Activists Stage Protest As Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego Gives Annual Address | Phoenix New Times

Protesters Beat a Piñata to Remind Phoenix Mayor of Controversies She Ignores

Mayor Kate Gallego looks to the future in State of the City address. Activists say she's ignoring today.
Activists bat a piñata meant to represent Mayor Kate Gallego before her annual State of the City speech on April 12.
Activists bat a piñata meant to represent Mayor Kate Gallego before her annual State of the City speech on April 12. Katya Schwenk
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On Wednesday at noon, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was slated to give her State of the City address at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown. Outside the hotel, dozens of protesters gathered to send Gallego a message.

The protesters carried signs calling for an end to displacement and access to affordable housing. They also strung up a piñata meant to represent the mayor, which later spilled candy across the ground. It was another move in a months-long bid to stop the eviction of residents in Phoenix mobile home parks.

Inside the hotel, Gallego faced a far more friendly audience. The annual speech was hosted by the Greater Phoenix Chamber, the local business association, and guests were treated to several courses during the luncheon.

"The future is Phoenix and the future is everywhere we look," she said at the conclusion of her remarks. The city's efforts toward sustainability — particularly its plans for future water usage — and investment in the tech industry were two key focuses of the speech.

Yet on the street, as the guests to the speech filtered into the hotel lobby, protesters painted their own version of Phoenix's future under Gallego — one that did not include people like the hundreds of mobile home park residents facing imminent eviction.
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Dozens of people gathered to protest during a speech by Mayor Kate Gallego at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown on April 12.
Katya Schwenk

Housing Challenges ‘Not Unique to Phoenix’

In recent weeks, the mayor has faced intense pressure from advocates, including residents of mobile home parks, the Valley Tenants Union, and community organizing group Comités de Defensa del Barrio.

On March 22, the Phoenix City Council voted down several proposals activists fought for that would have prevented the development of three mobile home parks where residents face imminent evictions. Gallego joined four other councilmembers opposing the measure in a 5-4 vote.

At a council meeting on April 5, a proposed moratorium on development at the three parks was again added to the agenda. This time, Gallego joined four other councilmembers in voting to block public comment on the item. The decision caused outrage from the many mobile home park residents who came to the meeting to give testimony.

Outgoing Councilmember Carlos Garcia told the mayor the move was "lower than you've ever gone before."

Gallego defended the decision by saying that the proposal for the city to block development at the parks was a false promise. "These are very scary times for individuals. It would be a political stunt to tell people that this vote will help them in the very, very hard situation that they are in," she said. The mayor said a moratorium on development would not necessarily prevent the evictions from moving forward.

In her State of the City address, the mayor dealt with the issue of housing by avoiding any mention of recent controversies. "I want to ensure Phoenicians that we remain focused on making sure they have an affordable place to call home," she said, launching into a discussion of the city's support of housing development and affordability.

Gallego highlighted the city's recent investments in apartments made from shipping containers. She argued that it was a more efficient way of adding new housing units, although it's unclear what those units will cost.

There was also no specific mention in Gallego's remarks of the sprawling downtown homeless encampment that has become the subject of two different court battles in recent months. On March 27, a judge gave the city until July to clear out the Zone, stating that the living conditions violated state law.

"Sadly, homelessness is not unique to Phoenix. More than half a million individuals are experiencing homelessness in America," Gallego said in her speech. "What is unique to Phoenix is that our city is putting every solution on the table to lift people out of homelessness."

The solutions she highlighted were housing vouchers and investment in nonprofits.
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Activists chanted as guests to Mayor Kate Gallego's annual State of the city speech filtered in to a downtown hotel.
Katya Schwenk

Activists Say Mayor ‘Pro-Displacement’

The protesters outside the hotel called Gallego's record on these issues into question. "The mayor sided with greedy landlords instead of the people. So who does she represent? That's why the people are out here protesting," said Sylvia Herrera. A longtime community organizer, Herrera has worked closely with mobile home park residents to fight the evictions over the last year.

Flyers passed out by the group — entitled the "People's State of the City" — described the mayor as "indebted to developers." It read, "She is fundamentally pro-development and pro-displacement."

The decision to hold aloft a piñata — which people took turns hitting with a bat — was reminiscent of the tactics activists used to fight back against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio during his reign over the agency. In 2008, protesters against Arpaio's anti-immigrant policing and racial profiling beat piñatas of the sheriff in protest. On April 12, it was Gallego's turn.

A spokesperson for the mayor did not reply to a request for comment from Phoenix New Times about the protest.
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Guests enjoyed a multiple-course luncheon as Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego delivered her State of the City address on Wednesday.
Katya Schwenk

A Promise to Phoenicians

Gallego was unapologetic about her support for development in her speech, describing it as critical for a fast-growing city like Phoenix. She touted the light rail extension into South Phoenix as an important new source of transit. Gallego also noted that her support for development had brought new homes into a squeezed housing market and emphasized her administration's focus on sustainability in those projects.

A telling moment of the speech came as Gallego turned to the issue of policing — another controversial topic, given the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and a recent spate of police killings.

While Gallego extolled the city's reform efforts, such as its mental health intervention unit, she didn't mention the unit is struggling to get started. The mayor was also firm in her support for the police department. Her audience responded with resounding applause as she announced that the department was now the highest-paid law enforcement agency in the state.

"To those who say it’s not possible: We can, and we will be both progressive and practical on policing. It’s limiting to see these as mutually exclusive," she said. "Pragmatism delivers results."

Even as Gallego framed her tenure as mayor as one of futuristic idealism, her speech was also rooted in a deep pragmatism. Soon, with the departure of the often firebrand councilmembers Carlos Garcia and Sal DiCiccio, the mayor will be armed with a city council that is more moderate and more closely aligned with her goals.

What that will mean for the city is still unclear, but Gallego now has a promise to fulfill. "We are ready to deliver,” she said at the conclusion of her address.
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