Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman isnt afraid to step on a few toes as he waltzes into his second term
Hugh Hallman and Sandra Day O'Connor are dancing.
It is not exactly elegant — not yet. This is only their first rehearsal, and song-and-dance routines do not come together without sweat.
And both Hallman and O'Connor are clearly sweating this.
It is not every day that a guy gets to dance with the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court, even if that guy is the mayor of Tempe, Arizona. And it is not every day that a former Supreme Court justice gets ready to perform a soft-shoe number that will be seen by hundreds of people.
Hallman is nervous; O'Connor is cranky.
Hallman tries a joke. "Hugh, you're to the right," says choreographer Janie Ellis, lining up her dancers.
"Some would say I'm . . . always to the right," Hallman quips. "Of course, you started on the right," he tells O'Connor, "but then you moved to the center."
"Oh, come on!" O'Connor says. Her voice is, perhaps, sharper than she intended.
Their duet, a version of "Gary, Indiana," rewritten to pay homage to Tempe, is to be the super-secret grand finale at a fundraiser for the O'Connor House Project. The nonprofit group is working to save the Paradise Valley adobe where O'Connor lived as a young lawyer. Once slated for demolition, it's now being dismantled, brick-by-brick, and rebuilt in Tempe's Papago Park — thanks, in part, to Mayor Hugh Hallman.
O'Connor is fretting about her ability to remember the steps. "It's going to be good if we get it right," she says. "But we're not. We're not."
"We will," Hallman says. Nervously.
They start to get it after a half-dozen takes. For a 78-year-old woman, O'Connor is a good dancer, and Hallman, a theater geek who's acted in a number of community theater productions, knows how to lead.
But O'Connor — who only recently moved back to Arizona from Washington, D.C. — can't understand why the choreography calls for her to put her hands around Hallman's neck in a bit of show-business-style mock-strangulation.
"Why do I want to choke him?" O'Connor asks, plaintively.
Ellis, the choreographer, has a quick reply: "Because he's the smart-ass mayor of Tempe!"
Indeed, plenty of people in Tempe would be more than happy to choke Hugh Hallman.
In a city that's long enjoyed genial, nonpartisan politics, the recently re-elected mayor is something different: Both crusader and gadfly, he doesn't see the point in making nice when something isn't nice. Nor does he care whether he comes off as holier than thou — or whether his campaigns are too aggressive for the Kiwanis Club crowd.
He's made a point of eschewing the perks of power. He won't take a car allowance from the city, or even a parking space next to City Hall. If it's something not available to the lowliest clerk, Hallman doesn't want it.
Nor will he take campaign contributions from people doing business with the city. He first ran because he wanted to change the clubby way things are done at City Hall; to this day, despite four years as mayor, he still thinks of himself as an outsider.
With Hallman, the problem is often more style than substance. Oh, he has plenty of ideological disagreements with his colleagues on the City Council — most of Tempe's power structure is Democratic, and Hallman is a libertarian-leaning Republican who believes in keeping government on a strict diet.
His fellow council members might forgive him that, if only he wasn't so impatient with them. He lectures. He snaps at people who ask stupid questions. Hallman infuriated one councilman to the point that he famously leaked Hallman's confidential tax information to the news media. Another was so aggravated by Hallman's smug tone that he recently walked out of a City Council meeting.
He still has Tempe's vote.
Hallman has never lost a municipal election — and though his initial campaign for mayor was hotly contested, he waltzed into a second four-year term this year with near-universal support.
By his accounting, he won the highest number of votes in Tempe's history. And that's what matters to him.
"I have the ability to stand by myself if I need to," he says. "I'm not here to make friends."
Hallman and O'Connor are done dancing. And after 2 1/2 hours, the mayor's finally done with a budget session, too. He's running late. Has been all day, actually — a morning accident on the 202 cost him 25 minutes, and he's been trying unsuccessfully to make it up ever since.
But when Hallman arrives at the launch party for a new condominium high-rise being built in Tempe, he does not pull up to the valet station, even though the valet is standing there waiting, even though dozens of pretty young women are shivering in their summer dresses on this unseasonably cold day, waiting for his remarks.
Instead, Hallman deposits his passenger at the entrance, peels his PT Cruiser onto a patch of gravelly dirt nearby, and jumps out of the car, striding toward the entrance with coattails flapping.
The valet can't get over his confusion. "Why is he parking in the dirt?" he shouts. "What's he doing? Who is that?"
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.
