Hallman's energy at work for Tempe - East Valley Tribune: News

Hallman's energy at work for Tempe

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Posted: Monday, March 3, 2008 11:34 pm | Updated: 9:58 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman is minutes away from throwing out the first baseball at a spring training game when longtime Councilman Ben Arredondo suspects something is seriously amiss with the city's top elected official.Arredondo reminds the mayor that it's 3 p.m. on a warm day. He stares in disbelief when he spots what Hallman is about to sip.

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"Are you drinking coffee, Mayor?" Arredondo asks. "C'mon. At a baseball game, and you're drinking coffee?"

Hallman barely has time to respond.

Too busy.

He rushes from the skybox to the field, pitches the baseball, nearly runs out of Tempe Diablo Stadium to the parking lot so he can get back to City Hall and conduct a budget meeting. His day began at 6 a.m. - he won't get home until 9:30 p.m.

The caffeine-aided intensity is a hallmark of Hallman, whose image has become ubiquitous on signs and cable TV commercials as he wages a strong campaign for a second term as mayor.

He plans to spend $100,000.

The campaign is equally overcaffeinated.

He's the only candidate aside from Derek Lull, a 17-year-old high school student who is a write-in.

Hallman's supporters say he's unopposed simply because he's done a good job.

Others say opponents could have been scared off by his energy and drive - which critics say can become needlessly intense.

Hallman says some of the criticism is the result of him tackling sensitive issues and sacred cows.

"I'm obviously not the lowest-key person in the universe, and I'm always willing to engage in issues even when they're contentious," he said. "That is not typical in the political arena."

Hallman is running during what many consider good times for Tempe. Four years ago, the city faced budget deficits and laid off employees during an economic slump.

The city now runs surpluses, though they're projected to evaporate in the current downturn. Billions worth of development are under way or proposed downtown and along Tempe Town Lake.

Hallman argued the city's past problems were largely because of bad policy. The city had given too many incentives to encourage development downtown or along Tempe Town Lake, he says. A favorite example of his: Tempe was prepared to give $70 million in incentives for a Peabody Hotel on the lake in the late 1990s.

The deal died when Peabody couldn't get financing. The city recently sold the site for $42.5 million - proof, Hallman said, that the city needlessly gave away millions to developers that would have built anyway.

Hallman criticized the city for relying too much on restaurants and bars for downtown's success, saying a broader mix of development was needed to survive economic slowdowns and boost tax revenue.

In his term, downtown has seen a flood of plans for hotels, condos, offices and shops.

But some Hallman critics say the mayor and city council members take too much credit for development.

The high-end condos, offices and hotels are rising in Tempe because of sprawl, Arizona State University, the Metro light-rail line and the city's proximity to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, said Dan Durrenberger, a Tempe political consultant who's followed city issues for decades.

"They are not the result of any initiatives taken by the Tempe City Council," Durrenberger said. "They are purely the result of desirable market conditions."

Barbara Sherman, a Hallman supporter and former councilwoman, acknowledges that Tempe would be successful with another mayor. But she said Hallman's sharp negotiation skills have led developers to provide amenities or funds to city projects that they wouldn't otherwise give.

"Hugh and I share a very fundamental feeling about government. ... It has to be extremely responsible with other people's money," Sherman said.

Hallman gives up many perks of elected office.

When he entered Diablo Stadium to throw the first pitch, he knew a spread of free food awaited him in a skybox for city officials.

Instead, he stopped at a stand for a $5 hot dog. In the upper level, he plunked down $2 for a coffee. He typically refuses free food or sends a check to the city or event organizer afterward.

He gave up his parking space at City Hall. The night he was sworn in, he took down the reserved parking sign and reposted it at his house. He has also turned down a car allowance and cost-of-living raises to his salary, $45,653.

At the same time, Hallman significantly scaled back his income.

He works 50 to 55 hours a week as mayor, often getting up at 4 a.m. to also squeeze in the duties of husband, father of three and lawyer.

He closed his law office late last year and turned away most of his clients to focus on the lower-paying elected post. He handles just a few clients now from his house.

Hallman became mayor in 2004, replacing outgoing Mayor Neil Giuliano after one of the most bitter elections in city history. Hallman faced longtime Councilman Dennis Cahill, who won the backing of Tempe's political establishment.

Cahill supporters said Hallman was too much of a maverick and too abrasive during the four years he had been a councilman.

He was intensely critical of what the establishment rallied around - light rail, subsidies for downtown redevelopment and the financial details of building Tempe Town Lake.

Though Hallman was born in Tempe, he was branded an outsider.

Even those who agreed with him politically opposed him because of his reputation.

"Acerbic, abrasive, grating - pick the adjective," said Monti's La Casa Vieja owner Michael Monti, who backed Cahill.

Monti now supports Hallman. The new mayor reached out to Monti after the election and tried to smooth things over, Monti said.

"Most of us go through life pretty much being who we are, but I get the impression that during the last four years, Hugh has constantly analyzed himself and tweaked his software," Monti said. "A couple years ago we had Hugh 4.0, and now we have Hugh 5.7."

But Durrenberger said Hallman remains too combative and gets too immersed in details that are the job of city officials, not the mayor.

Giuliano said Hallman's negative campaign against Cahill probably kept opponents from challenging him. But he acknowledged that previous mayors have rarely faced legitimate challengers.

"I never had a serious opponent after my first election for mayor," Giuliano said in an e-mail. "The same seems to be true for the current mayor and it probably is a reflection of how Tempeans approach issues like electing a mayor."

Hallman said he'd let others speculate why nobody is challenging him, but he acknowledged he's an intense campaigner.

"I may not be the smartest person in the world," he said, "but nobody's going to outwork me, no matter what I put myself to."

Even supporters say Hallman's style can unnerve people.

"He is so smart and so intense that often people are intimidated by him and he works harder than most people, too," Sherman said.

Hallman said he had to play the maverick role on the council because he spoke to issues the establishment wouldn't discuss.

A lawyer who handles contract negotiations, Hallman said he's used similar skills to reach compromises now that he's mayor.

"It's the same Hugh Hallman," he said. "I just get to use different elements of approach to achieve a different kind of result."

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