When Margaret Hance was elected mayor of Phoenix in November 1975, she was not, as is often claimed, the first woman to lead a major city. That marker goes to Bertha Knight Landes, elected mayor of Seattle in 1926. Hance was second.
Hance's tenure was far more consequential, as we shall see. Still, the pair are twined in dissonances.
Landes, who ran advocating "municipal housecleaning," has been "honored" by Seattle naming its misbegotten tunnel boring machine after her. Hance is memorialized by a park in the heart of the city, a place she did little to help and much to harm.
Margaret Taylor Hance was almost a native, being brought from Iowa to Mesa at age three, in 1926. Her father went to work for Valley Bank, where became an executive vice president. Despite the onset of the Depression, the family moved to what is now Willo. (I am told they lived in the same house on Cypress Street in the 1930s where I grew up in the 1960s. In the '30s, unlike the '60s, it was a high-end neighborhood on the streetcar.)
Although she attended the University of Arizona, she transferred to the elite Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., from whence she graduated. In 1945, she married Robert Hance, who had trained as an Army Air Forces pilot in the Valley during World War II. Her brother, Glen Taylor, went on to become news editor at the Phoenix Gazette, retiring as assistant managing editor in 1983.
She settled into the comfortable and predictable life of an upper-middle-class Republican Phoenix woman. Robert went to work for Valley National Insurance and rose. The couple had three children. Margaret — known as Marge or Margie — volunteered for numerous organizations and joined the Junior League.
The 1950s and 1960s were go-go years for Phoenix, with little time for reflection about the city's direction or choices. In these years, growth seemed to pay for itself, a perpetual motion machine, and Phoenix was a city of the future. And all this happened under the benevolent leadership of the Charter Government Committee, whose slate of businessmen and civic leaders had won every city election since 1948.
The reality wasn't that clean, of course, not by a long shot. But this would have been the Phoenix "reality" shared by Hance and her circle. By the mid-1960s, she was appointed to the city parks board.
Here, she would do her most consequential work, becoming chairman and spearheading the creation of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. It was a mammoth undertaking, dealing with hundreds of property owners, developers, new state legislation, working the city's stewards for donations and even navigating claims under the near-holy Mining Act of 1872.
She also quietly set aside her conservative Republican ideology to ensure Phoenix took funds from the Nixon administration to help pay for the land.
In this endeavor, she earned the deal-making and policy chops that would later serve her as mayor. She was also a steady pragmatist, knowing that an emotional appeal for preservation alone would not achieve results in Phoenix.
Her parks work made her an ideal City Council candidate for Charter, which was predicated on at least the appearance of selfless public service, not politicians. Widowed in 1970 at the age of 47, she was also looking for a new challenge. Hance was elected in 1971 (along with Calvin Goode, Charter's second African-American candidate).
Hance is generally credited with killing Charter in 1975 when she ran independently for mayor, without CGC's endorsement, and won handily. In truth, she had plenty of help. In the late 1960s, Milton Graham broke Charter's unwritten rule when he ran for a third and then fourth term for mayor. CGC disowned his fourth run and he lost but the ethic of public service over career politics was shattered. Also, Charter was tired and the city had outgrown it.
Crime was relatively high in the city and Hance made law-and-order a priority in her mayoral run (she was in office only a few months when Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles was killed by a car bomb). She also pledged to keep taxes low, a typical bromide.
Phoenix was in second gear as a result of the 1974 recession, which arrived late and lingered. Downtown was in bad shape, although it still had a sizable number of small shops and a few larger retailers. Council was more divided than any time since the 1940s.
In those days, the mayor was elected every two years and was much weaker than the office today. Still, Hance used the skills she had learned on the parks board to lead the city, working closely with the (still in existence) business elite. Although titans such as Walter Bimson and Eugene Pulliam had retired or died, Phoenix retained real headquarters and engaged CEOs. But, tellingly, Charlie Keating arrived in Phoenix in 1976. The times were changing.