Hallman is the second of three sons. His father was a math teacher and wrestling coach at Arcadia High School. But his mother, Evelyn, a seamstress (and, at one point, diesel mechanic!), was Hugh's hero, personally and politically.
The rest of the family were yellow dog Democrats. Evelyn was a Goldwater girl.
"She was a 'stay out of my bedroom, stay out of my wallet' kind of person," Hallman says. She also was so loyal to the GOP, her son recalls, that she cried when Nixon resigned.
An excellent student, Hallman graduated from Coronado High School. He got into Claremont McKenna College in California but had to spend a year at ASU first to save money. (His résumé still lists the blue-collar jobs he held during his college years: combine operator, waiter, busboy. Like any good politician, he's smart enough to be proud of his humble roots.)
At Claremont, as a sophomore transfer student from a middle-class family, Hallman felt like an outsider. He still managed to be elected student body president and graduate summa cum laude, with a double major in economics and political science and a minor in accounting.
A lot of smart people will try to convince you that they're natural-born geniuses, that they didn't work for their grades. It's a way of fitting in, perhaps; they want to make it clear that they didn't choose to succeed. At heart, they're really slackers like the rest of us.
Not Hugh Hallman. He's never tried to hide the fact that he works his tail off.
In college, all that hard work was driven partly by insecurity: "I didn't know how much I could relax and still do fine."
It paid off. After graduation, he landed a plum job with Ronald Reagan's campaign: deputy assistant to the national campaign director.
It should have been heady stuff for a 22-year-old kid.
But this was 1984, and Reagan was well on his way to winning 49 states. The election wasn't so much a battleground as a coronation.
"The minutiae became the focus," Hallman says, disgusted. "If you're on a campaign that's doing that well, people have a lot of time to argue about the size of the lamp in their office."
Even today, Hallman doesn't understand why Reagan was more interested in winning a landslide than an ideological victory.
"He decided he needed to be the most popular president ever," Hallman says. "We lost the war of ideas in that 1984 campaign."
So the disillusioned idealist went to law school — at the University of Chicago, no less. There he met his wife, Susan, who was in medical school. They graduated, had three boys, and moved to Tempe, to a house just three doors down from the one where Hallman had grown up, on the edge of Papago Park. Susan practiced internal medicine; Hugh practiced law.
And then, in 1991, came a call from Barbara Sherman.
Sherman, a good friend of Hallman's mother, was a neighborhood activist turned city councilwoman — and she thought something rotten was afoot.
The city, under Mayor Harry Mitchell, was about to privatize Tempe Beach Park, which abutted the dry Salt River bed.
The park had been badly neglected. But rather than devote the resources to fix it up, the city had decided to give the prime land to a for-profit developer.
"That was insane," Sherman recalls. "You don't give away private parks."
Sherman was having trouble getting more information about the plan. (There is no love lost between her and Mitchell, now a congressman.) So she called Hallman, then an associate at Brown & Bain, to help her draft a records request.
Hallman remembers his shock. "You're on City Council and they won't give you the records!?"
"That gets me started on a slippery slope greased with Crisco," he says today, ruefully shaking his head.
With its dreams of national consensus, the Reagan campaign was a bad fit for a scrappy contrarian. But saving Tempe Beach Park — outsmarting the ruling clique to keep a local treasure in the hands of the people — was something that played to Hugh Hallman's strengths. Not to mention his populist sensibilities.
As it turns out, city staff had quietly opened a request-for-proposal process for a private party to redevelop the park, but the staff didn't do anything to publicize the opportunity. Naturally, one well-connected developer was the only guy who put in a bid. And, Hallman and Sherman say, the proposal was lousy.
The City Council was prepared to approve it anyway. Tempe was a town where everyone got along. Mayor Mitchell was enormously popular, and everybody knew and liked the developer in question.
That wasn't good enough for a gadfly like Sherman — or her new, passionate ally.
So Hallman and Sherman rallied the people to save the park. Today it's still publicly owned. (And, thankfully, no longer neglected.)
Because of that experience, Hugh Hallman became involved in city politics and, eventually, ran for council. He saw no point in waiting for an open seat; the powers that be were shocked when he won on his first try.
He didn't even need a run-off: In a field of nine candidates, Hallman beat all three incumbents and earned 52 percent of the vote.
That was 1998. And if the city's in-crowd thought he was a pain in the neck when he was fighting them as an outsider, they had no idea how bad he'd be once he was on the inside.
Old-timers like to boast that Tempe is a little pocket of progressivism in a conservative county.
