Paradise Valley political season in full swing as election approaches

The signatures have been gathered, the campaign finance reports filed and at the stroke of 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 30 five Town of Paradise Valley residents became official candidates in the anticipated August election.

The Aug. 28 Paradise Valley general election will feature an uncontested race for the station of mayor while four candidates are seeking three seats on the local governing board.

Barring an act of God, Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner will be elected the next mayor while only Councilman Paul Dembow is seeking re-election.

“Paradise Valley does not hold district elections,” said Paradise Valley Town Clerk Duncan Miller. “The mayor is directly elected by the voters and councilmembers run at-large.”

Mr. Miller points out the four residents pursuing a seat on town council are:

  • Ellen Andeen — a Paradise Valley Police Department volunteer.
  • James Anton — a member of the Planning Commission.
  • Paul Dembow — an elected member of Paradise Valley Town Council.
  • Anna Thomasson — a member of the Board of Adjustment.

According to Mr. Miller, council seats up for election this cycle are those inhabited by Mr. Dembow, Mr. Bien-Willner and Councilman David Sherf.

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to each candidate to better understand who they are and why they are seeking a seat on the local dais.

The uncontested race

Vice Mayor Bien-Willner, a lawyer by trade and entrepreneur by choice, has acted as lead council in a preeminent national litigation firm based in New York City, but made the decision several years ago to come back to his hometown.

Jerry Bien-Willner

Today Mr. Bien-Willner is active in the business community as an investor and entrepreneur, and maintains a law practice with a national firm with offices in Phoenix. He was appointed to the Paradise Valley Planning Commission in 2012 and subsequently won a seat on town council in August 2014.

Mr. Bien-Willner twice has been elected by his peers to serve as the vice mayor of Paradise Valley Town Council.

“When my wife and I decided to return to Paradise Valley from New York City, I was looking for ways to get involved and contribute to our local community,” he said.

“I expressed interest in volunteering for the town, and was fortunate to be appointed to the town’s Planning Commission. From there, I received lots of encouragement to run for council. I have really loved working for our community with other dedicated volunteers and our town’s professional staff, with the common goal of serving our residents’ interests, and I’m proud of the many positive steps forward we have taken.”

Mr. Bien-Willner contends it is an honor to likely continue his service to the Town of Paradise Valley as an elected leader.

When asked what his No. 1 item to accomplish was, Mr. Bien-Willner responded with an idea toward protecting the interests he has sworn to defend.

“As mayor, I will be focused on ensuring the town council is working as effectively as possible to protect and advance the interests that we are sworn to defend,” he said.

“The town council is responsible for setting overall policy and making critical decisions for our town, and for directing the town’s executive-level staff members. It is imperative that our town’s government functions at the highest levels, and I look forward to leading those efforts as mayor.”

The council race

The race for three seats on Paradise Valley Town Council features four candidates.

Ellen Andeen

Ms. Andeen contends her pursuit of a seat at Paradise Valley Town Council is a culmination of her family’s dedication to the municipality since the time of incorporation.

Ellen Andeen

“Growing up in the Town of Paradise Valley and having family so involved with the town since the ‘50s, it is only natural that I find myself devoted to furthering our community’s outlook and success while preserving our unique character and quality,” she said.

“I care about this town deeply and, with that, care about its future.”

A banker by trade, Ms. Andeen says, in 2013 she came home to the Town of Paradise Valley with an inclination toward community service.

“I left Bank of America after 11 years to return to my home in Paradise Valley after spending some time in Seattle,” she explained.

“Upon return, I decided I really wanted to get reconnected with the town I grew up in and so I became a Paradise Valley police volunteer. In 2016, I completed an MBA at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management (Phoenix Campus) and after graduation, I sought counsel with some members of our community on what I could do to get even more involved in the town.”

Upon community consultation, Ms. Andeen decided to take the plunge, she says.

“Running for town council is simply a culmination of something I set in motion a few years ago and, additionally, serving the town is in my blood. I’m a third-generation Town of Paradise Valley resident starting with my Great Uncle, Charlie Mieg, original majority owner, land developer and name giver to Mummy Mountain.”

Ms. Andeen points out her father was a member of council during the 1980s and her mother serves on the community historical committee. She says her No. 1 focus if elected will be maintaining advocacy of local law enforcement.

“As a Paradise Valley police volunteer, I hold a unique perspective having worked with our police department,” she said.

“My focus will be on public safety. I’d also like to take a deeper dive in to the budget and see if there are any areas where we can cut costs to our residents. I believe in the model of limited government and that we need the interaction and support of our community to raise issues and get involved.”

James Anton

Mr. Anton, who serves on the Planning Commission, says his interest in politics is deeply ingrained, but pursuing an elected station is not something he originally envisioned for himself.

James Anton

“Local or national, I have always had a great interest in the political figures that are given our trust to look after their constituents’ best interests,” he said. “Personally, I had no intention of running for our town council until I was approached to do so.”

