By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The cover charge for Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza's April 12 "State of the City" address and luncheon -- brought to you by AT&T and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce -- was 55 bucks. That's pretty stiff to hear a public official deliver an assessment of the community he serves.
However, I discovered one could easily make up the cost and then some by pocketing a few of the forgotten $25 gift certificates for Southwest Airlines tucked beneath hundreds of untouched plates of apple pie at the event's end. I walked out $145 ahead, and polished off my stocking-stuffer shopping with seven months to spare.
I also engaged in the modern business ritual known as "networking." Or at least I tried, since the official schedule read: "11:00 to 11:30, Networking." My networking did not go well. As I learned the hard way, the first stage of networking is to exchange business cards, and there was something about mine that seemed to be a turnoff for my would-be networking partners.
After a few tries, I said to hell with it and went to hang out in the hotel lobby with the Recyclesaurus, a guy in a dinosaur suit waving to new arrivals near the registration table. Also working the crowd in costume were a giant lizard in a hard hat whose affiliation I never determined, and a giant, fluffy Southwest Airlines jet.
Speaking of fluff, Rimsza could have served his speech twirled around a cone on a carnival midway. And it wasn't just his force-fed artificial sweetening (Rimsza makes Al Gore look like William Jennings Bryan), or the way he needlessly emphasizes almost every other word so that listening to him you don't feel like you're being drawn in by his words so much as dragged by the neck.
Rimsza's address wasn't a matter of style over substance. He just didn't have either.
Here's how he began:
"How can anyone not look back on the last 12 months in Phoenix and not have a thousand things to say?"
I don't have a clue, and evidently neither does Rimsza, because this is what he said next:
"Except that this is a speech, I have to say the past 12 months have left me speechless."
You tell me: How is it possible for Mayor Rimsza to simultaneously have a thousand things to say and be speechless?
I posed this question to the Skipper on one of the five query cards I filled out and handed to a roaming Chamber of Commerce representative.
Following his speech, the body of which I'll get to in a minute, Rimsza took questions from the audience, which were read to him by KTAR talk show host Pat McMahon, who warned everyone in advance there wouldn't be enough time for the mayor to answer all the questions.
I didn't expect my question about the paradox in Rimsza's introduction to make the cut, since it was more of a dis than a question. And I didn't hold out much hope that any of my questions would receive a public hearing and response, because they weren't nice. They weren't deliberately mean, either. They were just real.
Here's one of them, reprinted verbatim:
"Shifts in U.S. Border Patrol policy are funneling an unprecedented number of undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America into the Phoenix area. The opening prayer today reminded us to help those less fortunate than ourselves. What's being done to help these people? Also, do you support a guest worker program which would legalize their labor, tax it, and avail them of social services such as health care?"
Here's a question Rimsza took instead:
"Do you have any advice on how to convince your wife to let you have a dog?"
Now, some mayors of major cities might have tried to dodge such a wicked fastball. But not our Skipper.
"I love my dogs," he said. "The best thing about them is in the morning, they go out and get my newspaper, and hopefully if there's a bad article about me they tear it up before they bring it in the house."
Here's another question I thought worthy:
"What's being done to diversify the recreational and cultural attractions of downtown Phoenix, and to encourage people to live there, instead of the suburbs?"
Here's one Rimsza answered in its place:
"Wouldn't it be fun to lead the crowd in a rendition of 'I've Been Working on the Railroad'?"
Rimsza demurred, proving himself more diplomat than fool. "That would be fun," he said. "But I'm afraid we have more important matters to discuss with our limited time here today."
In reality, Rimsza chuckled, then asked several of his advisers to stand and sing, in unison, the first verse of the requested ditty, during which the mayor waved his arms like a conductor (the orchestra kind) and punctuated the lyrics with a hearty "Choo-choo-choo!"
I'm guessing, make that praying, this performance was in reference to the recent passage of the transit tax to fund expanded bus service and a light rail system, which Rimsza backed, and which he ticked off in the formal portion of his speech as one of the city's crowning achievements of the past year, along with the passage of a referendum to fund the preservation of 15,000 acres of "pristine Sonoran Desert."