It's also unusual in that it's an inner-ring suburb that feels little connection to its sprawling neighbor, Phoenix. Perhaps because they grew up side-by-side instead of Phoenix's blazing the way first, Tempe has always enjoyed its own identity. Residents will tell you, in fact, that it's not so much a 'burb as it is a small town.
And unlike Phoenix, you can live in Tempe for decades and still feel like an outsider.
The city's ruling elite is mostly made up of good-ol'-boy Democrats. Harry Mitchell, a schoolteacher who served as mayor for more than a decade, is still revered as a god by that crowd; his son, Mark, is currently a councilman. And even the Republicans tend to be good-government types, not zealots. (Witness Neil Giuliano, Hallman's predecessor, who came out as gay while in the mayor's office and is now national executive director of GLAAD.)
The in-crowd grew up attending Tempe public schools. They golf at the Shalimar Country Club and join Kiwanis. They are involved with the Sister Cities Commission, a nonprofit group that sends students and municipal leaders on exchange programs to New Zealand and France and Germany.
Everybody gets along.
"Tempe's a town where you have to be nice," Monti, the restaurateur, says. "Everybody's gotta sing "Kumbaya" even if there are political differences."
Hallman's refused to join in the song.
Even though he grew up in Tempe, Hallman's boyhood home is so far north that he went to school in south Scottsdale. As an adult, he got involved with Habitat for Humanity, not Sister Cities, because the program's use of municipal funds rankled him. (He later paid for a membership, but admits he doesn't go to meetings.) And he certainly doesn't golf.
As a councilman, Hallman wasn't into making nice. He was, instead, determined to figure out everything — and change much of it. Then-City Manager John Greco recalls Hallman's asking questions, pestering staff, demanding to know how things were done.
To say that he drove city workers crazy was "probably an understatement," Greco recalls, laughing. "Hugh was this kind of force of nature who wanted to get involved in the minutiae of things. I don't think anyone had ever seen a council member go so deep into so many different programs."
People who've felt Hallman's wrath say he has a mouth to rival Nixon's — and a temper, too. But the trait that's earned him the most animosity during his time on the City Council is his tendency to be a know-it-all.
"He doesn't suffer fools," acknowledges Councilwoman Onnie Shekerjian, a longtime ally. "If you're opposing him for the sake of opposing him, he doesn't have much patience for that." But Shekerjian defends Hallman: "If you have a cogent argument and data, he will listen to you."
Now that he's mayor, Hallman sets the debate. Initially, though, he had no control beyond his "no" vote, and he was more than willing to exercise it. He opposed using sales tax money for light rail. He hated Tempe Town Lake.
But the thing that upset the old guard the most was Hallman's ethics crusade.
Hallman believes perks are corrupting and campaign donations are bribes. He refuses to take a car allowance. Arguing that council members shouldn't get prime parking spots next to City Hall when they're there only a few hours a week, he turned his down. Even as mayor, he refuses to take one.
The Tempe City Council traditionally has eaten dinner together before council meetings, on the city's dime. As a new councilman, Hallman initially refused to go, but after realizing how much he was missing, insisted on paying for his meal, even when no one else did.
"He wanted to show he was part of a different breed of politician," says Knaperek, the former state representative, another Tempe outsider. (A Republican, she is now challenging Harry Mitchell for his seat in Congress.) "And people were offended by it."
Leonard Copple was elected to council at the same time as Hallman. Like Hallman, he identified as an outsider. Copple says he ran because he, too, was unhappy about one of the deals that Hallman crusaded against — the city's plan to give away a bunch of lakefront land, plus incentives, to attract a new Peabody Hotel.
But Copple took an immediate dislike to his new colleague. He blames Hallman's personality.
All the talk about parking spaces, Copple admits, didn't help.
"I just thought he was grandstanding," Copple says. "He may not have accepted perks, but the rest of us, accepting parking wasn't a perk, it was a necessity! I was running to get there on time and didn't want to run in too late."
In 2004, when Hallman first ran for mayor, all the big names stood against him. Even Mayor Neil Giuliano endorsed Hallman's opponent, Dennis Cahill — even though Cahill is a Democrat and Hallman and Giuliano are Republicans.
Part of it, surely, is that everyone liked Cahill. The quintessential insider, he was a longtime member of the Sister Cities Commission, a 12-year council veteran, and married to Democratic State Senator Meg Burton Cahill.
In get-along, go-along, "Kumbaya"-singing Tempe, Hallman put out campaign fliers suggesting Cahill was a racist.
