had collected enough valid signatures on their election petitions to qualify for the ballot. In Kingman, mayoral candidates must have at least 216 such signatures.
But while Jones and Marino collected 373 and 268 signatures respectively, Salem's challenges claim the bulk of those are from people who are either not registered to vote in Kingman, not registered to vote at all, or otherwise provided invalid signatures or information.
Of Marino's total, Salem claims 38 signatures are from voters outside of Kingman, while another 54 were not registered to vote. Those same totals were 46 and 55 for Jones. Salem also claims several of Jones' signatures appeared to be signed by the same person using different names, while others were signed but not witnessed when the petition was left at a local gas station.
Salem's challenges also charge that both of his opponents failed to fill out various substantive parts of their petition. In Jones' case, this includes leaving out the county and city in which the election was to be held, as well as Jones' county of residence, the specific election that he is running for and the date of that election. Salem claims that Marino's petition also fails to identify the election as a primary and does not include a caption stating the purpose of the election or the intent the petitioners are agreeing to.
In addition, Salem has made a separate allegation against Jones that he filed to run with "insufficient purpose," due to Jones' statements, both to the Miner and to Salem himself, that he was only running to make the mayor earn his votes, and not with the intent of actually carrying out the duties of the office.
"Mr. Jones indicated to me that he had no desire to be the mayor, that he was putting his hat in the ring just to make me earn my votes," Salem said. "By challenging his application, he has to earn his spot on the ballot. If you're going to run for mayor, you have to have the intent to be mayor. This isn't a game. I didn't just wake up one morning and say 'You know, I think I want to be mayor today.'"
Salem said he spent much of the last week in the County Elections Department personally verifying the validity of every one of his opponents' signatures by comparing them to the county's list of registered voters. In choosing to challenge his opponents, Salem said he had not originally planned to, but ultimately decided he had a civic obligation to do so.
"Although very fun, it takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to complete a campaign, and I think my time is better spent doing city business," Salem said. "The taxpayers and the people of this city have a vested interest in me, and they are counting on me to spend my time wisely."
Salem added that his decision was not meant as a personal offense to either candidate but that, as the city's current mayor, he felt knowing in advance that his opponents were not eligible to run and failing to share that information with the public constituted a breach of trust with his constituents.
"Say two people were allowed to be on the ballot and they had done so with illegal signatures and incomplete forms, and I knew about it and chose not to do anything about it," he said. "The constituency would be furious with me."
Salem also brushed aside the idea that his actions would earn him negative attention for supplanting the democratic process or taking away voters' choice at the ballot box.
"I'm not removing choices from the ballot," he said. "They failed to submit their paperwork correctly. If they were allowed to remain on the ballot, that would be a disservice to the public."
Jones and Marino have both been ordered to appear before Mohave Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen on Jan. 5 to present a defense of their petitions. Marino's hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., while Jones' is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Both expressed surprise and disappointment at the news. Jones called the challenges "absurd" and went to the City Clerk's office late Wednesday to try to get a copy of Salem's petition to launch a counter-challenge. At the same time, however, Jones admitted he wasn't certain whether or not he actually had a sufficient number of valid signatures.
"I don't know if I'm good or bad," he said. "I'm going to have to look at it closer, and there's probably cause for (the challenge). I really don't know what to think right now. If we're both eliminated from the ballot, he's back on the ticket by himself."
Marino said he was working with his political team to assess the validity of his own signatures and figure out if there is, in fact, an issue with them. He speculated whether Salem's actions were more motivated by fear of losing than by genuine concern for the public good.
"I think that, if that's the only way he thinks he can win, then he had to do what he had to do," Marino said. "I actually pulled up his signatures on his petition, but I decided not to follow through with it because I didn't want to play that game. I wanted to have a real election and see who came out on top."
Marino admitted he didn't know whether he would be able to successfully defend his signatures. Regardless, he said that number of signatures he did collect was ample proof that there are people who like the idea of him running for mayor, and that it was a shame they might not be able to vote for him next spring.
"It's going to disappoint a lot of people," he said.