The Mouth That Should've Roared
I've got this creepy feeling about Tempe mayoral candidate Hugh Hallman.
I know Tempe desperately needs new leadership at City Hall, and, for many voters, Hallman, a Republican attorney, is the hands-down choice in the hotly contested March 9 election.
Hallman scored points with the electorate during his four-year term on the city council between 1998 and 2002. He fought to scale back development on Tempe's "A" Mountain, put the screws to the Peabody Hotel, which got Tempe out of a bad Town Lake development deal, and helped get rubberized asphalt applied to the Superstition Freeway.
Hallman, 41, started stalking the mayor's chair soon after he was elected to the council. Now, with Neil Giuliano not seeking reelection after 10 years as mayor, Hallman has a clear shot at the throne he covets.
His opponent, Dennis Cahill, 65, has been a city council member for 12 years. A popular and easygoing retired owner of a masonry company and former union rep, Cahill, a Democrat, is beholden to the development interests that have dictated policy at City Hall since Harry Mitchell became mayor in 1978.
A Cahill victory would signal continuation of the Mitchell/Giuliano style of leadership noted for its reliance on a handful of developers who have benefited immensely from millions of dollars in city incentives. It is a reign many in Tempe want to see ended.
Hence, the widespread support for Hallman.
So what is it that bugs me about the guy?
There is no doubt Hallman is smart. But that doesn't mean he knows how to lead or that he is completely forthright.
No single issue more clearly defines the differences between Hallman and Cahill than Tempe's relationship with Sky Harbor International Airport, and no single issue better displays Hallman's penchant for talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Tempe's bungling when it came to Sky Harbor eventually led to disaster -- that is, to the city's losing its two highest-profile events: the Super Bowl and college football's Fiesta Bowl.
No one fueled the flames of contention with Sky Harbor more than Hugh Hallman.
And no one on the Tempe City Council was in a better position to recognize the political danger of locating Cardinals stadium directly beneath the final approach to Sky Harbor's newest and longest runway than Hallman.
A little background: Hallman has been a harsh critic of the noise Sky Harbor's jets generate over some of Tempe's oldest neighborhoods that straddle the Salt River. Hallman's north Tempe home is in one of those neighborhoods.
He has strongly supported several lawsuits filed by Tempe seeking ways to reduce airport-related noise by forcing aircraft to stay within a narrow corridor over the Salt River on eastern departures and arrivals.
Tempe's legal action forced jets to make tricky, and risky, maneuvers during final approaches until the FAA abandoned the "sidestep" procedure in 2002 after two planes came dangerously close on final approach.
Hallman has been so opposed to the urban airport that he has suggested closing Sky Harbor if it can't safely address flight-path noise issues. Which would come over Phoenix officials' dead bodies. Phoenix has long considered Sky Harbor its most important economic generator (the airport brings in an estimated $20 billion a year).
Cahill, meanwhile, has taken a far less adversarial path. He says technological improvements will continue to make aircraft quieter and that better construction designs for new homes will help with the noise problem.
More than 5,000 Tempe residents work at the airport, and Cahill says it's imperative that the city support such a large employer.
Hallman's antagonistic approach to Sky Harbor blew up on Tempe in 2001. At the same time Hallman was leading the charge in attacking Sky Harbor, he went along with a duplicitous Cardinals stadium proposal by Tempe that would have placed the facility directly under the final approach to the airport's north runway.
Tempe's decision was like throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire. And the city wove a tangled web to get to that point.
In October 2000 -- just weeks before Maricopa County voters would narrowly approve a $2 billion tax to help pay for the professional football stadium -- Tempe had submitted a different stadium site to the Tourism and Sports Authority that wasn't anywhere near the airport.
That site was east of McClintock Drive on an old industrial landfill along the south bank of the Salt River. It was a location that was nowhere near flight paths, but one that would require expensive environmental cleanup to make it ready for stadium construction.
It was a ploy -- brought on by the fact that cities were required to submit location bids before the November vote on the stadium tax.
What Tempe really wanted to do was grease the skids with the Salt River Project by leasing a parcel of land the utility company was having trouble developing. SRP is headquartered in Tempe and operates Town Lake, which makes it a major economic and political player in town that Mayor Giuliano wanted to keep happy.
Trouble was, the real plan couldn't be made public at first because SRP's top executive, Richard Silverman, had a conflict of interest: He was a member of the regional committee promoting the stadium tax to voters.
Mayor Giuliano told me that the city went along with the strategy of avoiding any appearance that SRP was backing the stadium tax while at the same time angling to get the stadium built on land it owned.