For years, there had been allegations of systematic discrimination against Hispanics in the city's public works department. After Governor Janet Napolitano endorsed Cahill, a group of Hispanic activists wrote her a letter, criticizing Cahill for knowing about the discrimination but doing little to stop it. Hallman, they said, had been much more effective in bringing the discrimination to an end.
That's all good. But when the East Valley Tribune wrote about the letter, it gave Hallman the ammunition he needed: a headline saying, "Cahill rebuts racism claims."
No one had ever accused Cahill of actually being a racist. But when Hallman put out a flier about the incident, it certainly looked like it.
"Tempe's Latino Leaders are Supporting Hugh Hallman," the flier announced. "And for Good Reason." The visual? That Tribune headline about Cahill "rebutting" claims of racism.
The Tribune would later call the race the "nastiest" in Tempe's history.
It wasn't just Hallman who got his hands dirty.
Copple, who was supporting Cahill, cajoled city staff members to hand over Hallman's W-2 forms. (Yes, that is against the law.) Then he faxed the forms to newspapers, saying they showed that Hallman had, in fact, accepted a car allowance, in violation of his public stance.
Turns out, he hadn't. The arrangement was simply more complicated than it appeared on the tax forms.
Hallman had written checks to reimburse the city for every dime.
As a councilman, Hallman was convinced that Tempe had a problem.
"Regional competition was eating us alive because we were so hard to deal with," he says. "We had this idea that we were the 18-year-old football star, that we could get anybody we wanted. Well, now we're the 50-year-old guy with gold chains and the pathetic pick-up lines. We had chased off business interests."
So, as mayor, Hallman took an unusual stance for a guy who'd made his bones as a reformer. He welcomed developers. He wanted to make deals.
If the city were easy to work with, he reasoned, it wouldn't need to pay millions to make developers choose it. "I don't pay people to play with me," he says.
For Hallman, being easy to work with meant a quicker permitting process for new development. Rather than a series of protracted, formal reviews, he wanted staff sitting down with developers and explaining what they needed — then figuring out how to get them there.
It also meant actively courting the business community. Hallman's first move after his election as mayor, before he was even sworn in, was to hold a "development summit," asking developers for their take on what needed to change.
One of his points, according to one person in attendance: City Hall would no longer work with the same clique. Hallman didn't want a slow build-out on Tempe Town Lake, for example, with one guy taking 20 years to complete a project in phases.
He wanted competition. He wanted lots of builders. And he wanted movement right away.
Since then, Hallman says, he's made a point of cold-calling guys who aren't building in Tempe. He personally put together a series of aerial maps so he can better pinpoint locations when he's trying to make a deal.
The result of all that pushing is proudly displayed on his office wall: Twelve shovels hang side-by-side, each representative of a ceremonial groundbreaking.
His pro-business stance has won over some of Cahill's staunchest supporters.
Michael Monti, the downtown restaurateur, is a conservative whose philosophy was always much more in line with Hallman's than his Democratic opponent. But he and his business partner still supported Cahill, in part because of Hallman's bristly personality.
But Monti was impressed when, soon after the election, the mayor made a point of coming by.
"We thought we were doomed," Monti says. "We campaigned against this guy. But the olive branch came out immediately. That's one of the things that really won us over. He could have really shown us his disdain and anger. But he viewed it, correctly, as his problem to solve: Why weren't we there for him?"
Prominent Tempe businessman John Bebbling, a staunch Cahill supporter, also found himself surprised by Hallman's skill as mayor. "I don't approve of everything he does," Bebbling says. "But his best interest is for the city of Tempe, and he's done a great job as mayor. I really do believe that."
Still, when Bebbling wrote Hallman a check for his campaign, Hallman returned it with a letter. Bebbling does a lot of business in Tempe, Hallman wrote. He couldn't accept his money.
"I've been to lunch with the guy," Bebbling says. "He wouldn't let me pick up the check! He gave away his parking space! So he doesn't like perks; he doesn't like benefits. There's no reason the mayor shouldn't have a parking space at City Hall."
As for that campaign contribution . . .
"I was insulted," Bebbling says. "I've given to every city councilman, every mayor . . . He's a very intelligent guy, but I think he lacks common sense."
When Hallman was up for re-election earlier this year, he ran virtually unopposed. (His write-in opponent, an 18-year-old ASU student, staked his candidacy on the not-so-controversial claim that people ought to have more than one choice for mayor.)
Hallman lined up virtually all the city's power brokers — and won 81 percent of the vote.
