Tiara Time

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

NT: We could sit on our front porches and stare at our neighbors.

Severns: (Laughing.) Stop!

NT: Sorry. Hey, I saw you in Arizona Woman magazine. I'll bet you have a hit out on that photographer.

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

Severns: (Laughs hysterically.) This is what I learned: If a photographer comes to your house, make sure he takes more than six photos if the story is going to have six photos [in it]. I just looked silly. But, oh well. So there's a goofy photo of me out there. Whatever. If you were ever a teenager, there's a bad picture of you somewhere in the world.

NT: Speaking of teenagers, tell me about the First Responder Academy. It's kind of a trade school for high schoolers who want to be firemen when they grow up?

Severns: I have a stepson who was never really very goal-oriented in high school. He never really learned how to study, he just kind of got through school. Later he wanted to be a firefighter, but he discovered that to be in public safety, you have to take tests. And he didn't know how to do that. It became clear to Phil that there are probably a lot of people out there who would make good firefighters and policemen who didn't get the kind of attention they needed in high school. But if they had a direction, when they were younger, that would be a motivation to have a goal in life. So the First Responder project was born out of that. That stepson, by the way, is now 25 and just passed his marshal's test. My sweet stepson who used to get brought home by the cops is now going into law enforcement.

NT: Then there's Phil's plan to establish intranet connections and security cameras in residential neighborhoods -- sort of reestablishing the old local grapevine with high technology. Which seems very Orwellian and kind of weird to me.

Severns: Not really, because it's like the old-fashioned telephone tree, where people are looking out for their neighbors. Again, it's an idea that's not quite formed. Because Phil thinks, "Let's throw some ideas out there and see what comes back."

NT: Right. Like the one about bulldozing Patriots Park and replacing it with a "signature landmark," whatever that means.

Severns: (Laughs.) Okay, but do you like Patriots Park? The grass is dead, and there are no lasers. That was the whole point of those big pointy things; they were going to have lasers shoot out of them. Can we come up with something better? Patriots Park is just weird. Come on, when you have visitors from out of town, do you ever drive them by and show them Patriots Park?

NT: Do you really drive guests around and show them the sights?

Severns: Yes! There's Bank One Ballpark, and City Hall -- I like that little crown thing on the front of it. I wish First Ladies got a crown like that one. Can't you imagine me walking around the grocery store in my crown?

NT: Well, maybe more like a tiara.

Severns: I have a tiara! My co-workers gave it to me. I wear it when I'm making photocopies. I've always wanted to be Queen of Phoenix.

NT: Me, too.

Severns: I know. I've got a lot of competition out there.

NT: If Phil is so keen on bulldozing something, how about Sunnyslope?

Severns: The Slope? It has some very cool parts to it. Have you been to the bus transfer station? Great public art. Sunnyslope is a work in progress. There are some cool spots there. And they have a great hospital.

NT: I like Phil's proposal about building a new county hospital downtown. But the Maricopa County Health Board hasn't even been formed yet.

Severns: There'll be a board soon. Phil likes to throw a lot of ideas out there, like I said. Put it into the mix, and get people talking about it. It's the energy of government and the private sector working together. Put the idea out there, and see what comes back. It's like a public policy boomerang!

NT: Phil made a crack during his Future of the City address last month that suggested you hate his speeches.

Severns: (Laughing.) It's not that I don't enjoy them. The longer I'm married to Phil, the more I realize he has a very short attention span.

NT: Is that something you want people to know?

Severns: I want people to know that if they want him to understand things, just tell him straight. That's why he accomplishes so much -- he catches things really fast. He's really smart about most everything about the city of Phoenix, so he doesn't need a lot of background -- he knows it already. But what I was saying is that being married to someone who has a short attention span, I've begun to develop some of that. So I have a limited interest in things that go on for a long time.

NT: Like sarcastic interviews?

Severns: I know, but I still think Abraham Lincoln had the right idea. The Gettysburg Address should be every politician's goal: Be eloquent, get your point across quickly, and get back on the train.

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oh she sooooo bosses those staffers around!