The former District 6 councilman and deputy attorney general rides into the second half of his term on plenty of ups (e.g. a bullish economy, being named “Best Elected Official” by the Capitol Times) and few downs (e.g. having his nose broken at a Phoenix Mercury scrimmage).
So what’s left? Maybe... a run for Arizona attorney general in 2014?
It’s going on two years now that you’ve been mayor. What midterm grade would you give yourself?
Oh, always incomplete. But we’ve succeeded in making city government more transparent, strengthening our ties to Mexico, we’ve passed the Access to Care Ordinance, our budget is balanced, we have a AAA credit rating. It is a fun time to be mayor.
You ran as an education candidate. How is that going so far?
In this year’s budget, we significantly increased funding to afterschool programs. We are now committed to making reading one of the key components of afterschool programs, so that they’re not just a safe place for your kids, but a place where kids learn.
How about job creation?
I’ve spent more time than anything as mayor going to businesses and asking them what they need from the city. And what people in the tech fields want is to be part of work force development. When I do economic development, and I do a ton of it, people always ask me ‘Are there other people here like me?’ Also, ‘Are you a fun place to live?’
You’ve re-thought your stand on letting the 2 percent food tax expire. Was that painful?
Look, my preference is to get rid of the food tax, but I also say we’re not going to lay off police or firefighters. I challenged [City Manager David Cavazos] to come up with an honest budget, and he did. It’s not politics, it’s math. One thing I will never do as mayor is put our AAA rating at risk for the sake of political gain.
What are the challenges, and the advantages, of working within a council-manager system?
Mostly advantages. Even if you don’t agree with everything the city does, it’s a clean city. I only have one vote on the council. People ask if that makes you a weak mayor. No, you can get just as much done. You just have to do it collaboratively. I don’t want to be a strong mayor; I want to be an effective mayor.
What is your take on the business community’s perception of Arizona, post-SB 1070?
It’s a huge challenge. One reason I’m so vocal about embracing diversity is that we’ve passed these divisive laws. Look, I’m not naïve – I know there are problems at the border, but instead of viewing our proximity to Mexico as a liability, I think it’s a huge advantage.
What’s a higher office that might interest you in the future?
I love public service; it’s what I’ve chosen for a career. But I think I have the best job. Being mayor is great. You can actually get things done.