Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman rushes through the late morning traffic in his 1991 Volvo sedan. He’s late for a meeting at the Shalimar Country Club where he’s scheduled to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Tempe. Politically, it’s the heart of anti-Hallman country.
Many of the club’s members are part of the city’s entrenched political establishment who opposed Hallman during last year’s mayoral campaign. Known by insiders as the "Old Guard" or the "Shalimar Mafia," longtime City Councilman Dennis Cahill was their hand-picked guy to lead the city. His defeat left them bitter. Nearly a year after becoming the city’s first new mayor in a decade, Hallman is scheduled to talk to them about the city’s progress.
But first, he needs to get there.
"Now, there’s one rule, if you think I’m going to hit something, point it out. Sometimes I get distracted," Hallman says, at the wheel of the vintage Volvo.
With more than 136,000 miles and in need of new tires, the nearly classic car doesn’t seem to fit the image of a successful business attorney and one of the East Valley’s most influential men. As a candidate and now as mayor, Hallman has continued to pledge regional cooperation with Tempe’s neighbors.
He has been a driving force behind the creation of incentive free zones to end the economic competition between cities.
But over his political career Hallman has shown he doesn’t fit the typical politico persona. As a young maverick councilman from 1998 to 2002, Hallman was best know for his outspoken and sometimes combative personality.
And off-the-wall behavior. After a political enemy once described him as "Crusader rabbit" in a newspaper column, Hallman wore a pink bunny suit with a black cape to City Hall. There’s also the story of Hallman attending a special council meeting in a clown suit.
"There is value in having someone who can play the bad cop on the council," Hallman says. "It helps the council get a better outcome for the community."
While playing a rebellious role can work as a councilman, it has earned him mixed reviews in his first year as mayor.
Critics say he’s not a team player. Some council members say there are times when they feel left in the dark. During at least one meeting, the council told Hallman to stop cutting deals on his own. Councilwoman Pam Goronkin says that while the mayor has improved, he still needs to work at it.
Goronkin, who was one of several council members to contribute money to Cahill last year, says Hallman was difficult to work with when he first came to the office.
"He needs to know that he cannot speak on behalf of the council unless we give him that authority," she says.
ENCOUNTERING THE ENEMY WITH STYLE
Just after noon, Hallman finally arrives at the country club. He walks through the parking lot at an extremely quick pace. With his long strides, the average person would be at a jog just to keep up. His political handlers have told him to slow down, that rushing doesn’t look official.
But he’s not slowing down today. At least not yet.
Inside, members of the club look up from their chickenfried steaks to greet the mayor. They offer him a plate, but he refuses, as he does many of the perks of the job.
As a councilman and now as mayor, Hallman reimburses the city for any expenses incurred on his behalf. He writes checks to the city for council dinners and other political functions. He forgoes the standard $600-a-month car allowance and personal parking space.
He doesn’t, however, refuse the coffee at the club.
Tempe is on the move, he tells the audience. Using a large map of the city as a visual aid, Hallman shows the latest development projects and shares his vision of the future.
The mayor wants to work with Arizona State University to make Tempe into a world leader in the high-tech and biotech industries. He wants to increase development along Tempe Town Lake and entice more residents to live downtown.
Financially, the city faces record budget deficits, a problem that Hallman says is worse than he’d thought before taking office. But as more construction sprouts up throughout the city and with major projects in the planning stages, he says that the economic pieces are in place to lift the city out of the red.
As the club members finish their chocolate pudding, he explains the details of the projects. He quotes easily from the development and disposition agreements and other legal documents. His command of the facts is obvious, but at times he can lose an audience in the details.
’A LEARNING EXPERIENCE’
Over the years, Hallman has earned a reputation as a man obsessed with details. His ability to draw on the most mundane details about everything from aviation regulations to development codes is unmatched at City Hall.