Mr. Anton, who has 35 years of successful experience in the furniture business, says he was approached to run for council — and has now agreed to shoulder the challenge.

“Early this spring, when David Sherf announced that he would not be running in this year’s election, several current council members approached me to fill David’s seat,” he said. “As a member of the Planning Commission, I enjoy contributing to the Town of Paradise Valley and will continue to do so where needed.”

For Mr. Anton, the most important item of municipal business afoot are the pending resort development projects under way.

“The most important issue to me is seeing the completion of the current resort projects to the satisfaction of both the resorts and our residents,” he said of his priorities if elected.

“The past four years have seen great strides to insure a continuous flow of tax revenue allowing all of us to enjoy our wonderful town without local property taxes.”

But while Mr. Anton says he is encouraged by new resort building activity, he also suggests his priority is the quality of life of current and future residents.

“I look forward to the completion of the Ritz-Carlton resort, updates at the Sanctuary resort, and the rebuilding of the SmokeTree Resort,” he said. “While each of these projects will ensure a bright financial future, I am committed to protecting the quality of life for our town residents.”

Paul Dembow

Mr. Dembow, who is the lone incumbent seeking a seat in a contested race, is a longtime servant of the people of Paradise Valley. He is serving his second term on Paradise Valley Town Council.

Paul Dembow

Mr. Dembow was first elected to town council in 2010, is apart of the Global Board of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Committeeman for Legislative District 28 and is CEO of a branding supply chain company.

“I love the Town of Paradise Valley!” Mr. Dembow contends.

“I’m committed to limited government. I’ve enjoyed serving my fellow residents on town council and I am hopeful that I can continue with my work of keeping the town the paradise we all love and keeping government out of your life.”

Mr. Dembow is oftentimes the first line of defense on the local dais regarding quality of life issues that may impact local residents.

“My belief is that unless there is a compelling reason to legislate, I won’t,” he said.

“I know less government is better than more government. In the words of Ronald Reagan, ‘I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.’”

Mr. Dembow says he is a student of the cause-and-effect paradigm.

“I also can disagree without being disagreeable,” he pointed out. “Having civility in our politics is not a pipe dream for me. I will always treat those I differ with in a respectful way.”

For Mr. Dembow, his No. 1 focus if re-elected to town council will be maintaining the limited government model and curtailing wasteful government spending.

“Keep government limited so our residents can have the maximum enjoyment of our town,” he said. “This includes not spending our monies unwisely so we have to find other ways to raise revenue. We don’t have a primary or secondary local property tax and I will work to keep it that way.”

Anna Thomasson

Anna Thomasson

Ms. Thomasson says following a successful business career, she decided it was time to give back to the community she loves.

“After living here for 25 years and finishing a successful business career, I felt it was time to give back to the town I love,” she said. “The mayor’s Volunteers in Paradise initiative and email outreach helped me see how easy it was to get involved in the town. The more I learned, the more I loved it.”’

Ms. Thomasson contends she has fully immersed herself in the ins and outs of the Town of Paradise Valley.
Since January, Ms. Thomasson has accomplished:

  • Being appointed to the Board of Adjustment;
  • Attending virtually every council meeting, most Planning Commission meetings, and a Hillside Committee meeting;
  • Meeting with all the council members and numerous staff members;
  • Studying various town maps — annexation, street, water service, and sewer; and
  • Walking every mile of the town.

Ms. Thomasson says she too was approached to run for Paradise Valley Town Council.

“With three open seats and only three candidates, our residents didn’t have a choice,” she explained.
“I knew my business skills and ability to lead collaboratively would make me a good council member. But perhaps more importantly, my love of the town and experience building community would make me a passionate council member.”

When asked what her No. 1 focus might be if elected to Paradise Valley Town Council, she replied, “The first duty of any leader or elected official is to take care of business.”

And for her, taking care of business translates to the following:

  1. To diligently preserve the special character of Paradise Valley.
  2. To continuously provide high-quality public safety services for town residents and visitors.
  3. To regularly invest in public facility and infrastructure projects.
  4. To conscientiously manage the town’s financial resources.
  5. To identify opportunities to create and promote a more sustainable community.

Ms. Thomasson contends she is passionate about building the idea of community with those around her.

“Listening to our neighbors has convinced me that our quality of life extends beyond the natural beauty of our town — it includes the sense of safety and comfort we feel when we enter the town and drive into our neighborhoods,” she said.

Ms. Thomasson outlines her approach to bringing more Paradise Valley residents together through:

  • Creating more neighborhood connections as many of us are proud to know our neighbors, while many others would like to be more connected. Most of the people I talked with recalled the neighborhoods of their youth and would like more of a sense of community. Ideas will vary by neighborhood, but we can do more.
  • Publicize resources in the town more, so we can find a better way to connect residents to the many services and resources available that go undiscovered and unused. Almost every person I talked with was surprised to learn about some of the most helpful services offered by our police department. For example, our model for communicating with our residents has evolved, but is still far behind successful communication practices of current business. We can do more.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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