Longform

Sam I Am

Page 3 of 9

To explain Drinkwater's and Richard's part in the land sale and possible cronyism on the council, Sam Campana first chooses the path of ignorance: "I went out of my way not to know what Richard owned," she says, "and what he did with [Drinkwater] I couldn't tell you even today." Yet somehow she'd known enough to abstain from the council vote on the purchase, she's reminded. In other words, she knew Richard Campana owned it, so why not just say so? Finally, she settles on a tone of bold defiance: "I don't have to defend anybody," she concludes, "because it doesn't matter to me because I don't get any of it, don't want any of it."

Earlier this year, Scottsdale was ordered to pay out millions in lawsuits involving charges of racism in the police department. Those decisions came amid numerous reports of racial incidents at the hands of the department. Initially, Campana made strong comments suggesting an internal review of the situation. After the cops jumped down her throat, Campana publicly changed to a more conciliatory approach. But shortly, Chief Michael Heidingsfield resigned, giving the appearance he was squeezed out. Mayor Sam so eloquently circumlocutes the question that we still don't know.

"Where the chief and I differed was, I believe in human nature. That there are instances of that, we have to always be ready when there are, to say it and reprimand it. And I couldn't get our police chief to say that and mean it."

So, is she taking credit for his leaving?
"The chief chose to be in academia and unbeknownst to me, all those years he was our police chief he was working on becoming, I think it was, brigadier general in one of those reserve units. He was spending significant time away--which our city manager okayed--those are our fighting forces."

Did she encourage him to leave?
"I did not. Nope. I did not. It's a very good solution and might be an area that would differentiate me from Mayor Drinkwater. Mayor Drinkwater said to me that Chief Heidingsfield is the best police chief in the country and stand behind him. And I think when all that happened, that's probably what Mayor Drinkwater would have done." And what she didn't do.

And so the lively discourse goes when Mayor Sam dissembles. The funny thing is that sometimes, you get the sense she's even spinning the little stuff, the prepositions. For example, she once enrolled in a six-week public policy program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. But, now in repeated instances it's become, "When I went back to Harvard," implying she'd studied there before, which she didn't. Now, of course, she can go "back" to Harvard any time she wants, but until then, "back" for Mayor Sam remains Scottsdale Community College, Carroll College in Helena, Montana, and her hometown of Filer, Idaho.

One of Sam Campana's favorite moments in public life came while the recent Smithsonian exhibit ran at the Scottsdale Galleria. Two busloads of kids from the northern Arizona town of Snowflake had come to see the show. The kids raced around between Dorothy's slippers, Kermit the Frog and the Tucker automobile. "But they spent most of their time riding the escalator," explains the mayor. "Really, it made me cry because I was in the eighth grade the first time I rode an escalator. We went on our eighth-grade trip to the capitol, to Boise."

The story fits with a certain Dorothy-in-Oz fascination Campana has for her current life. Down deep, she may still be Kathryn "Sam" Houston, the small-town kid from Filer, Idaho, daughter of a rural mailman and a school librarian. She spent her childhood knocking around the agricultural community with her three athlete brothers, picked up the nickname Sam and later wound up playing clarinet in the high school band and being head baton twirler.

Catholics in a Mormon community, the Houstons didn't take anything for granted. To this day, Campana brags that she got to be head twirler based solely on talent. In 1966, she left Filer for Carroll College, a strict Catholic school in Helena, Montana, where, despite the absence of drugs, antiwar protests or any other '60s campus crusades, Campana managed to be grounded most of the time for violating curfew, smoking, and walking and smoking at the same time, she says. Two years later, Campana switched to a community college back home in Idaho, but soon took a road trip that changed her life.

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Kate Nolan