Sam I Am

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

As usual, a local minister leads a prayer. Father Gerald Anderson, an Episcopal priest, beseeches, "Dear Heavenly Father, today as planning and zoning issues are laid before us, give great wisdom to all involved. . . . Help each side to hear what the other is saying with open ears and a sense of what is right. . . . Send down upon the members and upon Mayor Sam the spirit of wisdom, charity and justice. . . ."

And so on, amen.
After the ceremonial rites, the mayor has to face her adult citizens, the armies of the white upper-middle class. Neighbors. And that's when her faith in civil dialogue gets sorely tested. Unfortunately, tonight's hearing is the final one for a planned development called Amberjack. The project has been kicking around since Drinkwater days, and it's somehow, deservedly or not, become a lightning rod for all the issues surrounding growth. Most likely the cleric's prayers for open ears will go unanswered.

Amberjack's planner is Vern Swaback, a Taliesin-trained architect who's lived in and around Scottsdale for 41 years. He admits he's known the mayor for years, but says in his line of work, that's his job. He's known as a civic activist, and has been deeply involved for years in Scottsdale's various big picture "visioning" projects, planning the city's future for the advancing decades and millennia. Swaback, expensively dressed in contrasting neutral-toned blazer and slacks, looks a lot like comedian Garry Shandling. By now, he's probably squired this plan--to be built on property in far north Scottsdale owned by State Farm Insurance--to a hundred meetings. But this one will either red-light or green-light the project.

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In the years since Swaback's original design, the issue of growth has ignited a kind of crusade in Scottsdale, and the new antigrowth movement, for one reason or another, has come to focus on Amberjack. Some of its opponents say its name the way the sailor in Moby Dick savors the word "ambergris." Amberjack has sort of become the great whale.

In the eyes of the opposition, Sam Campana is in the pocket of this developer. The leaders of COPP, a broad-based group of homeowners that increasingly flexes its growing muscle strength on zoning and planning matters, just won't believe Campana is on their side. "She ran two years ago on a managed growth platform," says Marcita Ryon, the Leona Helmsley look-alike who is COPP's president. "They talked all over the place on how we needed to manage growth--they haven't managed a thing." Her fellow COPP member Paula Silverberg complains that she campaigned for Campana, and signed her petition to run, based on her impressive work in the arts. They both complain of willy-nilly zoning changes and amendments to the city's general plan.

By now, the growth positions have become clear, and the differences, in a slight oversimplification, are plain. The leaders of COPP want north Scottsdale to settle into large one-acre lots. And the mayor, Swaback and others see themselves as preserving open space by clustering housing on smaller urban lots and maintaining surrounding open areas--an approach that follows the thinking of most academics these days.

With the teams faced off, the hearing begins. Swaback gets up and speaks wistfully about the process, the enormous numbers of changes he's made to please COPP. He ends plaintively, "We've done all we can; there's nothing more we can do."

A few more Amberjack supporters talk, and then more than a dozen COPP members speak about how their dark skies and quiet nights will be forever ruined by a 495-unit development with lights and a golf course and a clubhouse.

Campana looks nervous. After all, she has already publicly admitted that she thinks this is a great project, the best way to preserve open space in a city that eventually will be built out. Ryon speaks eloquently, concluding dramatically, "This plan is not acceptable!"

Applause.
Campana: "Please don't do that. It's so much nicer if we can just have community dialogue."

But it's too late for that.
By now COPP's allies from south Scottsdale are up. Hannah Goldstein, the colorful council candidate and Campana nemesis, speaks. "Good evening, Madam Mayor and members of the council." She has many objections. "To whom do you want to answer, to a corporation in Illinois, or to the preservation of the desert?"

Cynthia Lukas, the elected but not yet seated councilwoman, speaks against Amberjack. She and Goldstein are specters to the two councilmembers who are up for reelection in the May 19 council run-off, Donald Prior and Robert Pettycrew; they well know the penalty for appearing pro-growth in Scottsdale in 1998.

Heidi Stine, a resident who borders on the Amberjack site, is choking back tears when she speaks, accusing the council of being "preoccupied with creating mini-cities in the desert."

Sam Campana breaks in, tells Stine she understands how upset she is, and adds, "We're trying to do things that really do build community--parks, schools and public trails."

When the speaking is over, to the shock of the assembled COPP multitudes, Mayor Campana concludes brightly, "The school and park, everyone agrees, is a tremendous benefit."

Just then, a roar is heard from the back of the room. It's Marcita Ryon on her feet, hollering, "No!" as though she's just watched some tragedy. "You've heard a group here tonight that said no!"

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