Sam I Am

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The year of the divorce, Sam Campana went to work as executive director of Arizonans for Cultural Development, a nonprofit agency that had been formed in 1981 to advocate for the arts and nurture the state's artists and arts groups. She's remained with the group, currently earning a $100,000 annual salary as its chief executive officer--on top of her $27,600 "part-time" mayoral salary. It is her work with that group that is generally credited with allowing her to create the political network of support that she now enjoys.

Generally viewed by the arts community as an energetic and effective ally, one who can craft necessary political ties and bring funding mechanisms into play, Campana has been credited with helping win the Legislature's approval of the state arts endowment.

Shelly Cohn, director of the Arizona Commission for the Arts, the state agency that manages the endowment and provides arts support, credits Campana with building a strong partnership between her agency and Arizonans for Cultural Development, "based on her drive to make sure the Legislature and people who need to be involved are comfortable making the decisions that raise the profile of the arts." She says, "Campana helps them overcome their reservations and assures them it's money well spent back in the local community."

Campana's foray into politics followed a similar timetable. Not long after the divorce, Campana and her children had moved to the roomy house on a cul-de-sac near Scottsdale Fashion Square, where she still lives. By the mid-'80s, she was propelled into city council chambers to protest a high-rise building at Scottsdale and Camelback roads and the council's plan to build the "couplet" of Civic Center and Goldwater boulevards to divert Scottsdale Road traffic. She claims that the sitting councilmembers were mostly people whose campaigns she'd worked on, and their smug indifference to her testimony planted the demon seed of running for office.

"It was like, 'So, who are you?' And I was so taken aback by that," she recalls. "And I thought, now wait a minute here. I worked really hard on every one of your campaigns. And this is something that I care about, and I just didn't like the way I was treated." Then an idea struck her, she says: Seventy-five percent of the population would like to run for office but they don't know how. "I did know how."

In 1980, Richard Campana had decided to give up his council seat, telling his then-wife that the hard work had all been done, now it was up to someone else to make it all fit. Apparently, now she would take on that task. Typically, she began by calling her friends together. Friends from community groups, the Charros--the powerful men's club, arts groups, women's groups. And she rode into office on their backs, twice. In 1994, when Herb Drinkwater announced he would not run in 1996, Campana let her council term expire, looked around at her options for a while, thought about Congress, publicly acted coy--then decided to run for mayor. She named her twentysomething daughter Cassidy, who had been clerking at a bookstore while waiting to get into grad school, campaign manager.

Only one problem--a councilman named Bill Walton had been smeared for having accepted payment from the developers of the Princess resort. Campana was suspected of having brought the story to light, provoking a dramatic loyalty split within the established political forces. The Anti-Sams developed a so-called Anyone-But-Sam campaign and recruited former Chamber of Commerce president Diana Smith to run. The mud flew. After a run-off, Campana emerged victorious, but with many of her old alliances in tatters.

Smith, who continues to serve on several boards and committees including the Scottsdale Cultural Council, says she has not yet decided whether she'll run for mayor again.

Campana says Smith no longer speaks to her, not even to be polite in public.
"That's her problem," says Smith. "When I see her, I acknowledge her." She adds that the two serve on some boards together.

Once in office, Campana was faced with the prospect of coming to terms with the Herb Drinkwater Legacy. Drinkwater, who died in 1997, was the larger-than-life cowboy-mayor who'd come to Arizona from upstate New York to help his asthma, governed for 16 years and was known for being ubiquitous, funny and a guy who just couldn't say no to a constituent's request. Vern Swaback, a longtime Scottsdale architect, civic activist and friend of both Campana and Drinkwater, says, "Herb had this way of responding in excess to the needs of a single citizen. That was fine in a small town, but when you've got 185,000 people, it's impossible."

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Kate Nolan