As the economy recovered, Hance easily got behind the growth machine. Hance's leadership looked a lot like Charter's "businessmen's government" — only without Charter. Taking plenty of funds from Washington allowed her to maintain her low-tax pledge (this did not keep her from inveighing against "the evils of federal money." As with so many Arizona politicians, needed infrastructure was postponed indefinitely. Also like CGC, she adamantly opposed district representation.
She was re-elected four times.
No mayor in memory had served so long. On the national and local levels, she was Phoenix and vice versa. Hance was popular and connected. She was also very capable in the sharp-elbows department, usually using surrogates so her fingerprints were not at the scene. Yet she was also a mentor to a number of young comers, including Margaret Mullen, Marty Shultz, and Jon Kyl.
She had her hair "done" daily and enjoyed a stiff drink early. The mayor's police detail originated with an officer being ordered to drive Her Honor so she wouldn't get in a boozy wreck, as happened twice with Gov. Jack Williams (a former Phoenix mayor himself).
While Phoenix grew north and west, Hance presided over considerable damage downtown and in the central core. Jane Jacobs' teachings were far from her skillset. Instead, she led the continued destruction of the Deuce by expanding the brutalist Phoenix Civic Center and building the sunblasted, dehumanized Patriot's Square.
In both cases, this required the bulldozing of many irreplaceable historic buildings, the bones of a walkable city with a new shop's door every few paces, the fine-grained human scale. On Hance's watch as a council member, the priceless Fox Theater was demolished to make room for a city bus terminal that looked as if it had been rejected by Maryvale's architects. "The Mother of the Mountain Preserve" did not raise a peep of protest. Further teardowns began in the capitol district and the template was set: tear down old buildings in the core.
Thanks to Civic Plaza, the hardcore male vagrant population scattered into nearby areas, from the old central business district to the lawns of what are now the Midtown historic districts. The beautiful grass and trees surrounding the old Carnegie Library became "hypodermic park," a haven for addicts and crime. A downtown business owner told me that one hobo would camp out daily in front of his shop and defecate on the sidewalk. Repeated calls to the police and then the mayor's office brought no help.
Hance also signed on to the inner loop of the Papago Freeway. This resulted in the loss of 3,000 houses, many of them historic. Although the final freeway didn't contain the 100-foot leap across the city and the "helicoils," it nearly destroyed what are now the Roosevelt and F.Q. Story historic districts.
Time has shown that the inner loop was not necessary, indeed a great mistake. Interstate 10 could have connected with the Maricopa Freeway at Durango and done far less damage. This view was expressed at the time, but brushed away. Meanwhile, Hance proceeded with widening every major street that funds allowed. This helped down many shade trees and turn Phoenix into the raceway it is today. While the bus system had improved from the late 1960s — again, thanks to federal funds — it was inferior to the city's needs. Sunday service was eliminated.
She was little more interested in south Phoenix than her predecessors, and the city's dirtiest and most dangerous polluting industries continued to be segregated south of the tracks and especially directly north and south of the Salt River.
In Hance's defense, she was a woman of her time, when center cities seemed outmoded and everything must be built around the car. Midtown was still prosperous and the supersuburbs looking to kill Phoenix were not yet in place. With Burton Barr and Alfredo Gutierrez running the Legislature, the city's interests were well served.
In her bubble, Phoenix was still the city of the future — no vision was needed and she didn't supply one. She was also one vote on Council in a council-manager form of government whose technocrats were adamantly anti-downtown, anti-transit, and pro sprawl.
Still, she showed no shyness in leading where she cared, and usually in favor of the developer elite. The "urban village" plan was less about planning than trying to put eyewash on the disjointed mess Phoenix had become. If she showed any fond memory of her girlhood in the enchanted area around Cypress Street, with its authentic real neighborhoods and wise civic design, it didn't show in her governing.
Hance's Charter 2.0 approach was her undoing when a young activist named Terry Goddard saw through the creation of district representation on Council, as opposed to the old at-large system. She died at 66 from cancer in 1990, leaving a legacy that is both inspiring and tarnished.
Read more about the city's remarkable history on Rogue's Phoenix 101 archive.