by Robert Leger – Feb. 4, 2012
The Republic | azcentral.com
Greg Stanton’s day starts with a hitch.
His wife, Nicole, an attorney, has an emergency court hearing. So Phoenix’s new mayor, whose schedule for the day includes greeting President Barack Obama, takes on the duty of getting their two children to school.
While Stanton shuffles an 8:30 a.m. speaking engagement, his security detail pulls the child seat out of the trunk.
“Just like a regular family,” he jokes.
There’s nothing regular about being the mayor of the nation’s sixth-largest city. Each day is a blur of public appearances and boardroom briefings, of trying to find the balance between public duties and private life. Jan. 25 is such a day.
9 a.m. CoverEdge studio, 4602 E. University Drive
After taking his kids to school, Stanton heads to a TV studio near Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. MSNBC wants to talk to him about the Obama visit.
On a monitor, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is handing her letter of resignation to House Speaker John Boehner. Stanton and Giffords were Aspen Institute Rodel fellows, a program for young elected officials that encourages civil dialogue aimed at finding solutions. He reminisces until it’s time for makeup.
This is Stanton’s first appearance on national TV since his Jan. 3 inauguration. The host asks why Obama is coming to such a “fiercely red state” and how he can win here. Stanton, a Democrat, notes that Latino turnout tripled in his mayoral victory and that the president would need similar support to win.
By 9:29 a.m., Stanton is taking his makeup off. Giffords’ resignation has him thinking about others willing to work past partisan labels, such as Mesa’s Republican mayor, Scott Smith.
“We’re working together on the unmanned aviation center at Gateway airport. I’m putting my political capital on the line to support a Mesa project. People forget that Mesa is a top-40 city. It’s important we work together.”
Stanton hopes for the same relationship with Gov. Jan Brewer, especially in economic development. “I’m a bipartisan kind of guy. I don’t care who works with me to get things done.”
Nor does he intend to let partisan politics intrude on City Council deliberations. The previous day, the council was presented with a compensation study. He was ready to accept it, but agreed to give Councilman Sal DiCiccio more time.
Stanton knows he’ll disagree with Councilman Jim Waring on many issues, but they’ll work together to create a 600-acre biomedical campus around the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Waring’s northeast Phoenix district.
“My job is to make sure everyone is treated fairly, gets to speak their mind and gets relevant points on the table. I’ll win some, I’ll lose some. The process is as important as the outcome.”
9:53 a.m. Helen Drake Senior Center, 7600 N. 27th Ave.
Stanton strides into the crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting at the city’s newest senior center, blocks away from the west Phoenix home where he grew up.
“Hi, I’m Greg Stanton,” he says, shaking hand after hand. “I’m the new guy.”
People line up to take a picture with him; he asks them to post the images to their Facebook pages.
“You’re very nice to come and greet everyone,” one woman says.
“I’m glad to see you,” he says. “I’m still in campaign mode.”
The ceremony begins.
“Someone asked if I’m excited about today,” Stanton says. “You may have heard I’m meeting the president later, but that’s not nearly as exciting as the opening of the Helen Drake Senior Center this morning. Let’s get our priorities right.”
10:43 a.m. On Phoenix streets
The line about Obama and priorities gets a good laugh, but Stanton says there is truth in it. The day’s calendar includes a Maricopa Association of Governments meeting, which the mayor wanted to attend though it would mean missing the president’s visit.
“I had a fight with my staff over choosing between MAG and Obama. They finally convinced me it sends the wrong message if the mayor of Phoenix doesn’t greet the president.”
Stanton’s predecessor, Phil Gordon, assigned council members to represent the city on regional bodies. Stanton, with his commitment to regionalism, will take on those duties himself. He hopes to thaw relations with other Valley mayors.
“When they see me at meetings regularly, they’ll see I’m down-to-earth. I don’t think Phoenix is better than anyone else. Personal relations mean a lot in politics.”
10:58 a.m. A.E. England Building, 424 N. Central Ave.
This is where Stanton’s day was supposed to begin, at a meeting of the Sustainable Cities Network.
Stanton apologizes to the gathering of city staffers from across the Valley. “I love sustainability. I love my kids more.”
He introduces his sustainability adviser, Colin Tetreault, takes a couple of questions and asks for help in branding this community as one where sustainability is incubated.
“We want the best minds in the field to use Phoenix as their laboratory. No city has yet been successful as the place for sustainability entrepreneurs.”
11:12 a.m. Back in the car
Stanton has been mayor nearly a month. He says he was well-prepared for the job, after serving seven years on the City Council, so there have been no surprises professionally.
Those have come on a personal level.
“I’m committed to being a good father. We’ve had a few snafus, like this morning. When I get home, I feed the kids and get them in bed, and then get back to work. I have an issue with boundaries: 9:30 or 10 o’clock calls to staff to strategize on issues are not unusual.”
His deputy chief of staff, Kelly Dalton, accompanied him on a trip to Washington. They talked policy the entire plane trip. “Next time,” she jokes, “we’re getting a longer movie, like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.”
