By Wayne Schutsky
For David Ortega, the second time was the charm.
The winner of Scottsdale’s mayoral election pulled off a narrow 5,900-vote victory over Lisa Borowsky when Maricopa County finished tallying votes.
Ortega’s latest run for mayor came 16 years after he first ran for the position in 2004 following one term on city council.
Ortega lost that race to incumbent Mary Manross, who then lost in 2008 to current Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.
Now, with Lane termed out after 12 years in office, Ortega is in line to become the city’s 11th mayor.
Though Ortega was not born in Scottsdale, he has put down deep roots in the community since moving here over 40 years ago.
Ortega started out his life in Scottsdale working for iconic architect Bennie Gonzales in the late 1970s before opening his own firm in the 1980s and entering local politics decades later.
His wife Rosemary Ortega’s roots run even deeper, having moved to Scottsdale as a child in 1966 after her father, a former New York cop, was hired to join the Scottsdale Police Department’s command team under Walter Nemetz, the longtime chief of police.
“I’m very proud of him,” Rosemary says. “It’s kind of humbling to think of all the people; the effort that it takes. You realize how much so many people are willing to do to support you and give you their ideas their time with their families.”
David and Rosemary Ortega still live in the home they bought 38 years ago just north of Saguaro High School. There, they raised two children who went on to graduate from Saguaro High, their mother’s alma mater.
But David Ortega’s story started out about 100 miles east of the Valley in Globe, which he remembers as “a wonderful city.”
His family, which also has deep roots in Tucson, owned a jewelry shop in Globe.
The Ortega family’s store has no relation to the Gilbert Ortega Indian jewelry stores that have long lined Scottsdale Road downtown, though David did design the Gilbert Ortega store on the corner of Scottsdale Road and Main Street in 1997.
Like his father before him and daughter after, Ortega attended UA. Shortly after graduating with a degree in architecture, Ortega came to Scottsdale and took a position working for Gonzales, who designed Scottsdale’s Civic Center Library, City Hall and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Ortega, who opened his own firm in the 1980s, said his architectural background has influenced his views as a local leader.
“I believe my buildings should be postcards for people…and I’ve always promoted that part of Scottsdale, because it’s got its own cache and we can build on it,” Ortega says.
Ortega, who has four sisters and one brother, was the only member of his family to move to the Valley.
And it did not take long for Scottsdale to make an impression on him.
“I remember driving up Scottsdale Road with kind of my jaw dropped,” Ortega says.
Not long after coming here, Ortega met Rosemary, nee Gannon, whose father, the late Michael Gannon, would soon become the city’s next police chief.
Gannon, a World War II veteran, took over Scottsdale Police Department in 1982, serving in the position until he retired in 1988.
Gannon, who passed away in 2008, was a man of few words known for his “professionalism and a tough but fair attitude,” according to an obituary.
“He was an amazing man,” Ortega says.
As Ortega tells it, he shared a few words with Gannon during his first dinner at the Gannons but found out from his future brother-in-law that their brief interaction was significant.
“I said, ‘Gee, your dad’s pretty quiet’ and he said, ‘Well, he’s spoken more to you than all of her other boyfriends,’” Ortega says.
David Ortega and Rosemary Gannon married in 1980 and went on to have daughter Alexandra and son Luke.
For Ortega, Scottsdale has been a great place to build his life.
“My life here has been amazing, and basically after 20 years I was elected councilman and that was exciting; I enjoyed that,” Ortega says. “And here we are 20 years later and I’m in the position of leadership for the city.”
But Ortega’s life in Scottsdale has also been marked by tragedy.
In 2014, his daughter Alexandra, or Alli as she was known to friends and family, died of complications related to knee surgery at age 31.
Despite her untimely death, Alli Ortega had an outsized impact on the community during her life.
After attending UA, Alli returned to Scottsdale to work at the Paiute Neighborhood Center in South Scottsdale.
Alli, a longtime volunteer at the center, was hired as a recreation leader in 2005.
But that job title does not encompass the role she filled at the center, where Alli led the afterschool and teen programs and had a positive impact on countless children.
An online obituary included dozens of condolences from friends, families and children impacted by Alli.
Alli was an amazing unique person,” Maggie Wells wrote. “She loved every one of us (at) Paiute no matter (who) we were…She was like a second mother to me and the rest of the kids.”
To this day, the city of Scottsdale and Scottsdale Community Partners host the Alli Ortega Empty Bowls fundraiser to support the Vista Del Camino food bank and in 2019, the city officially dedicated the Alli Ortega Memorial Garden at Paiute Community Center.
Alli’s brother built his own impressive resume abroad.
After graduating from Saguaro, Luke went on to graduate from Yale and now works for the U.S. State Department.
As of 2019, Luke served as a cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, according to the embassy’s website.
David and Rosemary Ortega also have two grandsons who live with Luke and his wife Lais in South America.
During the Bolivian political crisis in fall 2019, David Ortega had to take a break from local politics and travel to Bolivia to bring his grandsons to Scottsdale.
At the time, Ortega was a vocal opponent of the proposed Sunday Goods dispensary in downtown Scottsdale but was conspicuously absent from the November City Council vote on the project.
In communications with the Scottsdale Progress—the Scottsdale Airpark News’ sister publication—from November 2019, Ortega only said he was “7,400 miles away in Andes” and could not make it to the meeting.
“I was in Bolivia by myself in the event that the children would have to be evacuated and they were evacuated; I evacuated grandsons,” Ortega says.
Despite his long history in the city, Ortega did not enter local politics until late 1999 before going on to win a council seat in 2000.
“I came into Scottsdale and everything unfolded for us; getting married, having children, having a beautiful life. I wanted to be involved in school, church and business,” Ortega says. “It was natural for me to then step up when I ran for council.”
Much like today, that campaign was centered on his criticism of council for being too beholden to developers.
He then served one term, foregoing a reelection campaign to run against Manross for mayor in 2004.
In the years between his mayoral runs, Ortega mostly remained out of politics save a failed run for a seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on the Democratic ticket in 2012.
But, in 2019, Ortega reappeared on the local political scene, attending a handful of council and planning commission meetings to oppose high-profile downtown developments like Southbridge Two and the Sunday Goods dispensary.
He argued they did not fit the character of the area or would overburden local infrastructure.
“You know what my track record has been for the last two years, you know, involved in downtown issues,” Ortega says. “I spoke freely; I spoke courteously, and I spoke directly to council.”
Those projects persuaded Ortega to enter a crowded mayoral election that already had three candidates when he announced his run in January.
“It had to do with the tone-deaf council,” he says.
“I know the system; I know how the process should work, and it seemed to be stacked against the downtown.”