His council still looks at him with horror.
They have some justification. He can't stop showing off. At one budget meeting, Hallman used the word "paucity" in a sentence — as in, "given the paucity of numbers on this page" — then added smugly, "You can add that to your vocabulary list." Later in the meeting, he used the word "fulsome."
And though everyone is willing to concede that Hallman is the smartest guy in the room, he still seems determined to prove it anew at every single city council meeting, just in case someone is watching at home.
At the council's issue-review session last month, longtime Councilman Ben Arredondo and Hallman seemed close to blows. Hallman kept insisting that Arredondo was going to chair the city's bond committee. Although Arredondo made it clear he didn't want to, Hallman refused to let the matter drop, concluding a bit facetiously that he knew "Mr. Arredondo and Mr. Mitchell" — meaning Councilman Mark Mitchell — would enjoy the task.
"Mr. Mayor, you don't speak for Mr. Arredondo and Mr. Mitchell," Arredondo interrupted, visibly agitated.
"I know that," Hallman said, looking at Arredondo sharply. "I just thought that given your experience, you'd want to be doing it." A few minutes later, when Hallman began railroading through a change in bus service, despite Arredondo's objections, the veteran councilman got up, walked out of the room, and did not return.
Hallman has been able to put together deals and get the council to sign off on them. But when it comes to pet projects, like the property tax rate rollback that Hallman was determined to get last month, the majority has refused to yield.
In fact, in the most recent municipal election, the mayor suffered quite a blow. As is his practice, Hallman refused to endorse anyone for council. But everyone knew whom he wanted to win — and, in a crowded slate of candidates, both of his allies lost. One of them, Hut Hutson, was an incumbent who vocally supported the mayor on most budget issues.
Hallman may be incredibly popular with the electorate, but Harry Mitchell's shadow still looms large.
One veteran observer of the Tempe political scene says that the two new council members are both likable — but more important to their success was that they had Mitchell's stamp of approval. "Harry Mitchell likes them," the observer says. "That was a big deal."
Hallman doesn't have that kind of coattails. But surely he would add a "yet" to that statement.
So here's how Sandra Day O'Connor and Hugh Hallman ended up dancing.
The Paradise Valley home where O'Connor lived as a young lawyer, an adobe, had been sold and slated for demolition. O'Connor wasn't happy about that. When she complained, some of the Valley's most-connected citizens were there to listen.
One of them called Hugh Hallman. And partly because Hallman is crazy about historic preservation, partly because Sandra Day O'Connor is a strong woman like his late mother — and he respects that — the old adobe was suddenly slated to move to a brand-new spot in Tempe's Papago Park.
The Tempe City Council didn't even hear about the plan until it was virtually a done deal. (No, they weren't happy about that, but they acquiesced.)
The O'Connor House Foundation is raising the money to move the house and run it, as Hallman is quick to point out. Yes, the city is supplying in-kind help, and it's providing the land. But that's it.
Tempe, of course, is also donating its mayor for a surprise dance number. It just doesn't know that yet.
The benefit is at the Tempe Center for the Arts. And though Hallman originally opposed putting the center on the shores of the Town Lake, on this evening, it is beautiful.
The crowd is a mix of old-money Paradise Valley and the smart set in Tempe. There are also more than a few politicians: Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock is there, and so is Jim Weiers, the Speaker of the House.
The dance has been scheduled for the very end of the benefit — and it's so top secret that it isn't even listed on the program. Most of the people in attendance have no idea that O'Connor has a surprise planned.
So after the hors d'oeuvres and the chatter, after the pianist and the jazz band, Hallman takes the stage and calls for O'Connor to join him.
The audience is perplexed: What now?
And then the band breaks into "Gary, Indiana" and Hallman and O'Connor start singing:
Tempe, Arizona; Tempe, Arizona;
That's the place we'll move her house
Tempe, Arizona; Tempe, Arizona;
She built it with her spouse!
And Sandra Day O'Connor is dancing! Maybe every step isn't perfect — for one thing, she never really does get around to a good fake on the strangulation bit.
But the audience is eating it up.
Tempe, Arizona; Tempe, Arizona
Not in Phoenix, Yuma, Flagstaff, Mesa or Jerome
But Tempe Arizona; Tempe, Arizona
Tempe, Arizona — her home's new home!
The crowd goes wild. And as Hallman beams, and bids everyone good night, it's clear that the dance number was a wild success.
Score another one for the smart-ass mayor of Tempe.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.