When Marc Norman decided to run for Tempe City Council, the biggest challenge was convincing people he was serious.
“It took forever,” he says, with a laugh. “I can rattle off issues and everything I stand for, but no one believed I was actually doing it.”
That’s because unlike the other candidates, the 52-year-old has spent the past two decades singing in a rock ‘n’ roll band, Ghetto Cowgirl.
Not only singing, but throwing himself into the spectacle of live performance with a sense of showmanship that probably places him closer to David Lee Roth than, say, Bruce Springsteen on a list of musicians most likely to make a smooth transition into politics.
Norman has an ‘over-the-top’ onstage persona
Onstage, he’s outrageous and funny and kind of a goof. He would be the first to tell you that. But Norman’s also one of five candidates – all Democrats – competing for three open seats on Tempe City Council in the March 10 general election.
Councilmembers Randy Keating and Joel Navarro are up for reelection. Attorney Casey Clowes and KSAZ-TV Fox 10 business manager Doreen Garlid are, like Norman, first-time candidates for this position.
Norman has no previous political experience, but he’s had years of practice at communicating with an audience.
Guitarist Curtis Grippe has been at Norman’s side for nearly the entire run of Ghetto Cowgirl.
“What I love about Marc as a performer,” Grippe says, “is just his eagerness and willingness to be out there and ‘Everybody look at me!'”
Josh Kennedy of Black Moods plays with Norman in the Strolling Bones.
“You can’t not look at him when he’s on stage,” he says. “I hate to compare it to a car wreck, but he’s somebody where you wait to see what he’s gonna do next. In a good way.”
Norman understands that there’s a time and place for that side of his personality to take the wheel.
“When I’m on stage, I’m gonna be the most flamboyant, ridiculous, over-the-top person ever,” he says. “But when it comes to these issues that face our city, I take them very seriously. I want the voice of Tempe voters to carry the weight it deserves.”
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Why the rocker got into the race
The singer got into the race because he feels there’s been too much development in Tempe in the past few years.
“I’ve lived in town for 30 years,” he says.
“And it’s been the last four or five years I can’t drive anywhere in downtown Tempe without taking 20 minutes to get through a mile because there’s so much construction. We’re overbuilding and giving developers these incredible tax breaks.”
Last year, Tempe City Council approved a developer’s tax break in connection with a deal struck in 2007 in which the city agreed to sell land in the Farmer Arts District to a well-connected development attorney for a net of $50,000. Other bidders at the time had offered $12 million to $14.5 million.
More recent examples include tax breaks to the developer of the Graduate Hotel and the developer of an office park near I-10 and Broadway, as well as a $21 million tax break to developers of the planned Omni hotel and conference center on Arizona State University property.
Most developments along the lake have been subsidized to some extent.
That’s what got him in the race, but Norman soon embraced another issue.
“How to solve the unsolvable problem, which is homelessness, is what I’m taking on now,” Norman says. “And I don’t have the answer to fix it, but I can relieve it. I have ideas.”
He’s already working with Cloud Covered Streets and Unity Through Community.
“We’re taking on the challenge,” Norman says. “But it’s an uphill battle.”
‘We just need a voice for the neighborhood’
Norman says it helps that he’s a “downtown” guy.
“I didn’t feel anyone stepping up would represent the views I have,” he says. “Last cycle, it was Justin Stewart, who lives two houses over from me.”
Stewart did not win a seat. In fact, he came in last. But Norman was inspired by his candidacy.
“He ran on this sort of downtown guy thing,” Norman says, “and no one else was picking up the baton.”
That was definitely part of the appeal for Cathie Mancini, a Tempe resident who says she talked Norman into running.
It’s important, Mancini says, for the downtown area to have a voice at council meetings “because our neighborhood has the most cultural resources.”
Those resources include the Tempe music scene, of which Norman is a veteran and Mancini is a longtime patron.
“A lot of us want to buy property or keep the property we have and grow old in downtown Tempe,” she says.
“We’ve maintained the culture the past 30 years and I think Mark Norman represents that culture for a lot of us aging in place in Tempe.”
Mancini has been serving as a bit of an adviser on Norman’s campaign.
“I am his Kellyanne Conway,” she says. “But I do not own a white pantsuit.”
She and Norman first discussed the idea of him running over beers about five years ago.
“It was totally a joke at first,” she says. “Then we decided that he would actually be a good candidate. We need a voice for the neighborhood.”
Norman sees himself as someone who can represent the working class.
“It can’t just be the voice of the elite,” he says. “I’m pretty much a man of the people, as cliche as that sounds.”
As to the prospects of actually winning a seat?
“I am a dark horse in this race,” he says. “I get that. I’m just gonna hope that my vision aligns with the voters’ vision.”
Grippe says he’s seen Norman’s drive to get things done at band rehearsal.
“He does everything 110 percent,” he says. “He’s all in. If he doesn’t win, it will not be because he didn’t try hard enough.”
‘I’m not gonna let a bus and a Jeep take me out of this race’
The singer’s campaign, which he announced in April, temporarily was derailed in December when the car he was driving was struck from behind and pushed under a school bus.
“Dude, my back is scrambled,” he says. “I was stopped behind the school bus and got drilled. It was like getting hit by a meteor. And I thought it was over but it wasn’t. I went into the school bus. It was like two accidents at once.”
Norman was headed to pick up Matt James of Unity Through Community and drop off supplies for homeless kids at Tempe High School when the accident occurred.
The passenger side of the car was completely demolished.
“If I was in any other place in that car, I would be dead,” he says.
“But I was in this little nook that didn’t get completely crumbled. It’s a weird experience. Now, all the flowers are brighter. They smell better now.”
He’s still going to physical therapy for his back two months later.
“I’m not bouncing back as quickly as I thought I would because I’m 52,” Norman says, with a laugh. “It’s a huge difference from when you’re 32. But I’m not gonna let a bus and a Jeep take me out of this race.”
‘I’m keeping my night job’
If Norman does prevail, he has no plans to give up playing shows.
“I’m gonna need to play music,” he says, “for the sanity.”
He says he won’t let music hold him back from any Tempe City Council duties.
“But I’m keeping my night job,” he says, with a laugh. “Let’s put it that way.”
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