The trajectory of the Phoenix mayor's race is perhaps already locked in. But a few other considerations should be added to my previous two posts on the issue (here and here). Some signs are telling. For example, in a television interview, Michael Bidwill, president of the Arizona Cardinals, was wearing a prominent Wes Gullett button. Gullett's old boss, John McCain, attended a reception for the candidate earlier this summer. And Peggy Neely was endorsed by Gov. Jan Brewer.
This is all you need to know about these two candidates. Bidwill refused to allow the taxpayer-funded stadium to be built in downtown Phoenix, choosing Glendale instead because of the copious opportunities for no-strings-attached adjacent development that could further benefit his family. Why does he care about the city of Phoenix, especially the central city upon which the entire city will rise or fall? As for Brewer, it's highly inappropriate for a governor to take sides in a municipal election. And Brewer is a creature of the suburbs, Phoenix's competitors and, in many cases, saboteurs. What's Neely to her or she to Neely?
Come to one of my book signings and 200 people might be in the crowd (or five people). Except for my de-facto bodyguard, maybe only a handful will be men. On a good night. Men don't read anymore. This is one of the most frightening of the many express-elevator-to-the-dark-ages changes that have happened to America in my lifetime. Of course there are outliers, on this blog for example, or the new head librarian in Seattle, a man who said he fell in love with libraries as a fourth grader. Men read technical manuals and comic books. But the well-read American male of the past is mostly gone. Although all Americans are reading less — one survey found that the typical citizen reads only four books a year and one in four reads none at all — men are the biggest drop outs. They account for only 20 percent of the fiction market.
I can't imagine living in this mental poverty. When I turned nine years old, one of the first things I did was get a card at the Phoenix Public Library (the earliest age one could qualify). Before that, the one pure joy of Kenilworth School was the well-stocked library. I grew up around readers and books. My great aunt had an especially impressive library, and it made up for otherwise dull visits to her acreage on Seventh Avenue. My childhood reading wasn't highbrow: I was especially entranced by C.B. Colby's military books (Our Space Age Navy, etc.). But I read. These included comic books, too, but by age ten or so, comics were boring (not so for people today). Books have taken me places I would otherwise never have visited, from Plato's Athens and hell with Dante, to the Battle of Berlin. Books changed my mind and made it changeable. I never intended to be a journalist or author. I just assumed that experience was one a well-rounded person should have. Books used to be sexy. Really desirable women expected well-read men, and reading to one's lover is a sensual delight.
No longer for most. Aside from the polls, anecdotal evidence comes my way constantly: My son doesn't read books...My husband never reads...I don't read books...Never did like books. Is it any wonder that this has accompanied our society's collapse into widespread anti-intellectualism and aggressive ignorance (because to understand that, one would have read, say, Richard Hofstadter).
Whomever wins the Phoenix mayoral election will get a paycheck, face time on the media, a police detail to drive him or her around and not much else. Facts are stubborn things: Phoenix is the most economically wounded among America's largest cities. The "business model" that built Phoenix for decades is irrevocably broken. When even the developer-economist Elliott Pollack, favorite of the booster rubber chicken circuit, is saying the metro-wide housing market won't come back until at least 2015, things are bad.
Reprising a little history won't hurt. The political leadership of modern Phoenix was created by the Charter Government Movement, which claimed, and largely delivered, a non-partisan, clean, business-backed, professionally run City Hall. With a relatively diverse economy, the age of inexpensive energy, a majority middle class city and major business titans setting the table, little was asked of elected leaders except to continue this status quo. It somewhat fell apart with districting and Terry Goddard's velvet revolution in the 1980s, but the spirit of Charter lived on well into the 21st century.
This is not to say mayors were irrelevant as just one vote on council in a council-manager form of government. Milt Graham, John Driggs, Margaret Hance, Goddard and Skip Rimsza were all leaders of consequence. Sometimes this was for ill: the popular Graham's antipathy to transit set Phoenix back by decades; Hance did many things to hurt the central core. Goddard, by contrast, was an inspiring and transformational mayor. But through all this two things were constant: The economy levitated on "growth" and the old consensus prevailed.
The first modern social security program was begun by that notorious bleeding heart Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s. With it, the Iron Chancellor successfully undercut the socialists and communists, kept peace with the working class and helping Germany become a major power until he was dismissed by Kaiser Bill and the fuse was lit on the bloody 20th century. American Social Security began in the New Deal after a long fight with reactionaries and they've never let go of their dream of destroying it. Social Security is one of those "entitlements" we keep hearing about from our leaders in politics and business, as well as in the media, that must be "reformed."
I don't know about you, but I've worked full time since I was seventeen-and-a-half, paying for the Greatest Generation's Social Security. It is hardly an "entitlement," a word loaded with welfare for the undeserving. It is a social insurance program where younger generations pay for the retirement of older generations, and it's worked fine for 70 years. But no small amount of oldsters now want to break this foundation of the social compact. They got theirs. Now the dastardly baby boomers will "break the system." Well, no. Social Security is fine and needs, at best, modest modifications. Unfortunately, even President Hoover, the supposed leader of the supposed Democratic Party, accepts the premise that broad "entitlement reform" is a sine qua non of fixing America.
