Sam I Am

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

Only one problem--a councilman named Bill Walton had been smeared for having accepted payment from the developers of the Princess resort. Campana was suspected of having brought the story to light, provoking a dramatic loyalty split within the established political forces. The Anti-Sams developed a so-called Anyone-But-Sam campaign and recruited former Chamber of Commerce president Diana Smith to run. The mud flew. After a run-off, Campana emerged victorious, but with many of her old alliances in tatters.

Smith, who continues to serve on several boards and committees including the Scottsdale Cultural Council, says she has not yet decided whether she'll run for mayor again.

Campana says Smith no longer speaks to her, not even to be polite in public.
"That's her problem," says Smith. "When I see her, I acknowledge her." She adds that the two serve on some boards together.

Once in office, Campana was faced with the prospect of coming to terms with the Herb Drinkwater Legacy. Drinkwater, who died in 1997, was the larger-than-life cowboy-mayor who'd come to Arizona from upstate New York to help his asthma, governed for 16 years and was known for being ubiquitous, funny and a guy who just couldn't say no to a constituent's request. Vern Swaback, a longtime Scottsdale architect, civic activist and friend of both Campana and Drinkwater, says, "Herb had this way of responding in excess to the needs of a single citizen. That was fine in a small town, but when you've got 185,000 people, it's impossible."

Campana says she thinks Drinkwater played a related joke on her on his way out. Apparently an Eastern European woman, an immigrant who now lives in Scottsdale, had been after Drinkwater to have the city accept the bequest of her antique gilt French Louis the Somethingth furniture. As Campana's swearing-in drew near, the lame-duck mayor finally found the out he needed; instead of simply telling the woman no, which his genetic code resisted to the end, he simply told her to wait until Campana got in office--she would handle it. And so now Campana receives the regular visits, the homemade goodies at holidays, the pleadings.

The serious parts of the legacy, Campana says, are three things Drinkwater said that would forever change Scottsdale. He said the Pima Freeway would "take" no Scottsdale homes. That meant that the new north-south freeway would be on Indian land, and it would open the Indian land to development. It also meant that Indian Bend Wash, which had been an alternative freeway route, would be spared.

Drinkwater said that there should be no homes on the McDowell Mountains.
And finally, the former mayor said that everything north of Shea Boulevard would be zoned one house/one acre--an idea that has since fueled many angry council meetings. "That's how the West's most Western town would develop," says Campana. "Everyone would have a horse in their backyard, and a horse trailer in their front yard."

To the Hopis, the kiva is an underground ceremonial chamber. To Scottsdale, it's an artsy conversation pit for anywhere from 50 to 300 where the city council holds its meetings. Scottsdale has long prided itself on citizen involvement, and this high-ceilinged arena is where the citizens come to be involved. Except for a small bronze statue of three cowboys on horseback right behind councilman Dennis Robbins' chair, the decor is pure Desert Narcoleptic. If the room could speak, it would be in the conciliatory tones of Mr. Rogers.

The councilmembers sit up front on a raised dais behind a counter that blocks sight of their bodies; what you see is just their heads, like so many stones plopped on a mesa. Seemingly conceived in the communal ethos of the 1960s, the city hall kiva is equipped with lots of soothing touches like stained-glass ceiling panels, calming rectangular wall hangings in Lava Lamp hues abstractly depicting--what? Mountains, rivers, sky, rocks, wilderness? All perfectly fine evocations of the 36 miles of city, north to south, that Scottsdale is--without the bulldozers. But two gray aerial maps of the city hint at the bulldozers and desert development that, more and more, are the subjects of kiva conversation. And the pitch of those discussions often is such that all the crystals in Sedona couldn't calm them, let alone Mayor Sam Campana.

The lack of what she calls "civil dialogue" has moved the mayor to institute a new city program called Scottsdale Voices. The program sets up meetings between small ad hoc community groups and the mayor and councilmembers. The idea is that participants will become schooled in cooperation, collaboration, creative listening and all those other handy skills of democracy initially overlooked by the founding fathers (they'd never been to Scottsdale), but fortunately rediscovered by the '80s self-empowerment movement. Theoretically, when Scottsdale Voices-trained citizens come to council meetings, they won't clap, bellow, boo or do anything else that clashes with polite Scottsdale decorum.

Typically at the beginning of council sessions, the mayor has the gentle bearing of the mother of the bride. She speaks in singsongy, measured speech and smiles often. But this night, she seems serious, loaded for bear. Her speech is even more enunciated, so automatic that it surprises you when she unaccountably grimaces suddenly. As usual, a scout troop leads the pledge of allegiance, and the mayor, in her precise, Lily Tomlin diction, asks each scout to "tell us your name, grade in school and your favorite subject." Most nights, she flashes an "OK" hand sign or "oohs" her signature whinny when a scout's favorite class is her favorite: art.

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