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Tempe mayor hopeful Corey Woods focuses on affordable housing, public service in 2020 run

If elected, Woods would be Tempe's first-ever African American mayor


Corey Woods poses for a photo at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

After a few years away from the city council, former Tempe Vice Mayor Corey Woods aims to bring his life of public service back to city government with a 2020 run for mayor.

Woods, who announced in late March that he is running for mayor, served two terms on Tempe's City Council from 2008 to 2016. He was the first African American elected to Tempe's City Council. If he wins the race in 2020, he will be the first African American mayor Tempe has ever had.

Woods said he is very cognizant of the racial impact of his candidacy and it is exciting and important to him. 

"I know the sacrifices that my parents and other family members and, frankly, so many made for me to have this kind of opportunity," Woods said. "I have opportunities in life that my parents, at a comparable age, couldn't have even dreamed of." 

He said he retired in 2016 from the council to pursue other goals, such as getting his master's degree in educational policy from ASU and joining non-profits in the community. 

"It gave me time to take a little bit of a break and to refocus my energy on some other things that I always wanted to do," he said. 

Woods said he believes some of the skills he picked up while earning his master's degree will be helpful for his political career.

"Continuous learning and improvement is important," Woods said. "Going back to school allowed me to learn more about education policy and just continue to grow and evolve as a person."

In what could turn out to be an historical election, Woods will be up against incumbent Mark Mitchell, who has been mayor of Tempe since 2012 and ran unopposed in 2016. Mitchell recently confirmed his intentions to run for mayor again in 2020.

Woods said that he and Mitchell are colleagues and friends, but their differing visions have pushed him to run for mayor.

"We have different, competing visions for the city," Woods said. "He has his own record, and I have my own record from my own time."

Competing against Woods' primary platform of affordable housing, Mitchell said he is focusing on improving the quality of Tempe's neighborhoods. This includes maintaining parks, building fire stations, reducing traffic on roads and promoting arts and culture in the community. 

Mitchell, unlike Woods, has been an Arizona resident all his life and even earned his undergraduate degree from ASU. He said growing up in Tempe and seeing how everything has changed is what drives him as a politician. 

"Because growing up here and seeing the decisions that were made then having affected me, I look at the decisions that are going to affect us 20, 30, 40 years down the road," Mitchell said. "It has really inspired me to make decisions that sustainable for the future and for the next generation."

Mitchell has also enjoyed working with Woods in the past, saying that they "agreed upon a lot of stuff" and had "pretty similar" philosophies. 

But that mutual respect hasn't dissuaded them from running against one another in the race. 

"With my experience, my record and what I've done in working with our residents in the community, there's a lot more that we're going to continue to improve on and build upon," Mitchell said. 

Woods' record during his time on the council includes advocacy for affordable housing, pushing for the inclusion of LGBTQ identities into the city's anti-discrimination ordinance and working on an adaptive reuse policy to find new uses for older buildings.

Woods currently serves as the chief of staff at ASU Preparatory Academy. He also serves on boards for several other organizations, such as the Downtown Tempe Foundation, Newtown Community Development Corporation and Children's Action Alliance.

Brandon Larkin, a former colleague of Woods at ASU Prep and the deputy chief information officer at Phoenix College, said Woods was always good at solving problems through communication.

"I really appreciate working with him," Larkin said. "It was always good to be able to have an open conversation with Corey and really talk through those things without feeling like there wasn't something you could talk about."

Larkin said Woods' people skills also help him achieve any goal he's working towards.

"He's always really good about working with with people and being able to get the right people in the room to get decisions made and to move forward," Larkin said.

Woods said he decided to run for Tempe mayor in 2020 because he still has "plenty of gas left in the tank" to take on a lot of issues during a "pivotal place" in Tempe's history.

One of Woods' signature issues is affordable housing, which he says is a big issue for a city like Tempe. Despite the large college student population, not many students are staying in Tempe after they graduate.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale metro area is one of the U.S. metros with the least retention rate for graduates in the area, only retaining around 36.3% of graduates, according to a CityLab report using data from the Brookings Institution.

"We need to keep that highly educated workforce living right here within the city of Tempe," Woods said. "Without a really good stock of high quality, affordable housing, you're going to risk losing those young people to surrounding cities."

Woods said that affordable housing is one of his areas of expertise because he spent much of his time on the council as either the chair or vice chair of the council's affordable housing subcommittee. 

His passion for affordable housing stems from his own parents' careers. His mother was a high school teacher who worked with students who were not always in financially stable households, and his father worked in the nonprofit and human services sector. 

"I think it shaped a lot of my perspective when it comes to affordable housing," Woods said. 

While he said coming from parents who played significant roles in their communities makes him feel like he's "standing on the shoulders of giants," he said that it motivates him to work hard on issues that affect Tempe residents of all backgrounds. 

Other issues on Woods' official campaign includes improving city parks like Tempe Beach Park, attracting more companies to Tempe to create jobs and improving public safety by addressing mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Woods said his childhood and parents were a big inspirations for his love of civic engagement overall and why he is running for mayor of Tempe.

"I grew up in a family that was very much interested in politics and public service," Woods said. "I was raised in a family where those kinds of things were important, and you were told that it's not enough to just take."

"You have to find some way to give back to the community that has given you so many opportunities," he said.

Even though Woods never explicitly expressed interest about returning to a life of public service to his colleagues, Larkin said he and others in the office "always felt like that was his calling."

"I know he's really passionate about the work he had done with the Tempe city council, so we all thought, 'It's probably going to happen at some point,'" Larkin said. "It wasn't a shock we we found out he was running."

The Tempe mayoral election will take place in March 2020. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @michelle_zhao23 on Twitter. 

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