Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton delivered his sixth — and what could be his last — State of the City speech Tuesday. Here is how he opened his speech.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton used his most visible platform of the year, his annual State of the City speech on Tuesday, to blast Arizona leaders for not investing more in public education — and to tout what he sees as his major accomplishments in elected office.
The mayor’s tone differed sharply from his past speeches. It had few major announcements of new policy goals or projects.
Instead, he reflected on the highlights of his tenure, took several direct shots at Gov. Doug Ducey without mentioning the governor’s name and left many observers questioning if he’s already focused on a run for statewide office — and if so, which one.
“We are writing the greatest chapter in Phoenix history right now,” Stanton said in one of the biggest applause lines of the speech. “It hasn’t been easy. We had to rebuild an economy in ashes.”
Stanton spoke before a crowd of more than 1,000 business and civic leaders gathered in the ballroom at the Sheraton hotel downtown. He spoke at length about his work to rebuild Phoenix’s economy since taking office at the end of the recession in a nearly 40-minute speech that credited the success to city government investments.
Tough talk on education
But near the end of the speech, one of his longest addresses as mayor, Stanton unleashed a torrent of criticism at state leaders over what he called the crisis facing Arizona’s public schools. He said a lack of education funding at the state level “threatens all of our progress” and discourages companies from bringing jobs.
He said “all public teachers in our state deserve a raise — not an insult,” referring to Ducey’s proposed 2 percent raise doled out to teachers over five years.
Stanton said state leaders expanded Arizona’s school-voucher program “on the backsof public-school kids.”
He said when voters approved Proposition 123, last year’s education-funding measure championed by Ducey, they were promised it would be one of several steps to improve schools. Stanton, who endorsed the measure, called it a “broken promise” and demanded state leaders place on the ballot a measure to extend and increase a sales tax that helps fund education.
And he took aim at the recent approval of bills signed by Ducey that put new limits on the citizen-initiative process.
“This year, I wish as much effort went into fighting for our children as went into restricting the state’s initiative and referendum process,” Stanton said.
That effort was backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the comment was the only one in his speech critical of the business community, which he said is a key player in supporting public education.
“It’s apparent to me that those in the state Legislature aren’t interested in listening to the voters,” Stanton said. “They aren’t listening to teachers. They aren’t listening to parents. But I need them to listen to you, our business leaders.”
‘Stick to the facts’
The Governor’s Office pushed back on Stanton’s criticism.
Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff, said the governor wants to increase funding for schools in the budget and supports extending the education sales tax, known as Proposition 301, before it expires in 2021.
Scarpinato said the governor wants to both spend more money on education and give parents more choice in what schools their children can attend by expanding vouchers.
“I think the mayor should stick to his day job and stick to the facts,” Scarpinato said. “There is no impact (of vouchers on public-school funding) because we’re increasing education funding.”
‘Swan song speech’?
Political observers said the tenor of Stanton’s speech, including the focus on statewide issues like education and water conservation, suggest he’s angling for higher office and putting a bow on his five-plus-year mayorship.
The speech could be Stanton’s last as mayor of the nation’s sixth-largest city. He’s expected to run for a different office in 2018 and has created a committee to run for Arizona secretary of state next year against embattled Republican incumbent Michele Reagan, though Stanton could transfer the money to run for another statewide office, including governor.
Stanton and Reagan could face primary challenges from Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, and Sen. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, respectively, who have both announced candidacies for secretary of state.
Chip Scutari, a political consultant who attended the speech, said rather than focus on a handful of top initiatives for the city — as mayors typically do — Stanton seemed to treat the stage as a job interview for a state or congressional office.
“It seemed like his swan song speech,” Scutari said. “I think it’s fair to say that clearly he was taking a broader approach. It had the feeling, the tone of a speech that could be his final one as mayor.”
Among the efforts Stanton ticked off during his address: convincing voters to pass a tax hike to expand the light-rail and bus system; opening two trade offices and improving business ties with Mexico; continuing downtown’s construction boom and cultural renaissance, which was the work of multiple mayors; and passing the city’s non-discrimination law protecting LGBT people.
Stanton said those policies have helped the city rebuild its economy around innovation and exports, shifting away from its reliance on new rooftops to drive growth.
He said the number of tech companies downtown has quadrupled over the past five years, from 67 to more than 260.
Now, the mayor said, the city will build on that momentum and lure tech jobs to the West Valley by creating a South Mountain employment corridor along the Loop 202 expansion that’s under construction.
“The investments we made to turn our economy from one dependent on real estate into one rooted in innovation have worked, and history will show we made the right choices,” Stanton said.
On top of lashing out at state Republicans, Stanton also used his speech to repeat his opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. The City Council recently voted to affirm that Phoenix will not participate in the federal 287(g) program to deputize local police officers for immigration enforcement.
“We can’t let antagonism from the White House toward Mexico change who we are in Phoenix,” Stanton said. “We can’t undermine public safety and we refuse to tear families apart.”
Biggest applause lines from Stanton’s speech:
“Sheriff Paul Penzone — you’ve already done so much to restore confidence in the Sheriff’s Office. Closing Tent City was the right thing to do, and your leadership has made us a safer community.”
“Today, Phoenix is one of the most welcoming cities in the country for our LGBT brothers and sisters. Our perfect score four years in a row from the Human Rights Campaign tells the world that in this community, you are valued no matter who you are, where you are from or who you love.”
“Just last week, our City Council voted to ensure our police department won’t be part of a mass-deportation force. We can’t undermine public safety and we refuse to tear families apart.”
“Just two weeks ago on a vacant lot in the heart of our city, Red Development broke ground on a project that will bring more than 300 new residential units and 150,000 square feet of creative office space. But more importantly, it will be the site of a downtown Fry’s grocery store.”
“Phoenix is also one of the most welcoming communities in the country for refugees fleeing war and persecution around the globe. Prince Murray, the young man who led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, came to Phoenix from Liberia just a few years ago.”
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