Mayor Kate Gallego: Phoenix 'Poised To Lead The American Recovery'

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 1:46pm

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Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego speaks during her State of the City address on November 17, 2020.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The city of Phoenix has faced the same kind of social and economic challenges as its peers during the pandemic. Mayor Kate Gallego acknowledged as much during her State of the City address on Tuesday. But she also struck an extremely optimistic tone with phrasing like, "By making hard decisions and investing wisely, we have diversified our local economy, stayed clearheaded about how to best fight COVID-19 and grown even stronger." Mayor Gallego was officially elected to the post earlier this month after serving since March of 2019 after winning a special election to finish now-Congressman Greg Stanton's mayoral term. And she's with me to talk about her speech and her outlook for the city of Phoenix. Mayor, you and Gov. Ducey haven't communicated much during the course of the pandemic, and now you're again calling on him to put a statewide mask mandate into effect.

KATE GALLEGO: The greatest challenge facing the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona right now is navigating COVID-19. It's impacted everyone in our community. A mask requirement statewide is a simple step that we can take to protect this community. We know that the Phoenix mask requirement reduced the spread of COVID-19 — ASU has estimated by 25%. We've saved lives. I'm calling on the governor to send the strongest signal to the people of Arizona that we have to wear masks. I'm joined in that by doctors, public health professionals and even the White House COVID-19 task force. Arizona is one of a growing minority of states that does not have a statewide mask requirement. Very conservative states such as North Dakota, Texas have put them in place. The governor of Ohio put one in place. These governors are doing this because it is one of the best steps we can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 without the economic consequences and with clear public health data to support the decision.

GOLDSTEIN: You cited a lot of reasons for optimism in your State of the City address, and I would like to know if you think that after eight or nine months now of this pandemic so far, was it more difficult to find reasons for optimism? Because there's, of course, the COVID fatigue we often hear about. Do you feel like Phoenix will be poised — whenever there's a vaccine, whenever people are able to actually go back to whatever normal is — that Phoenix is poised to really explode economically and in other ways coming out of this?

GALLEGO: Phoenix has not rested during 2020. And because of smart decisions we've made, I believe we are poised to lead the American recovery. We have great innovative thinkers here who can address business challenges, sustainability challenges. And we have a great business climate. People want to come to this community and participate in it. I celebrated a wide variety of things we've accomplished at the city this year, which range from typical local government things like we had our greatest year ever of filling in potholes. We put more miles than ever before to international deals we have done in advance manufacturing, as well as major advances in our biosciences. The path to cure cancer goes right through Phoenix and our amazing smart thinkers in this community. So from the biggest challenges to the smallest, I do feel like Phoenix is poised to come out of 2020, stronger, smarter, greener, better.

GOLDSTEIN: In the short term, obviously, this is the time of year that typically would be amazing when it comes to travel and tourism. And obviously, Sky Harbor is a big economic engine for the Valley, has been for decades. Sky Harbor, though, certainly struggling a bit because travel has changed. Is Sky Harbor going to be in good shape to come out of this, or are there certain shifts that need to be made in order to make sure Sky Harbor is on solid footing when this pandemic ends?

GALLEGO: This year, the Wall Street Journal named Sky Harbor, the number one airport in the country, and we intend to keep a leading airport. We've been using this year to invest in the future of the airport. The council approved a big master plan that includes more space for the Air National Guard, to use more modern technology, better terminal spaces, better connections including a Sky Train. So for those who haven't traveled recently, when you come back you will see an improved airport that can better meet your needs.

GOLDSTEIN: Mayor, for a lot of folks, there's been a dual pandemic when it comes to covid, but also racial injustice — we saw that with the George Floyd killing, and then there have been protests, of course, around the country, and there have been protests in Phoenix as well. And that has had a lot of people speak more about how communities of color can get along better with police departments. What do you think Phoenix needs to do better to show communities of color that people are listening and there will be attempts at improvement?

GALLEGO: We are working hard to build the best police department that we can. We've heard concerns from a wide variety of communities about how we can do better. One important step that I announced yesterday in my State of the City speech is that Phoenix will commit to the Eight Can't Wait set of policy recommendations. These are a national set of best practices that help communities and police departments work better together there and make sure that more people can go home safely, both our officers and our residents. It includes a ban on chokeholds, which our police chief has implemented this year; a verbal warning before firing a weapon; vehicle safety; and a variety of other policies that I hope will help continue building trust. I am also very proud that the City Council has accelerated the deployment of body cameras during COVID-19. There's a lot of uncertainty in our budgets, but the council stepped up and said we are going to commit to $9 million to invest in body cameras. That's an important step towards transparency, and I hope matters to our community. So we are taking this very seriously and trying to build relationships while making sure we have a safe city for everyone to call home.

GOLDSTEIN: What's the level of import and of a good relationship with your office, for example, and the City Council with Phoenix police leadership and rank-and-file officers? How important is that toward making some of the progress you're talking about?

GALLEGO: We work very closely together. The city of Phoenix wants to have the best department possible, and that means we have to have input from all types of stakeholders. During COVID-19, we did continue hiring and making smart investments in technology. We do want to have a strong department, and we've really invested in our officers. This year, for the first time, we have officers getting a certification in emergency medical training. So that means we're investing in the people who are out there, and we hope that they can save lives. And our officers have saved many lives. We've done significant investments in crisis response and making sure that our officers have partners, including clinicians, who can go out and work as a team. We know that our officers share the goal of a safe city. And so we are trying to work together to make sure we deliver.

GOLDSTEIN: Kate Gallego is the mayor of Phoenix. We've been talking about her State of the City address. Mayor, thanks so much for your time today.

GALLEGO: Thanks so much, Steve.

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