It's been four years this month since we sold our 1914 house in Willo and moved to Seattle. It was not a voluntary move, but one necessitated by the Republic ending my column after years of pressure to silence me, and then my inability to find work in Phoenix. We had hoped to live in this house, located a block from where I grew up, for the rest of our lives. Things didn't work out. The new neighborhood is very different. Here's the front-porch view from the condo downtown (in Belltown) looking east to Capitol Hill:
So went the famous 2003 quote from Gen. David Petraeus concerning the Iraq war. More about him later. But as the Great Disruption once again sends us further down the mountainside, it's an apt question for the American experiment in self-government, the economy, our society.
One way it doesn't end is with a great backlash against the extremism that now controls the Republican Party. Wisconsin gave its best shot with fierce protests and recall elections but failed. Reactionary Republicans still hold power in the home of Robert La Follette. When this week's recall contests were over, it was clear that corporate money will have its way. Not only that, but majorities in suburbia, which is most of the country, will vote GOP no matter whether this is in their economic or civic interests. Whatever the polls say about Republican unpopularity, not much will change in the next election. For that to happen, America would need a viable opposition party.
It doesn't end with President Hoover "finding his voice." The listless recitation of pleas for balanced approaches and bipartisanship we heard on Monday, as the stock market was panicking, is his voice. He is weak. He is passive. He is a creature of the Robert Rubin/bankster wing of the Democratic Party, which shares the dream of "reforming entitlements." He will not fight for the middle class, for jobs, for fair play. I think of the late Jeff MacNelly's brutally on-target political cartoons of Jimmy Carter, who became smaller and smaller in the presidential chair.
It was probably fitting that John Teets died amid the worst economic depression modern Phoenix has ever experienced. The retired head of Greyhound/Dial was the last of a breed that every competitive and livable city must have: A dynamic chief executive of a major local headquarters, passionately committed to the city, able to knock heads and write checks. I'll let Soleri take it from here:
As CEO of Dial, he was one of the last corporate titans who figured prominently in local affairs. He was a headknocker and socialite who helped make Phoenix more than just a branch-office backwater. I was living near Central & Palm Lane when the Dial building was built in 1990. It was part of Teets' stewardship ethic to make a big corporate statement close to but not in downtown. The original plan was to construct two towers, with one perpendicular to the other. As with so many real-estate dreams, this one was only partly realized. The result is a free-standing mountain of a building completely out of scale to its surroundings.
Teets spent lavishly on it but the tapestries he hung in the lobby, or the exquisite garden outside couldn't quite make up for the fact that it was another ostentatious project that seemed so much like the city it was built in: Isolated and strange.
As I write, the Dow is down 350 points and the stock market has given up all its gains for the year. Never fear: The rich have already moved into safe havens — and those with some exposure are a little less rich. Everyone seems to agree that "the game is up," as one financial analyst told me. But which game? That America and Europe are "broke" and must dismantle their "lavish public sectors and entitlements"? Or that crony capitalism, imperial overstretch, failure to invest in education and job-creating infrastructure by the richest nation in history is the losing game? The former have won the argument with barely any resistance from President Hoover and the Democrats. The results will be a catastrophe. The Tea Partiers are cleverly, or stupidly, claiming this austerity doesn't go far enough. That way, when it fails, they can claim victory and demand more ideological purity, rather like the apologists for Soviet communism.
We may not be looking at another recession. We may be in a Depression. For many, if not most, Americans, the recovery was chimerical. Their troubles began in the '00s, with stagnant incomes and the worst record of job creation since the real President Hoover. When the housing bubble crashed and the stock market followed, the were financially ruined. Now 24 million are unemployed or under-employed. And that was all before the federal government embarked on an austerity plan that might please Robert Rubin but otherwise guarantees more recession.
So how will Depression 2.0 be different from the Great Depression?
My first experience with light rail came living in San Diego in the early 1980s. One segment linked downtown with the border crossing at San Ysidro. It was popular and uncontroversial. "I didn't think one of these could run without graffiti all over it," I heard a visitor from then dysfunctional New York exclaim of the new, bright red trainsets. As a reporter, I wrote about the Trolley, especially the ambitious expansion plans. San Diego is the most Republican of California's big cities, but the light-rail system was begun under Pete Wilson, a mediocre U.S. senator, bad California governor, but stellar San Diego mayor (he was also, along with developer Ernest Hahn, the father of the spectacularly revived downtown). Today, the San Diego Trolley extends 53 miles on three routes.
Then I lived in Denver, where the city started a segment downtown. It too, was popular and widely embraced. Now it comprises 39 miles with another 12 due in two years. I was in Charlotte for the planning of the now-operating Lynx light-rail, a relatively modest 10 miles, but more is in the works. It was the first modern light-rail system in the Old South and, again, widely supported, especially by the business leadership and developers who built hundreds of millions of dollars of projects near the line. Similar success happened in other cities, especially Dallas (!), with its 72-mile system and clammoring of suburbs to get the next line.
The story didn't play out that way in Phoenix. Yes, we built it, you bastards. But it's also time to take stock.