It was widely believed that the tax referendum would fail. But two days after the Cardinals beat the Washington Redskins 16-15, voters were revved up enough to approve the stadium tax by about a 4 percent margin.
Then, voilà, immediately after the election, Tempe switched its proposed stadium location to the SRP site east of Priest Drive on the north bank of the Salt River.
As I hinted earlier, there was one huge problem with the SRP property. It was directly in line with the final approach to Sky Harbor's newest, longest and most expensive runway.
Now for those of you who aren't way ahead of me in unraveling this tangled web meant to deceive, here's why this matters in these final days before the mayoral election:
The site on the SRP property was clearly a location that Tempe councilman Hugh Hallman knew full well would raise serious safety concerns with the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration.
For Christ's sake, he had been studying aircraft flight paths and screeching about airport noise for years!
Cahill voted for the SRP site as well, but he did so out of ignorance. He says he went for the SRP location after it was clear the landfill site wouldn't work. He dumbly didn't think that Sky Harbor and the FAA would have any objections to the SRP location.
In Cahill's favor, unlike Hallman, he simply had not been as steeped in aircraft noise issues.
My point is, this was the time for Hallman to stand up and raise a ruckus. He had long played a central role on the city's aviation committee and knew FAA rules inside out.
Yet -- rather than publicly question the SRP site, as he had done on dozens of less important airport noise matters -- Hallman hypocritically supported the city's decision to hire a private consultant to address airport-related issues at the location.
He copped out when the city needed him most.
When the issue was more about danger to prospective patrons at Cardinals stadium than just jet noise over his own blessed neighborhood.
To make matters worse, the consultant later misled the Tourism and Sports Authority by stating that Tempe already had obtained preliminary approval from the FAA for the SRP site.
Hallman now says he supported the SRP site because it appeared to be farther from Sky Harbor's flight paths than Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. Both locations are about the same distance from the end of the runway. The FAA didn't object to Bank One because jets do not fly directly over it, as they would have done at low altitudes over the proposed SRP site.
Hugh, you had to know this. Phoenix officials had not been yelling about airport noise for years as you had. We had reason to believe you wouldn't sell citizens out.
So instead of saving Tempe from (among other things) shooting itself in the foot, Hallman was quiet for once and City Hall supported a sneaky plan to build a 63,000-seat stadium 1.8 miles from the end of a runway at the world's fifth-busiest airport.
He also leaned into a punch, because Sky Harbor now had a golden opportunity to blast its chief nemesis in Tempe. Almost as soon as the SRP site was approved by the Tourism and Sports Authority, pilots began complaining that the site was unsafe. The result was that in July 2001, the FAA announced it would conduct a special review.
Hallman claims that he wound up doing the right thing, at least. He says that, after the SRP site was a go, he remembered an obscure 1990 agreement that Tempe signed with the FAA placing height restrictions on buildings on SRP land.
So let me sum it up for you: As a longtime Tempe resident myself, I'm blaming Hallman for the fact that the 2008 Super Bowl will be played in Glendale instead of Tempe and that the Fiesta Bowl will be leaving Sun Devil Stadium for Glendale.
Hallman -- who had painted a big target on the city by pissing off airport officials for years with his noise attacks -- did not speak out against the city's double-cross to put the Cardinals stadium in a dangerous area. Then, Sky Harbor delighted in sticking it to a deal that loudmouth anti-noise advocate Hugh Hallman supported.
Hallman only brought up the height restrictions on SRP land when it was clear that Tempe's attempt to keep the Cardinals in town was -- thanks to him -- in the toilet.
Sad thing is, such two-faced behavior is nothing new for Hallman.
Fresh out of the University of Chicago law school, Hallman soon attracted the wrong kind of scrutiny from his associates at Brown & Bain in the early '90s. At one point, Hallman was reprimanded by a fellow attorney after it appeared he had falsely portrayed himself as a partner in the law firm. This is considered a gross affront in the legal world -- akin to impersonating an officer in the military (a brig-able offense).
"If it's a choice of Hugh [for mayor of Tempe] or none of the above, pick none of the above," advises Dan Barr, a First Amendment attorney who is a partner at Brown & Bain.
While Hallman denies he ever impersonated a partner, he acknowledges that, because of the way he carries himself, some clients may have assumed he was a senior attorney.
About a Circle K case on which he worked, he says, "The employees thought I was the most senior lawyer working [at Brown & Bain] despite the fact I was second to last. It was just that I move with such confidence, I guess."
Too bad he didn't display that patented swagger when it came to standing up to his City Hall colleagues on the SRP deal. Dennis Cahill may not be the ideal mayor for Tempe, but at least we know what to expect from his years of kowtowing to Giuliano.
With a sidewinder like Hallman, you never can tell.
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