It’s a quality that makes for a good lawyer but can be a liability as mayor. Some members of his staff say he’s had to learn to delegate responsibility. They joke that at least he’s cut the number briefcases he carries down to two. The briefcases, including one he’d had since his days as a lawyer at Brown & Bain, are thick and worn from age and use. The heavy cases weigh down the trunk of his car.
"It’s been a learning experience for me," Hallman says. "For the first time in my life I realized that I couldn’t sustain the level of activity I was engaged in."
After the speech, he’s a bit more relaxed, the pace still quick, but noticeably slower as he walks back to the car.
The next stop is City Hall to prepare for a television interview with KPHO-TV (Channel 5) news reporters. They want to talk about the city’s plans for the Fourth of July.
But on the way he gets a call. The city has lost a discrimination suit filed by nine Hispanic employees from the public works department. Tempe has been ordered to pay about $2.4 million to the men for racism and discrimination they suffered as city employees.
For Hallman, the judgment is very personal. For years, Hallman, along with Councilman Ben Arredondo, worked to ferret out racism within the public works department. Hallman even dressed as a sanitation worker and went out with the city’s crews.
In return, many of the Hispanics from the department worked tirelessly on his mayoral campaign last year.
The race spiraled into a bitter political war between Hallman and Cahill.
Hallman ran on the slogan "Tempe’s Brightest Future." He accused the old leadership of being agents of real estate developers and risking the city’s economic future. He accused them of financial recklessness for paying out millions of dollars in taxpayer money to developers to land commercial projects.
And he chastised them for taking thousands of dollars in political contributions from developers to fund their campaigns.
During the race, Hallman refused to accept money from people with "business pending before the council," which included developers.
Since taking office, Hallman has had to make tough choices between his personal beliefs and the politics of the mayor’s office. As a registered Republican and a "principled Libertarian," Hallman opposes taxes and most economic subsidies such as tax incentives and abatements. Likewise, he is a strong defender of private property.
As mayor, however, he’s contradicted his ideology on all three accounts.
He has voted for or publicly supported projects that were funded with tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Those projects include his public support for the ASU Scottsdale Center for New Technology and Innovation and the renovation of Tempe Diablo Stadium to keep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in town.
He voted to raise property taxes and he is expected to support hikes in water and irrigation rates. During a recent meeting, the council agreed to move forward with the fee increases.
But the planned $200 million Tempe Marketplace might be the one project most at odds with his political ideology. Last year, he voted to condemn about 20 parcels of private property needed for the outdoor shopping center.
Hallman says his hands were tied by previous actions and he had no choice but to vote for condemnation. In addition, he also has publicly endorsed the project, which is funded with more than $30 million in incentives and other abatements.
Pushing policies that run counter to personal beliefs is part of job, says Hallman’s predecessor, Neil Giuliano, who held the office for 10-years. Giuliano gives Hallman a positive job review as leader of the council. He notes that the mayor needs to push the council’s decisions, regardless of his own views.
While the two Tempe mayor’s have had their differences in the past, they agree on that.
"It’s difficult, I have fairly clear principles," Hallman says. "I have an obligation to defend and uphold those decisions even if by a previous council and even if I don’t agree."
END OF A BUSY DAY
The Town Lake interview with Channel 5 ends and Hallman rushes back to City Hall. He has another TV interview to do, this one with a Spanishlanguage news station on the discrimination lawsuit. It lasts just a few minutes.
A few more quick meetings and the third floor of City Hall is empty. Hallman’s day is finally over and he’s ready to wind down.
He’s hoping to catch his family for some quality time.
"Maybe I’ll get to have dinner with them for a change," he says, heading for the Volvo.
Wife: Susan M. Hallman
Children: Eli, 12, Lewis, 12, and Marcus, 9
Married: 14 years
• Coronado High School, Scottsdale — 1980
• Claremont Men’s College, Claremont, Calif. (Political science and economics) — 1984
• University of Chicago (Doctor of Laws)— 1988
• Brown & Bain — 1988-93
• Colombo & Bonacci — 1993-99
• Hallman & Affiliates — 1999-present