Sam I Am

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

Largely because of her husband's influential position, Campana admits today, opportunities started to come her way. By 1972, someone at the new Center for the Arts suggested that snagging Councilman Campana's wife for its board couldn't hurt the new center politically.

"It's creepy, I know, but that's exactly what happened," says Campana. And so, she served on the board and later as a founding member of the Scottsdale Arts Center Association. "What did I know about the arts? Nothing." But, she said, her husband's name was tagged to it, and she felt responsible for making it work. Philanthropist Kax Herberger took an interest in the younger woman and, says Campana, helped her grow.

"I don't know arts from much--I've learned over all these years," she says. "I'm an organizer, and I can work harder and longer than anybody. I have more stamina than anybody." In a few years, she was the arts center association's president. She takes credit for helping grow the center's business and corporate memberships, key to its financial success.

Like a lot of other nonworking married women two decades ago, having a life outside the home clicked for Campana, who by then had three children--Cassidy, Katie and Richie. Meanwhile, the Campana marriage was taking its knocks. Sam Campana tells the couple's divorce story as a typical 1970s-80s wife's self-actualization victory. She wanted to have her own life, he wouldn't let her, so she wanted out. When the divorce papers were filed in 1983 after 13 years of marriage, Richard filed the "irreconcilable differences" claim. When the dust settled, Sam got the house and an annual stipend of around $30,000 for two years. They shared custody of the kids and have remained amicable, speaking frequently and occasionally attending their children's events together.

Richard Campana today says, "We had a civilized divorce many years ago. We're still friends, but she has no business ties to me."

Sam Campana has been spending time with Phoenix heart surgeon Lee Ansel for the past 14 years. He's the only part of her life about which she's obsessively guarded. She says he's never spent the night at her house, they like to hike together and they haven't married because it would disrupt her children. Only Richie, 16, still lives at home with his mother. Campana won't say much else, but cynical observers report that at public events, Ansel hangs back and circles the room alone, "ears open." Ansel initially served as treasurer of Campana's mayoral campaign.

The year of the divorce, Sam Campana went to work as executive director of Arizonans for Cultural Development, a nonprofit agency that had been formed in 1981 to advocate for the arts and nurture the state's artists and arts groups. She's remained with the group, currently earning a $100,000 annual salary as its chief executive officer--on top of her $27,600 "part-time" mayoral salary. It is her work with that group that is generally credited with allowing her to create the political network of support that she now enjoys.

Generally viewed by the arts community as an energetic and effective ally, one who can craft necessary political ties and bring funding mechanisms into play, Campana has been credited with helping win the Legislature's approval of the state arts endowment.

Shelly Cohn, director of the Arizona Commission for the Arts, the state agency that manages the endowment and provides arts support, credits Campana with building a strong partnership between her agency and Arizonans for Cultural Development, "based on her drive to make sure the Legislature and people who need to be involved are comfortable making the decisions that raise the profile of the arts." She says, "Campana helps them overcome their reservations and assures them it's money well spent back in the local community."

Campana's foray into politics followed a similar timetable. Not long after the divorce, Campana and her children had moved to the roomy house on a cul-de-sac near Scottsdale Fashion Square, where she still lives. By the mid-'80s, she was propelled into city council chambers to protest a high-rise building at Scottsdale and Camelback roads and the council's plan to build the "couplet" of Civic Center and Goldwater boulevards to divert Scottsdale Road traffic. She claims that the sitting councilmembers were mostly people whose campaigns she'd worked on, and their smug indifference to her testimony planted the demon seed of running for office.

"It was like, 'So, who are you?' And I was so taken aback by that," she recalls. "And I thought, now wait a minute here. I worked really hard on every one of your campaigns. And this is something that I care about, and I just didn't like the way I was treated." Then an idea struck her, she says: Seventy-five percent of the population would like to run for office but they don't know how. "I did know how."

In 1980, Richard Campana had decided to give up his council seat, telling his then-wife that the hard work had all been done, now it was up to someone else to make it all fit. Apparently, now she would take on that task. Typically, she began by calling her friends together. Friends from community groups, the Charros--the powerful men's club, arts groups, women's groups. And she rode into office on their backs, twice. In 1994, when Herb Drinkwater announced he would not run in 1996, Campana let her council term expire, looked around at her options for a while, thought about Congress, publicly acted coy--then decided to run for mayor. She named her twentysomething daughter Cassidy, who had been clerking at a bookstore while waiting to get into grad school, campaign manager.

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