Tiara Time

Christa Severns is First Lady of Phoenix, but she'd rather be Queen

NT: Still, you do wind up as political pawns, held up as "the perfect little family."

Severns: I know, but I've just been talking about the downside. Politics is really cool. It's a great place to meet people of similar interests.

NT: You're living proof of that.

First Lady Christa Severns is no political pawn.
Emily Piraino
First Lady Christa Severns is no political pawn.

Severns: Yes, I met Phil in politics. But the perfect family thing? We just decided we were going to be ourselves, privately and in public, and when you do that, the whole risk of lost privacy is diminished.

NT: It helps that you're not a traditional First Lady. We tend to think of politicians' wives as sort of bland and maybe uptight. You're a hoot.

Severns: You know, I guess that's because of my familiarity with politics. I've watched other politicians deal with the limelight, and their wives -- poor Kitty Dukakis! -- and it became a matter of, "What about me? What can I do for myself so that my life isn't eclipsed by the whole office of the mayor thing?"

NT: What did you do?

Severns: I took up horseback riding again. Everybody needs a passion. Phil is obsessed with working for the City of Phoenix, and he lives and breathes it. I wanted to feel that way about something.

NT: Like horseback riding.

Severns: Yes! I'd done it when I was a kid, I guess because [my parents] thought it's a great way to keep teenaged girls from becoming pregnant. It's also a great way to teach responsibility -- a very nurturing thing. I found out I still had a love for it, and I ended up buying a horse. So if it's 10 a.m., I'm the public information office for Indian gaming. If it's noon, I'm First Lady. At 5, I'm Mommy. But at 6:30, I'm on the horse and I'm Christa and I'm riding.

NT: Who are you at 7:30?

Severns: Someone cleaning manure out of a stall. I really needed to find something for myself, and my horse was that thing.

NT: You could have become an alcoholic.

Severns: Or a shopaholic. But instead I have my horse, and all my friends now are 14-year-old girls, because that's who has horses.

NT: Your husband is very photogenic. My favorite picture of him is the one where he's wearing a big felt porkpie hat and reading to a bunch of fifth-graders.

Severns: He is who he is, which is rare these days among politicians. He's sometimes a 5-year-old in a 53-year-old's body, which is one of the things I like most about him. He sits down at the little plastic table and eats Cheetos, which is great, because there's a 4-year-old in our house who wants that. But I promise, he put that funny hat on not thinking about the photo-op, but because he knew the fifth-graders would respond to it.

NT: Now, come on.

Severns: No, really. You have politicians and you have public servants, and the difference is public servants do the work because it's in their heart to, and politicians do it to replace something not present in their heart. Or they do it to augment their egos or something. Not every politician is able to be a public servant.

NT: And very few politicians behave like real people.

Severns: Some do. My husband loves being a public servant. And because he loves it, I'm going to get behind him. Plus I get a horse out of it.

NT: Speaking of getting things from Phil, I read about the Front Porch Bench Initiative. I understand that Phil gave away 1,000 benches to people, just for living downtown. I live downtown! Where's my fucking bench?

Severns: Well, what have you done for your neighborhood? Good things?

NT: I mind my own business. That's a good thing.

Severns: Go buy your own bench, then. Phil is giving out benches to people who've done something for their neighborhood. He wants to promote the idea of people sitting out on their front porches, aware of what's going on in their neighborhood.

NT: I don't want people sitting on their porch, staring at me from across the street.

Severns: It fosters a more neighborly community. One where each family is aware of what's happening on their street. It used to be the norm, in the old days. Now nobody does it anymore.

NT: There's a reason for that: Back then, there was nothing else to do but sit on your front porch and stare.

Severns: Oh, come on. There were things to do back then. Of course, nothing that compares to watching American Idol.

NT: Oh, no.

Severns: I love that show! What's appealing about watching the people on American Idol is the same thing that's appealing about watching people run for public office: All of them think, "I can do this!" Some of them are great, and some of them need to stick with their day job.

NT: Phil has weighed in on Homeland Security, and he's really hot on the whole "emergency preparedness" thing. It's all so "Duck and cover"!

Severns: No. "Duck and cover" was a response from the 1950s that was completely unrealistic, and hopefully we've learned from that. Times have changed and, after 9/11, we don't know what the future holds. We need to be prepared, and need to know how not to be victims if we're attacked.

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oh she sooooo bosses those staffers around!