But as Hallman dashes into the party, a guest recognizes him right away.

"Dude," the guy hisses to his friend, "that's the mayor of Tempe."

Inside the party, one of the planners hands him a cordless mic. "We're cutting it a bit close, eh?" she says.

Hallman either ignores the remark or doesn't hear it. He's ready to go — and remarkably unapologetic about his tardiness. Rather than joke about being late, he literally shushes the crowd.

"All you guys in there who can't hear me, you're supposed to be quiet, right?" he says, sounding like a schoolteacher trying to quiet a rowdy class.

But then Hallman finds his stride, launching into his usual patter about how Tempe is landlocked and built-out. "We're the inner city," he says. "We're supposed to be Detroit, we're supposed to be south Chicago."

Tempe, of course, has avoided becoming either of those places. Instead, it's growing fast. Drive over the Mill Avenue bridge, and you feel as though you're entering a real city where, not long ago, there was just dry riverbed. Light-rail construction has finally finished, and though Mill Avenue is still struggling to find its way, Tempe Marketplace is raking in sales tax dollars.

The city is booming.

Perhaps it's because of Arizona State University — because it's a regional draw, there will always be a market for Tempe's little bungalows, even with cheaper mansions going up in Gilbert. Perhaps it's the community's feel: A pre-packaged cul-de-sac can't compete with Tempe's older-but-smarter vibe.

Perhaps it's Hugh Hallman. The mayor is certainly willing to take credit. He likes to stress that the city was facing a $6 million deficit when he took over; now, revenues are on the rise, even in a troubled economy.

The city is at a critical point. The Tempe of today looks nothing like the one of 10 years ago — and it's still not clear what the Tempe of tomorrow is going to look like.

But Hallman thinks he can see the future.

"We're going like this building," he says to the assembled partygoers. "Up."

There is applause.

"I want to thank the developers here for this project and for moving our community forward." More applause.

Waiters begin to pass around plates of melon and prosciutto, and crackers with smoked salmon. There is also a full bar. But Hallman touches none of it. Never mind that it's past 6 p.m. and he hasn't had a nibble since early morning. There are pictures to pose for, hands to shake, a building to tour. A construction guy makes a point of telling Hallman just how easy the city staff is to deal with; Hallman beams.

Forget melon and prosciutto. This is food for a mayor's soul.

Hallman will tell you that he's shy, and there is some truth to that. He can be awkward at small talk; he's that rare politician occasionally spotted breakfasting alone.

He's got a goofy streak as long as Tempe Town Lake. He's not a former drama geek; he's a current drama geek, not above grousing that he got stuck playing Mayor Shinn in a recent community theater production of The Music Man instead of the part he wanted. (Harold Hill, naturally.) He will dress up in a funny costume with little provocation; for the first light-rail run through Tempe, he donned an old-fashioned engineer's cap and overalls.

He's clearly ambitious. You can see it on the broadcasts of Tempe City Council meetings, where Hallman plays the role of a serious young mayor so intensely that he seems to be overacting.

"He's like the high school chess geek on steroids," says Michael Monti, who owns the landmark restaurant Monti's La Casa Vieja, in downtown Tempe. (Initially not a fan, he supported Hallman's re-election campaign.) "His political career has been revenge for whatever he was subjected to in high school. 'I'm gonna show those jerks.' And he did."


Hugh Hallman will tell you he never meant to have a career in politics — and when it comes to municipal politics that may well be true.

But he couldn't help it. Politics was in both his background and his blood.

Hallman's mother was a longtime neighborhood activist who lived to see a city park named after her. Hallman adored her; more than one friend says that she was "the love of Hugh's life."

And from the beginning, friends say, young Hugh's personality was more at home with parliamentary procedure than, say, late-night poker with the guys. Hallman was (and still is) tall and skinny, with a mop of Kennedy-esque hair and a brain that excels at both political theory and numbers.

If biology is destiny, Hugh Hallman was born to be a policy wonk.

Laura Knaperek, a former state representative and a longtime Hallman ally, says legend has it that, as a preteen, young Hugh would carry an attaché case: "He'd call the neighborhood kids for a meeting in his garage."

"Hugh was a little different," she says, with a knowing laugh.

"I always kidded around that I thought he would run for office," says Janie Ellis, who's known Hugh since he was a high school student.

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2 comments
Cissyie
Cissyie

It's sad, but I see a lot of older men who are afraid to "come out" after being raised in an atmosphere of unwritten gender-identity rules and old-tyme religion. I know that for me it was a challenge to face my fears about faith and god and the ways we accept or reject ourselves, but I'm young. It saddens me to see men who've spent their whole life trying to cover-up a compulsive, barely awknowledged, and yet incredibly rich and complex side of themselves. It's not a sin to be left-handed, but it may be a sin to always be writing with the right hand just to keep the "love" of those close to you. It's a sin because that isn't real love; it's fear. Don't betray yourself in order to not betray another. That is the highest betrayal. BiLoves.com is a good place for people to come out.

Celinna
Celinna

It's sad, but I see a lot of older men who are afraid to "come out" after being raised in an atmosphere of unwritten gender-identity rules and old-tyme religion. I know that for me it was a challenge to face my fears about faith and god and the ways we accept or reject ourselves, but I'm young. It saddens me to see men who've spent their whole life trying to cover-up a compulsive, barely awknowledged, and yet incredibly rich and complex side of themselves. It's not a sin to be left-handed, but it may be a sin to always be writing with the right hand just to keep the "love" of those close to you. It's a sin because that isn't real love; it's fear. Don't betray yourself in order to not betray another. That is the highest betrayal. BiLoves.com is a good place for people to come out.

 
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