Once upon a time, the Phoenix 40 ran this town, got things done, showed real leadership. The Phoenix 40 was an exclusionary bunch of powerful white men trying to hold onto their power in changing times. The Phoenix 40 was only the tip of an iceberg of evil and corruption that sits deep in the DNA of the city and state. So go the tales, myths and realities long after the legendary group morphed into the benign and toothless Greater Phoenix Leadership.
The real Phoenix 40 was formed in 1974 by Arizona Republic publisher Eugene Pulliam (left), lawyer-civic leader Frank Snell and KOOL owner Tom Chauncey. They sent a letter to prospective members and 40 leaders, including Gov. Raul Castro, showed up at the Biltmore for the first meeting in early 1975. The group hoped to focus on transportation, crime and education — crime getting top billing after the murder of a key witness in the land-fraud trial of Ned Warren Sr. The original membership is no secret, not quite 40, and reads like a Who's Who of mid-1970s Phoenix: Clarke Bean, Hayes Caldwell, Chauncey, Msgr. Robert Donohoe, Junius Driggs, Karl Eller, George Getz, Sherman Hazeltine, Robert Johnson, George Leonard, Stephen Levy, James Maher, Richard Mallery, Samuel Mardian, Jr., James Mayer, Rod McMullin, Loyal Meek, Dennis Mitchem, Pat Murphy, Rev. Culver Nelson, William Orr, Jesse Owens, Pulliam, William Reilly Sr., Newton Rosenzweig, Raymond Shaffer, Bill Shover, James Simmons, Paul Singer, Lawson Smith, Snell, Franz Talley, Thomas Tang, Maurice Tanner, Keith Turley, Mason Walsh, Robert Williams and Russell Williams.
And, yes, it's telling that the list didn't include, say, Lincoln Ragsdale or Rosendo Gutierrez. Yet the Phoenix 40 was never as dangerous as its critics feared nor as benign as it claimed to be, but it's an important touchstone in the city's evolution to the current unpleasantness.
Power in government and business was highly centralized and incestuous. The three big banks, for example, (Valley National, First National and the Arizona Bank) pretty much owned the market, with a little left over for such thrifts as Western Savings and First Federal. Similarly, Arizona Public Service and the unique entity that is the Salt River Project held enormous influence. The "Pulliam Press" controlled news and opinion when newspapers really mattered. Yet even by the mid-1970s, Phoenix still had a highly localized economy. In addition to its still-important agricultural sector, it was rich in locally owned companies, as well as the headquarters of Greyhound Corp. (the first major headquarters relocation that was assumed to be the harbinger of many more to come). These business leaders could indeed make things happen for the greater good — write checks and knock heads. To a great extent, they identified the health of their companies with the health of the city (at least the Anglo part). And the city of Phoenix was the center of the Arizona universe to an extent that's unimaginable today.
Every city had such an ole-boy network. And all were coming undone by the 1970s, certainly by the 1980s. Hierarchies were undermined by the social changes of the 1960s. Old business leaders passed away, followed by those who were less invested in the community, then caught up in the mergers and greed that undermined so many local economies. Pulliam was attempting to establish a new, slightly more inclusive organization that could keep what he saw as the city's progress going. Land fraud was only part of a much broader problem of organized crime and drug trafficking in the state. Education and transportation were indeed suffering. Meanwhile, Charter was dying, the Bircher reactionaries were growing in strength and rapid population growth was starting to show in the anomie and apathy, the relentless pulling apart, that is the norm today.
Pulliam and the others were starting to drink the first bitter cup of the winning of the Central Arizona Project and sprawl gone wild. But neither he nor most of the other Phoenix 40 could get beyond their Republican politics. Thus, serious school funding, land-use planning and transit were spurned. Even with a broader economy than metro Phoenix enjoys today, the big engine was population growth and its consequences would somehow take care of themselves in the future. They didn't, of course. And although the old leaders, including the Phoenix 40, lent their weight to many good causes, they lacked any vision commensurate with a city of this size. They failed to set Phoenix on a sustainable, diverse trajectory. One could argue they helped plant the seeds of the destruction and tragedies that followed. By the time city leaders tried to push a rail transit initiative in the 1980s, it was too late — the anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric that came out of the other sides of their mouths had been too effective.
The Phoenix 40 was an attempt to pass a torch but it dropped. Sharpies like Charlie Keating were the glamorous new "leaders." The group never quite recovered from the taint of the Don Bolles murder in 1976, the notion that somehow powerful men had been behind the bombing of the reporter. With the S&L crash, Wall Street's destruction of Dial (Greyhound) and the acquisition of the big banks, Phoenix lost its heavyweights and didn't develop new ones. The Phoenix 40 soldiered on, reinvented for more inclusion under Jerry Colangelo, but lacking its old weight and standing in a town of branch managers. Nothing seemed to matter except building more oceans of red-tile-roofs. The very notion of place was undermined, much less a city worth caring about. The good things business leaders tried to do were drowned by the urban ills caused by sprawl, low-wage jobs, too-fast population growth and criticism of self-dealing. Again, not until it was too late did the powers-that-be understand that the future of a healthy major city lay in such areas as great education, high urban quality of life, the technology economy, plenty of choices and tolerance.
And real stewards. That's one of the greatest losses of all.
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