Best Power Couple 2009 | Jack and Connie Harris | People & Places | Phoenix

They are just about the last people in the Valley who would want such a honor, but Phoenix's police chief — make that public safety manager — and his wife, Deer Valley Unified School District's associate superintendent, are eminently deserving of the phrase "power couple."

Jack, of course, has become the devil incarnate to many in the anti-immigration set, the personification to pandering politicians, demagogic union leaders and flat-out nutballs for everything wrong with "liberal" law enforcement. Liberal? This unassuming old west Phoenix boy rode motorcycles and walked the streets of his hometown for years before climbing the ladder to the top of his profession. The guy is as hard-nosed as it gets, except he happens to believe in the rule of law, not of the mob.

Quietly, Connie has been an effective big shot in local education for more than 30 years. She was the first woman president of the Arizona Interscholastic Association's board of directors and in 2007 won the Pat Tillman Community Leadership award in the category of Lifetime Achievement. Connie also won a fight with breast cancer a few years ago. These days, she mentors fellow breast cancer survivors and regularly participates in walkathons to raise money to fight the disease.

The Harrises are out there in our community every day, doing what they think is the right thing to make it a safer (in Jack's case) and better-educated (in Connie's case) place to live. That's powerful stuff.

It's not as if things were perfect in 2008. But let's face it: The squabbling we endured at the state Capitol last year was bliss compared to the budget bloodletting that's proved necessary in 2009. We're not accusing of her doing it on purpose, but it's kind of amazing how Janet Napolitano blithely walked away from the governorship, and Arizona, just as the economy literally ground to a halt — and all the spending she encouraged suddenly caught up with us in a big way. Democrats were livid at Napolitano for jumping ship and giving the state over to Republican Jan Brewer, but the move had the kind of selfish shrewdness that's been a hallmark of Napolitano's career. Indeed, in terms of long-term damage, Napolitano's departure forced the Republicans into being the bad guys. They run everything now, but after this year's budget fiasco, their political futures may be bleak. Being the opposition party, surely, has never looked so good.

We loved Richard de Uriarte even when he wrote for the Arizona Republic's editorial page. (That's saying something, considering New Times' longtime animosity for the daily rag.) But we love him even more as the public information officer for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. With all the controversy that august body has been embroiled in this year, no one could blame its new PIO for going into full damage-control mode. But De Uriarte has remained true to form: He doesn't try to argue; he merely explains. He doesn't hide documents that can prove politically damaging. And unlike lesser PIOs, this former journo understands that just because a government agency is required to act if it receives a public-records request doesn't mean that it must get a public-records request just to answer a question. The Supes are lucky to have him.

Like just about everywhere else, the staff at the records room in the basement of the Jackson Street parking structure has shrunk in the past year or so. That has meant longer lines and shorter tempers at times. But we would be remiss if we didn't tip our caps to the clerks who quietly labor behind the counter there five days a week. They are attentive, efficient, helpful, and smile easily. The latter isn't necessarily part of the job description, but it sure does make life easier and more pleasant for all concerned. But, hey, county people, they've got more than enough on their hands at the moment. Please, please don't make any more cuts down there!

Ana Garcia, a sophomore at a Phoenix-area high school, surely didn't mean to set off a public firestorm when she sent a quick e-mail to State Senator Linda Gray. Garcia was simply asking the Legislature not to cut funds for education. But Gray — who clearly didn't realize she was dealing with a 15-year-old with learning challenges — dashed off a snooty response upbraiding Garcia for her bad writing skills. "You should be ashamed of displaying such ignorance in writing to a public servant," the Republican legislator wrote. "Perhaps you watch too much TV or don't know how to speak proper English." Or could it be that perhaps not every student is blessed with the ability to score 140 on an IQ test? Suffice it to say the exchange got out and things got crazy. The lefty Web site DailyKos went ballistic; Gray was forced to apologize to Garcia; plans were made for the senator to visit the student at school and take a look at the programs she was attempting to cut. And thanks to Linda Gray, we all learned a bit more about thinking twice before hitting "reply."

If we had something to sell, or a position to defend, or an ass to cover, you can bet we'd call Jason Rose. We always feel dizzy when we hang up the phone with the PR exec, but, hey, at least he takes our calls. That's more than we can say for a lot of the cowards in this town. Political public relations can make for some scuzzy bedfellows, and Rose has cuddled with the worst of them, but we are always fascinated by his success. So is he, clearly — the guy drives a Maserati and recently bought a multimillion-dollar fixer-upper in Paradise Valley. He makes us feel a little dirty at times, but we'll admit it: Jason, if we get in trouble, you're our first phone call.

It's been an awful year for the East Valley Tribune. The once-venerable newspaper laid off half of its staff and trimmed its publication from daily to four days a week — only to eventually shed even more staffers and cut back to three days. With many of the best staffers gone and the Web site an awful red mess, we can safely say the Trib has become entirely irrelevant. And yet this year, the paper scored a coup that demonstrates how one short year ago, it wasn't just going head to head with the Arizona Republic, it was killing it. The Trib's Pulitzer Prize for Local Coverage was well deserved — and it's certainly not the fault of (now departed) ace reporters Paul Giblin and Ryan Gabrielson that the thing seems more like a sad epitaph than a mark of ongoing quality.

NPR has always been the classiest act on our airwaves. And lately, with more and more radio stations cutting their news staff, it's now also, hands down, the most informative. The morning drive-time show doesn't give us just local headlines at the top of the hour; there's also a good chance we'll get a locally produced feature or two. Later in the day, we have great appreciation for Steve Goldstein's long-form interviews with local politicos. Nobody else devotes so much time and seriousness to its local coverage. For that, we salute KJZZ.

Jim Cross sounds believable and accurate, and with good reason: He is. KTAR's lead news reporter has been telling us important stories from around the state day after day, pounding that rigorous 3 to 11 a.m. shift with the same enthusiasm now as when he was hired in 1999. Cross especially excels during crunch time, when events are fluid and outcomes unsure. His coverage of the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002 and the Southern California firestorm in 2007 was as good as it gets — graphic, yet never maudlin. His description of the first commercial airplane lifting off at Sky Harbor days after 9/11 was riveting and heartfelt. And we also recall his fair coverage of the stunning 2007 arrests of this paper's two principal owners by Joe Arpaio's goons. Good reporter that he is, he drove over to the paper, waited until someone gave him a decent quote, and then put it on the air, all within minutes. What more can you ask?

It's downright impossible to find competition for Mike Watkiss in this wrecking ball of a media market. Watkiss, a mighty mite with a big voice and a bigger heart, is definitely old school. (For the record, we consider that a compliment.) The guy literally pounds the pavement looking for lowdown stories about murder, mayhem, and the otherwise seamy side of life. And he's charming — if you're not the subject of one of his stories. He still wears his O.J. Simpson press pass around his neck as a badge of honor. Sadly, street reporters like Watkiss are a dying breed, so enjoy him while you can. We love the SOB.

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