Grocery-store trips that used to take five minutes now take 45 because he stops and talks with people.
About the only place he doesn’t talk policy is lunchtime basketball games at the downtown YMCA, and those are less frequent these days.
“That’s the most diverse place in the city. You’ve got professionals, accountants, high-school kids, people on work release from the jail. You get to know guys you play with regularly, but only basketball-wise. You know their moves.”
Some of the players may not know he’s mayor, unless they notice the omnipresent security detail.
11:22 a.m. 11th floor, City Hall.
Deputy City Manager Ed Zuercher and budget director Mario Paniagua brief Stanton on budget- and labor-negotiation deadlines. The city will again plan a series of public hearings. The mayor asks that each one be taped and put on YouTube, so people can watch at their convenience.
“Beyond the hearings, what are we doing?” he asks, and quickly adds that he’d like to do one via Skype. “Let’s take advantage of modern technology.”
He’s just getting started. “We usually set these meetings on our schedule and at our places. How about reaching out to broader groups, asking to turn one of their meetings into a budget hearing? Maybe we could do something with the North Phoenix Tea Party.”
The budget briefing ends. Chief of staff Paul Blue joins Stanton to meet with people involved in Gangplank, a Chandler incubator for early startups.
“We have unused facilities. One of my ideas is to make space available for local entrepreneurs,” Stanton says, but he wants more details about how Gangplank works.
Each city is different, says co-founder Derek Neighbor, dressed in ragged jeans and an untucked shirt, a contrast to Stanton in his dark suit and light-blue tie.
“We prefer old, crappy buildings” for a collaborative workspace where people can just drop in, Neighbor says. “We’re not a company incubator. We’re a culture incubator.”
There’s a lot of talk about developing young entrepreneurs and creating an atmosphere in which companies can be launched.
Blue speaks up. “Let’s get practical,” he says. “I agree with your philosophy. My job is to wrap things up in a box we can take through the process. We want to have you say that the next place you’re going isn’t Florence, but Phoenix.”
12:32 p.m. Starbucks, ground floor of City Hall
Stanton takes a break to grab a cup of coffee, shaking hands as he waits in line. He says he has about three cups a day. His staff says the number is a bit higher.
12:40 p.m. 11th floor
Michael Hull and Brad Fox wait for Stanton in the conference room. The mayor pulls a staffer into his office, asking for a quick briefing before he steps into the meeting.
Hull and Fox are with InVent Life Sciences, which matches researchers with companies that can take their discoveries to market.
“We’ve created a research monster,” Fox says. “If research is our prime focus, how hard is it to attract risk capital? It limits the jobs we can create and the sustainability.”
Stanton listens, recalls the beginning of biomedical research in Phoenix and asks Hull and Fox how their company differs from another one in town. Nothing suggests he walked into the meeting cold.
As the meeting breaks up, he offers the two his personal cellphone number. “Let me know if I can help in attracting any companies. Part of my job is to be an ambassador.”
It’s time to drive to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Thankfully, Air Force One lands early, shortening the wait. Stanton, Brewer and Smith, Mesa’s mayor, follow the stairs to the jet.
Obama waves, skips down the stairs and meets Brewer. The finger-waving incident that grabs national attention occurs.
“That’s the difference between governors and mayors,” Stanton says later. “At that meeting, we’re ambassadors. You don’t create a confrontation.”
The mayor heard the conversation between the two but won’t repeat it. He’ll only say the president was not flustered.
After stepping away from Brewer, Obama warmly greets Smith. They exchange a few pleasantries, then Obama shakes Stanton’s hand.
Stanton thanks the president for his hospitality at the White House the previous week and says he’s delighted to have Obama visiting Intel. Stanton offers his support for the Dream Act, which would grant citizenship in specific cases to people brought here illegally as children. The president thanks him.
Stanton joins the presidential motorcade, though in a separate car from Obama, and attends the speech. A big cheer goes up when the president mentions the mayor.
“I’m still in my honeymoon period,” Stanton says. “Wait till I start making decisions.”
5:15 p.m. Herberger Theater
Stanton joins mayors, business association leaders and non-profits from across the Valley for a “Spotlight on the Region” reception, an event organized by the Sustainable Communities Working Group to welcome the two newest mayors, Stanton and Surprise’s Sharon Wolcott, and reinforce the sentiment for greater regional cooperation.
“As far as I know, the governor is still shaking her finger at the president. I made a clean break,” Stanton tells the group. “As cities, we have to act differently. We have to work cooperatively. It’s hard to make that sexy, but it’s important. It’s not touchy-feely, it’s not a sound bite. We will sink or swim as a region.”
The speeches end. The string trio, after asking for a picture with Stanton, resumes playing. The political and non-profit leaders return to their bruschetta and drinks.
The crowd begins to thin. As 8 p.m. comes and goes, Stanton remains in the middle of the room, talking policy with his colleagues.
Reach Leger at robert.leger@arizona republic.com or 602-444-6850.
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