By Mary L. Holden
The city of Phoenix is sixth in population status, after Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. Population is about numbers. Governance is about commitment, responsibility and an x factor that just might be known as heart.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was elected in 2011 with 56 percent of the vote. Although heart was not an official part of his campaign platform, Stanton grew up spending time helping others in need. He’s smart. And, he’s a giver. Now, after one year in office, this mayor has shown through his actions that he uses the brain of his heart, and the heart of his brain, to lead. His goal is to define, make possible and represent the best interests of Phoenicians and all Arizonans.
What kinds of questions can you ask a politician who is a pioneer at governance with such heart-centered integrity and deep-rooted care about citizenry? Here are some—along with Stanton’s answers.
MyLIFE: You grew up in Phoenix. What memories motivated your desire to lead this city?
Stanton: One of my most important memories was the dedication of my parents to helping people in need. My mom and dad didn’t have much, but they had more than a lot of folks and that’s why they instilled the importance of giving to others. In that spirit, they founded the Christian Needs Network, a group of multi-faith volunteers who collected clothes, food and diapers for members of their community in need. As kids, we grew up as volunteers and understood the importance of giving back to the community and dedicating your life to helping others.
MyLIFE: Part of your vision for Phoenix is to “increase transparency.” What kind of transparency do you want to see?
Stanton: I believe that government needs an infusion of transparency and accountability, and it’s important that everyone at the city is committed to delivering both. Open and accountable government is good for taxpayers, and it is good for the city. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the bedrock for creating stability and confidence that can attract business and quality jobs. So far I have already implemented many transparency initiatives:
· I gave up my monthly show on Channel 11 to broadcast the formal city council meetings.
· I moved formal council meetings to a later time to make it more convenient for the public to attend.
· We are now broadcasting live the city council subcommittee meetings.
· I have formed the city’s Ethics Review Task Force made up of citizens and chaired by former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley.
MyLIFE: The way we communicate is changing, and sources of information have multiplied. Social media is at the forefront. How do you feel about this?
Stanton: The way in which we communicate is changing, but in a more innovative way and a more transparent way. It’s also an easier way for Phoenix residents to get involved in city government. For example, when the city was putting together a budget for this fiscal year, we held community forums, but we also held the city’s first live, online budget hearing on phoenix.gov and on Channel 11 and incorporated questions from Facebook, Twitter and email that we answered live on the air. I also use my Facebook and Twitter pages often to post events, photos and what I’m working on for you. You can find these at facebook.com/mayorstanton and @MayorStanton. I also make sure our community is informed about what I’m working on for them by sending out a monthly “Top 5” newsletter to let them know the top five things I’m working on for them. You can subscribe by emailing email@example.com. As far as my own ways to stay informed, I am an avid social media user. I also enjoy reading azcentral.com, various national news publications, and political and sports blogs.
MyLIFE: You lived on food stamps for a week. What did you learn?
Stanton: I was asked to participate in the SNAP challenge by the Arizona Community Action Association, and I took it. I simulated being on food stamps for a week, which averages out to $29. It was tough—I even lost a few pounds—but I know I am a better policymaker because of it. I learned that the best solution for our brothers and sisters on food stamps is more jobs in our city, and that’s what I’m working on as mayor.
MyLIFE: Are there any other social experiments you have done or plan to do to help you in your role as mayor?
Stanton: I definitely enjoy these kinds of challenges, because I know I’ll be a better policymaker because of it. I also participated in the Wheelchair Challenge, where I played wheelchair basketball with the Wheelchair Suns, some of the most skilled and talented basketball players I have ever met. I had a great time and managed to even score a basket. I also played on the Phoenix Mercury practice squad team, but that didn’t turn out so well—I went up for a rebound against the Mercury’s Nakia Sanford and came down with a broken nose.
MyLIFE: What is the best way to overcome citizen/voter apathy?
Stanton: At the city, we are ground zero for making this happen. Chances are, at the city, there is more than one issue that directly affects you as a resident, whether it be water rates or after-school programs or libraries. The best way to do this is to provide ways for residents to get involved and get involved easily. For example, as part of the city’s general plan of how we want Phoenix to look in the next 10 years, we have established an interactive website called myplanphx.com, where you can submit your idea for Phoenix’s future and score points based on feedback you get. You can win lunch with me and other rewards.
MyLIFE: What would you like to know about the citizenry you lead, and how do you go about getting this information?
Stanton: I’m lucky to have a very talented staff in my office as well as staff in the city that works on issues that span our city, from sustainability to neighborhoods. They provide me with research and background that I need when I need it. But I think some of the best information comes from residents themselves who take the time to come to our office or talk to me on the street or at events, like my Coffee with the Mayor, or send me messages on Facebook or Twitter to tell me their ideas or ask me questions. The people are the roots where ideas are generated and things get done.
MyLIFE: There is a cause that is important to your family—what is it?
Stanton: My wife, Nicole France Stanton, has been working hard on stopping bullying in Arizona. She has done some great work, including holding a successful Anti-Bullying Summit, one of the first of its kind in the nation. For more information on how to get involved, go to stopbullyingaz.com.
MyLIFE: What is your role as mayor and dad teaching your two children about life?
Stanton: I think as mayor, it’s more about what my children can teach me about life than the other way around. I go to work every day, but when I come home I am reminded not only of my own children’s future, but also of all the families in Phoenix and the future of their children. And I’m reminded what I’m working so hard for every day, for our city’s, our region’s future success so that everyone has an opportunity to succeed and not only pursue happiness, but achieve it.
Most of the good changes in the world come from the bottom up. If transparent government is the key to managing a well-run city, it is not enough for elected officials and appointed officials to wash windows and open doors. Citizens should test this transparency by looking into the windows and opening doors
Interviewer’s note: It’s your turn. What questions do you have about the lifestyle afforded to you by your city officials? Give them a chance to show you their heart—give them a chance to answer your interview.