Sam I Am

How a baton twirler from Filer, Idaho, grew up to be Scottsdale's Mayor Sam Campana

A shelf across the room is a clutter of hats: cowboy, firefighter, toreador, baseball, hard hat. She uses them as props when she speaks to kids about her job. The toreador hat, she naughtily tells the kiddies, is for all of the bull she encounters on the job. All things considered, she probably means that, although clearly some of it seems to be her own.

Campana nowadays often finds herself mired in something or other. Sure, she can point to several bright accomplishments in her two years, particularly the visiting Smithsonian Institution exhibit that unsealed the sarcophagus of the Scottsdale Galleria, and now promises at least serious talk about the Smithsonian opening a permanent outpost at that facility. And the city has purchased its initial properties in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Smart-sounding plans abound for more downtown revitalization and desert preserves in the north, including an extensive, but not quite jelled, plan to snag enormous tracts of state trust land to complete a desert preserve that would run the length of the city and cover a third of its area.

But for every successful undertaking, there's another one generating questions. And Campana seems to be at the eye of every storm.

The resplendent new waterfront canal development spurs charges of corporate welfare for retailer Nordstrom's. Residents at the south end of the city cry foul that the bulk of civic improvements are going in up north, while north-siders claim that improvements such as lighted parks are being shoved down their throats. The South v. North divide is hardly new, but some say that Scottsdale's civil war is heating up under Campana. And the most divisive issue of all is growth. COPP (the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak), a vociferous new citizens group at the top end of town, has made it pretty clear that it'll oppose any development that Campana's for.

To ask Campana about any of that is to invite Hillary Clinton in for a chat about health-care reform. She'll talk your ear off, combing through the facts, teasing them to fit and repeating the process, until, if you don't understand, you'll wish you did.

In Campana's version of custom-spun reality, the sun is usually shining.
Take the city's deal on Nordstrom's parking garage. Critics have said it was too sweet to Nordstrom's, the canal project's retail cornerstone. Asked to explain it, Campana goes for a bold comparison: "Scottsdale is different than other communities," she says, citing the example of some sorry old Ohio dorf where troubled city elders pooled the municipality's meager resources and "literally wrote a check to some car dealer--$30,000 a job," says Mayor Sam, to lure the coquettish dealership into town. Scottsdale doesn't do that, but has to bring something to the table, she explains, pointing to the performance-based formula that Herb Drinkwater's administration devised to pay for infrastructure at the Neiman Marcus store in Scottsdale Fashion Square. She describes the deal in which Neiman Marcus paid for all of its roads and parking facilities with the understanding that the city would split its city sales taxes with the store 50/50, allowing the retailer to pay itself back for the building costs over 10 years--which it did, apparently, long before the deadline.

Is that the same deal Nordstrom's got?
"Uh-huh," says the mayor, "only," she adds, as if as a mere footnote, "it's more like 80/20."

Not quite that sweet, Mayor Sam. City staff says it's 64/36--and Nordstrom's has 30 years to pay off its expenses.

A recent flap involved land purchased in 1996 by Scottsdale for its McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a desert-preservation project that had been approved and whose funding mechanism was passed by referendum when Drinkwater was mayor and Campana was on the council. The Sonoran News, a weekly newspaper that circulates in northern Maricopa County, last week reported the seemingly little-known fact (although it had been reported in the northeast community edition of the June 7, 1996, Arizona Republic at the time of the purchase) that the initial parcel acquired for the preserve had been bought from former mayor Drinkwater, Sam's ex-husband Richard Campana, a prominent Scottsdale zoning attorney, and others for more than $9 million. Drinkwater owned about 3 percent and Campana 20 percent of the property. Sonoran News uncovered records of appraisals that may suggest the land prices may have been inflated above market value. Richard Campana says they were actually underappraised.

To explain Drinkwater's and Richard's part in the land sale and possible cronyism on the council, Sam Campana first chooses the path of ignorance: "I went out of my way not to know what Richard owned," she says, "and what he did with [Drinkwater] I couldn't tell you even today." Yet somehow she'd known enough to abstain from the council vote on the purchase, she's reminded. In other words, she knew Richard Campana owned it, so why not just say so? Finally, she settles on a tone of bold defiance: "I don't have to defend anybody," she concludes, "because it doesn't matter to me because I don't get any of it, don't want any of it."

Earlier this year, Scottsdale was ordered to pay out millions in lawsuits involving charges of racism in the police department. Those decisions came amid numerous reports of racial incidents at the hands of the department. Initially, Campana made strong comments suggesting an internal review of the situation. After the cops jumped down her throat, Campana publicly changed to a more conciliatory approach. But shortly, Chief Michael Heidingsfield resigned, giving the appearance he was squeezed out. Mayor Sam so eloquently circumlocutes the question that we still don't know.

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