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.

Here's the clincher: Records I uncovered show that Tempe never seriously considered the landfill site as its proposed location for the stadium.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty