Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tempe City Council and What I Want Out of My City

This post is all about the upcoming run-off election for the Tempe city council happening on May 20th. I did about one hour's worth of research when I voted for the city council in the first election, but surprisingly came up with some pretty strong and even emotional attachments with the folks I voted for. Two of those three are running again in the run-off election. Mark Mitchell was the only candidate to win enough votes to win on the first attempt. One of the persons I voted for, Rhett Wilson, did not win enough to qualify.

Mark Mitchell, for those of you who don't know, is the son of our beloved Congressman Harry Mitchell, a fixture in Tempe, who was gracious enough to knock off the blustering incumbent and Bush apologist, J.D. Hayworth in the 2006 election. Harry Mitchell was a high school teacher at Tempe High for decades, and later won as mayor of Tempe, after that, ousted a former Bishopric member of mine for the state legislature, and is now our Congressman. There is also a statue in downtown Tempe in his honor. I suspect being his son helped Mark Mitchell win the race. His signs were even identical to Harry's.

On Thursday night, I tried to watch the two hour debate streaming on-line from Tempe Channel 11. I say tried because I was also trying to watch my kids while my wife was out for the evening. So, I really wish I could have paid more attention because it was pretty riveting, all four candidates seemed pretty well qualified, accomplished, and aware of the issues. Also, I was surprised by how much the decisions of the council (and the mayor of course) can affect my life. Perhaps they were inflating their own importance in the debate, but if they were, I was fooled.

First of all, I want to give you my run-down of the candidates. Each of them has a website, all linked from here, and most of them containing an almost formulaic list of issues they support: how much they love Tempe and its schools and how much they hate crime and blight. But if you read what they say carefully, do some googling on each candidate, read as much about them as you can possibly find (the Arizona Republic in its Tempe section is providing space on the candidates at an almost daily basis), you get a fairly interesting overview of each candidate. In that vain, here is my take on each. Also, I want to finish this post with a quick rundown of what I want from the city I live in.

Hut Hutson
He's the old guy of the group, the incumbent. He's lived in Tempe forever, been a member of a number of fraternal and community organizations, an apparent leader in the community. In the debate he seemed to have the best grasp of the issues. He seemed to give the most technical, detailed explanations. For example, when asked about the tall buildings coming into the Tempe's downtown, and what the city should do to limit size and height so as to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods. He described Tempe's current approach by using the tent analogy. The tallest building will act as the center pole of the tent, and everything comes down on each side of this "pole" from there. With the effect that building's size blends gradually down toward the size of the single level homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. He was most excited about the prospect of Michael Crow, ASU's president, building a bunch of new student housing which should decrease the rental demand in Tempe's neighborhoods, injecting our city with an influx of affordable homes that hopefully people will buy and not rent. The high percentage of rentals in Tempe is a major issue for this city council. Let's call Hutt Hutson the John McCain of the group (I'm simple, he's the old just like McCain is old).

Joel Navarro
Joel Navarro is a fireman but has a degree in education. I think I remember his parents were also educators. He grew up in Tempe and his parents still live here, and as a result shows a sincere passion for the city. He uses his experience as a fireman, validly I believe, as evidence for his deep knowledge and appreciation for public safety. Both he and Corey Woods were the two candidates who opposed dropping the property tax rates (a huge issue as property valuations appear to be on the verge of a major increase). Instead he is in favor of getting bond elections passed so that the city government can make the many improvements the city needs. Of the four, I came away the least impressed with him in regard to his knowledge about city issues, but this is just a general impression not fully backed up by a lot of supporting evidence.

Corey Woods
Corey Woods is the youngest of the four candidates. Young, single, and full of energy at age 28. This is also his second attempt running for city council. He is not only a current ASU student pursuing a masters degree in education, but also an active member and leader in a number of organizations. He stated, humorously, that sleep isn't something he really needs. He was also the first to declare formally his intentions to run, well before anyone else. He reminds me the most of Barack Obama (I guess his race has something to do with this), but he just has so much youthful energy and passion. He was the strongest proponent of the environment, of public transportation, of supporting eclectic small businesses and promoting destinations places in the city in the vein of Changing Hands/Trader Joes/WildFlower strip mall on the Guadalupe/McClintock corner.

Julie Jakubek
Finally, Julie Jakubek is a successful businesswoman and neighborhood activist, the only one living in the heart of Tempe (in my view), in the Maple-Ash district near the city center. She was the president of the Maple/Ash neighborhood association, owns her own business winning businesswoman of the year recently. She also won beautification awards for the re-modeling work she has done on her house. In the debate, she was quick to tout her business experience, and that because of it she would be ready to balance the books on day one. Maybe she will also have a 3am phone call commercial, so on that note we'll have to call her the Hillary Clinton of the group.

So, for this election, we get to vote for two candidates. I actually think all four seem really qualified to win, but in my eyes, two stand out: Corey Woods and Julie Jakubek.

Corey Woods: He just has the most energy of the group, that much was clear in the debates. He is also the most vocal of all candidates to express views on issues I care most about, transportation, support for small, locally owned businesses, destination places in Tempe. I think his youth and his connection to ASU is an asset. ASU is a major fixture in Tempe, and our city government needs to have a strong relationship with it.

Julie Jakubek: Personally, I think the Maple/Ash neighborhood is part of the heart and soul of Tempe. It is one of its oldest neighborhoods with an obvious geographic connection to the downtown area. Someone who not only lives there, but has been a neighborhood activist there would inevitably be a strong and important resource in the city council. She expresses a strong desire for city and neighborhood beautification which is also an issue very important to me.

I struggled over Hut Hutson. I think his age, experience and knowledge are extremely important, and would hate to lose that. But, I just think the two other candidates bring more relevant perspectives.

Joel Navarro also seems like another good candidate. I didn't get the sense that his grasp of the issues were as deep as the others, but again, I just felt like the Jakubek and Woods have more to offer. Finally, both Jakubek and Woods were endorsed by the Arizona Republic, which definitely has had an influence on me.

I want to conclude this post with a quick summary of what I want out of my city. This view is heavily influenced by Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class . In this book, Florida describes the cities that are thriving as those that can attract the knowledge workers that make up the creative class: the artists, poets, and writers are obvious members. But the group includes software developers, businesspeople, finance. Anyone whose job requires high levels of creativity and self-autonomy. His point is that creative people tend to congregate in cities that accommodate the things creative people seek.

Primary examples of creative class cities are San Fransisco (which can include San Jose), New York City, Boston, and Austin. These cities tend to have really good universities, are ultra-tolerant, have a vibrant downtown and an active and deep arts and music scene. In regards to the tolerance issue, Florida has created what he calls the gay index. Mapping the gay population correlates closely to the creative hubs in our country. This fact has a lot to do with tolerance factor. The homosexual population will simply congregate toward tolerant locations. This attitude of tolerance is important for everyone because it provides all types of people low barriers of entry, where they can jump in and instantly contribute.

Creative class cities also are cities with vibrant downtowns, downtowns that have vibrant high brow (world class symphonies, ballets, and art museums) and low brow (the local gallery, local theater productions). In our valley, Phoenix is the city with the most happening and the most potential. It has the largest downtown with a lot of history, the best art museums, the most art. The first Friday's art walk are the closest we have to New York City style energy. I love how we are close to opening a light rail that will connect Tempe's downtown with Phoenix's. I also love that Tempe's downtown is growing up, promoting more density and hopefully more pedestrian traffic, which will also hopefully encourage a vibrant array of businesses and activities. I'm saddened though that so many of the coolest stores have either moved out of downtown or have closed up altogether, and that so much of downtown has become so trendy and generic.

All in all, though, I love Tempe, I love its botanical gardens, its parks, its library. We just opened up the Tempe Marketplace, which is as generica America as a place can get complete with a wide assortment of uninteresting chain stores. But even still, the southwest Shakespeare company are right now in the midst of doing a five day straight dramatic reading of every single one of Shakespeare's plays right in the midle of the "District" section of Tempe Marketplace. This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in NYC. I cannot tell you how happy I get when something like this happens here. I dragged my kids there yesterday evening to hear a small portion of Hamlet. It was tremendously cool. Especially seeing these 12 or 13 year old kids with copies of Hamlet in hand reading along. Very cool.

So, I love Tempe, I'm excited by some of the things Michael Crow is trying to do with ASU, trying to make it a world class university. Back to the "Creative Class", I think I read that the GDP of companies spawned from MIT would rival most of the countries in the world. World class universities do a lot to spawn a cool, vibrant, an economically strong city.

I also think this city has a ton of diversity and tolerance, some of which inevitably comes from the university of course. When we were first looking for a house, we tried hard to find something near downtown Phoenix. Tempe was our fall back option, but it has been quite a nice place to fall back into. I am also heartened by the quality of candidates running for our city council.

Finally, in the debate Julie Jakubek talked about how approximately 160,000 people live in Tempe, but in the first city council election only about 16,000 people voted, and that election included the mayor. The run-off will probably only attract around 10,000 voters. Here's hoping this post encourages a few more people to cast their votes. One thing is for sure, what our city government does has a direct influence on our quality of life, our local economy, our tax rates, and our families. We owe it to ourselves to get involved.


H said...

I concur with your votes and offer
these reasons for not voting for the other guys...

Straight from Hut's website:
"As a professional investor, he has had direct responsibility and management of more than 100 million dollars of assets in the real estate, oil and gas industries." I just don't need THAT guy running my city.

As for Navarro...he didn't even have a website up and running until the runnoff election. I don't like a guy that thinks he can win with an ethnic last name and the support of the fire department. You need a little more substance to get my vote.

Hmmm...and to become a tolerant society don't we need to pass more tolerant laws? Maybe we shouldn't try to oust people for their beliefs, life-styles, and country of origin.

Finally, in case you didn't know, Childsplay has taken over the old Mitchell school that has been vacant for about 15 years. It will have classes for people of all ages, workshops, and summer camps. Unfortunately, the surrounding neighbors fought vehemantly to keep them from building a 2 story attachment so they can't keep their prop house there. Now, prices go up as they have to lease a place downtown...

The Turley Times said...

Helena, Scott was so sad no one commented on this post. I said, "Just wait till Helena gets back!"

H said...

Thanks for your confidence Sarah. You made me laugh out loud! I even clicked on the "follow up comment" button so I could find out what others said.

And Scott, a few links later and I am dead-set against re-electing Arpio! More later...

tempe turley said...

Helena, thanks for the tip on the Mitchell school. That's really cool. It's a really cool building in a really cool neighborhood being put to a really cool use. We hope to be able to take advantage of ot.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I noticed you forgot to include Portland, Oregon in your list of "creative class" cities. There really is no place like it. Please me a note of it.


tempe turley said...

I agree Portland, OR definitely makes the list.