Sam I Am

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

"Where the chief and I differed was, I believe in human nature. That there are instances of that, we have to always be ready when there are, to say it and reprimand it. And I couldn't get our police chief to say that and mean it."

So, is she taking credit for his leaving?
"The chief chose to be in academia and unbeknownst to me, all those years he was our police chief he was working on becoming, I think it was, brigadier general in one of those reserve units. He was spending significant time away--which our city manager okayed--those are our fighting forces."

Did she encourage him to leave?
"I did not. Nope. I did not. It's a very good solution and might be an area that would differentiate me from Mayor Drinkwater. Mayor Drinkwater said to me that Chief Heidingsfield is the best police chief in the country and stand behind him. And I think when all that happened, that's probably what Mayor Drinkwater would have done." And what she didn't do.

And so the lively discourse goes when Mayor Sam dissembles. The funny thing is that sometimes, you get the sense she's even spinning the little stuff, the prepositions. For example, she once enrolled in a six-week public policy program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. But, now in repeated instances it's become, "When I went back to Harvard," implying she'd studied there before, which she didn't. Now, of course, she can go "back" to Harvard any time she wants, but until then, "back" for Mayor Sam remains Scottsdale Community College, Carroll College in Helena, Montana, and her hometown of Filer, Idaho.

One of Sam Campana's favorite moments in public life came while the recent Smithsonian exhibit ran at the Scottsdale Galleria. Two busloads of kids from the northern Arizona town of Snowflake had come to see the show. The kids raced around between Dorothy's slippers, Kermit the Frog and the Tucker automobile. "But they spent most of their time riding the escalator," explains the mayor. "Really, it made me cry because I was in the eighth grade the first time I rode an escalator. We went on our eighth-grade trip to the capitol, to Boise."

The story fits with a certain Dorothy-in-Oz fascination Campana has for her current life. Down deep, she may still be Kathryn "Sam" Houston, the small-town kid from Filer, Idaho, daughter of a rural mailman and a school librarian. She spent her childhood knocking around the agricultural community with her three athlete brothers, picked up the nickname Sam and later wound up playing clarinet in the high school band and being head baton twirler.

Catholics in a Mormon community, the Houstons didn't take anything for granted. To this day, Campana brags that she got to be head twirler based solely on talent. In 1966, she left Filer for Carroll College, a strict Catholic school in Helena, Montana, where, despite the absence of drugs, antiwar protests or any other '60s campus crusades, Campana managed to be grounded most of the time for violating curfew, smoking, and walking and smoking at the same time, she says. Two years later, Campana switched to a community college back home in Idaho, but soon took a road trip that changed her life.

"There was this thing, that I wanted something different," she says, explaining why at age 21 she hooked up with a girlfriend, loaded her friend's old white Comet with their possessions and headed south for Glendale, Arizona, where somebody's brother the priest was supposed to set them up with jobs at a school. That fell through, and after a brief stay at the famed Kon Tiki hotel in Phoenix, the two wound up sharing an apartment in Scottsdale and hostessing/waitressing at Reuben's restaurant on Scottsdale Road, walking distance from where Campana now lives at 68th Street and Highland.

Hick may be too harsh a word, but: Johnny Carson! Thomas Mall! Diamond's department store! Campana remembers being blown away by the sophistication of her new surroundings. Even with a local population still below 50,000, Scottsdale TV viewers were progressive enough to tolerate such a ribald Idaho no-no as The Tonight Show, with its segments sandwiched between suave high-fashion ads for the glamorous new Thomas Mall, which boasted a Diamond's and a Switzer's.

Then, just as the dazzled ingenue was asking herself, "Does it get any better than this?" she met an older (11 years) single Italian-American attorney named Richard Campana. The next year, 1970, the couple married, moved to a big house at Cactus and Hayden, and Sam set about learning to cook, speak, do everything Italian. Within six months, Richard was named to fill an open seat on the Scottsdale City Council, and young Sam, age 22, became a political wife, a lady who lunches.

The new bride was out to become the best political wife on record. She worked hard on political campaigns for Richard and his cronies. "Typing, typing, typing!" she recalls.

Janie Ellis, a Scottsdale native, stage director and longtime Campana friend, remembers Sam Campana becoming a mainstay in Ellis' annual "Follies" fund raiser show to benefit the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. "Sam became one of the yearly cancan dancers, and kind of got stagestruck," recalls Ellis. "I try to take all the credit for her deciding to become a public persona. She was fun and real game."

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