You must look at Mesa as a large city. And the point is? Well, the point is you have to think of it and its issues in the context of the challenges, promises and diversity of a very big city that at 460,000 people is twice as large as any of its East Valley neighbors.
To measure Mesa against Tempe, which has been shaped by Arizona State University and a proximity to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, or against Scottsdale, that has carved out a niche of wealth and caché, is not only unrealistic but pointless. These are not big cities with broad shoulders on the magnitude of Pittsburgh and Miami.
I think the point is profound, because it forces you to think of Mesa in terms of the cities of the size of Cincinnati or Minneapolis.
And I can say it’s profound because I didn’t make it.
Claudia Walters did.
Walters is the city’s vice mayor. She represents District 1, which includes west and north central Mesa, and she is running for mayor.
Walters and the two other candidates for mayor, former councilman Rex Griswold and Scott Smith, have met individually with the Tribune over the past couple of weeks.
The meetings were meant to be informal and an opportunity for us to get an early read on where they want to take the city — a read that will undoubtedly mature in the next month or two as the March 11 election draws near and they sharpen their message.
Voters will bring their own criteria to bear when they make up their minds.
As an outsider with influential support, Smith will appeal to voters who want to throw the rascals out.
As a long-time businessman and successful politician, Griswold will run with a strong wind to his back in the form of council District 5 that he represented. Northeast Mesa sports a prosperous and engaged voting base. As he pointed out, that district alone turned out 30 percent of the vote on the Waveyard project for west Mesa in Walters’ district.
But Walters’ stout advocacy for what Mesa is today and is becoming resonated with me.
Take a drive through Mesa and it is clear that the city is not stuck in neutral.
It once was, and Walters takes great pride that she came onto council, as did Griswold, and helped to change that.
Take a drive past Falcon Field and see a flood of commercial development driven by the Red Mountain Freeway, Boeing and a general aviation airport that ranks in the top 10 in the country in traffic.
Drive into Las Sendas and see homes that would fit in north Scottsdale.
Drive down to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport off of Power Road and get on an Allegiant Air MD-87, as I did over Thanksgiving, and fly directly to points in the Midwest that can only be reached out of Sky Harbor by going through Chicago’s O’Hare. I hold no doubts about the future of the airport with its three industrial-length runways and a development area two-thirds the size of San Francisco.
Drive west along Baseline Road past the A.T. Still University, which in July opened its doors to the first class of 100 students studying to be doctors of osteopathy.
Go past Dana Park, with Chico’s, Talbot’s, Victoria’s Secret, Barnes and Noble, Coldwater Creek, Draper’s and Damon’s. No, you are not in Kierland Commons; you are still in Mesa.
Turn north on Dobson Road and drive past the massive Desert Banner Hospital where a six-story children’s hospital tower is under construction.
Backtrack to Fiesta Mall and the west on Broadway Road and you’ll decide that, like every big city, Mesa has its challenges, but even then you’ll come to the Broadway 101 Commerce Park that has taken root and is thriving on the site of the old Motorola plant.
As you turn back north, you’ll cross the light rail construction on Main Street.
Work your way down to Riverview and the area where Waveyard will be developed.
Riverview may not have the glitzy neon lighting of the Tempe Marketplace just a couple of miles west, but it does have a Bass Pro Shop and a Famous Dave’s barbeque (two of my favorites), and the Wal-Mart there is the biggest I have ever been in.
And it was crowded, too.
Some would say, as a columnist for a Phoenix newspaper once did, that Mesa is a city of wide streets and small minds. And they would include in their list of deficiencies the lack of a primary property tax.
I beg to differ. I voted for the tax, but in retrospect, I may have been wrong. Defeat of the tax in conjunction with passage of a sales tax hike forced city government to be resourceful and make choices without having to turn off the lights and close the place down.
“The big picture is that Mesa is an amazing place,” Walters said.
Indeed, it is. And let’s hope the next mayor and council realize that and do no harm to what the city is becoming.
Jim Ripley is executive editor of the Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6546.