Sam Campana: Scottsdale’s First Woman Mayor

By Scottsdale Pinetop

Known for her dedication and passion for the arts and environment, Sam Campana has been a leader in many quality of life issues in Arizona and a trailblazer for Scottsdale women in politics. She served on the Scottsdale City Council for 12 years and Mayor from 1996-2000, becoming the first female Mayor in Scottsdale history.

She previously served on the founding Board of Scottsdale Center for the Arts where she became its first women president. After, she helped create Arizonans for Cultural Development (ACD) and went on to be ACD’s first successful Executive Director where she served in the role for almost fifteen years.

Her commitment and leadership in Scottsdale has spread beyond her service at City Hall. As a volunteer, she helped found the Scottsdale Foundation for the Handicapped, the Scottsdale Western Arts Associates, Scottsdale Leadership and graduate from the Valley Leadership Class V, where she was selected as Woman of the Year 2010.

Throughout her years of service to Arizona, she has been appointed by four mayors, four governors and two presidents to serve in various capacities for arts and environmental commissions, boards and tasks forces.

Quite an impressive resume for one of Scottsdale’s finest.

We had a chance to talk with Former Mayor Sam Campana about her legacy in Scottsdale, women in politics and hope for Scottsdale’s future.

  • You have a long-standing reputation for public service, having served twelve years on the City Council. What was your greatest accomplishment while serving on the Scottsdale City Council?  

Public policy is a laborious process and most often takes a long time to have an effect.  Before I served on Council, I headed the statewide arts advocacy group that in addition to getting more resources to arts organizations, cultural  institutions and artists, also helped pass percent-for-art ordinances in local communities.  When the Pima Freeway was finally approved at its location – I made the motion to assess 1% for the arts on the multi-million dollar cost.  Although the freeway wasn’t built for almost a decade – I was at the ribbon cutting as mayor to celebrate the 7-mile stretch of the most beautiful, artist enhanced freeway in the world!

  • You have been a trailblazer for women in politics, becoming the first woman Mayor of Scottsdale. What were some of the challenges you faced being an influential woman in politics?

There were challenges – although more when I served as the only woman on council for 2 years 1986-88. One quickly gets branded as a “feminist “or worse!  But fellow council members were very open and supportive to appointing more women to commissions and boards.

  • How do you feel seeing more women talking on leadership roles in Scottsdale?  

It was an exciting time on the Mezzanine of City Hall when all the mayor and council staff were women!  Mostly it was because we hired the most capable person for the job – but in a case or 2 – it was a nudge to give a woman an opportunity who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten it.

I pledged to start a leadership program similar to Valley Leadership that about a dozen Scottsdalians had matriculated through.  With Don Ruff from the Chamber, Gary Shapiro VL5, Dr. Art DeCabooter from SCC – we did institute Scottsdale Leadership.  Dozens,  if not hundreds,  of women have volunteered, been recruited, or assigned meaningful leadership positions in Scottsdale.

  • You were recruited by the National Audubon Society to establish a statewide office and impact meaningful environmental and conservation projects.  One way was  to build a nature education center on the banks of the Salt River on Central Avenue. You were also a strong proponent of the Desert Discovery Center. How have these experiences impacted your involvement and vision for Scottsdale’s environmental landscape?   

The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center is a treasure for the south Phoenix community and is used by leaders from all over the state as a meeting place to consider important policies to advance Arizona’s environmental work.  In addition to hikers, bicyclists, birdwatchers – families flock there for nature education and engagement. I’m proud that ASU is continuing sensitive development efforts along the banks of the Salt River – with Sen. McCain as the titular head.  I’m still saddened that we could not do something similar in Scottsdale – I hope my efforts will be remembered as not only unsuccessful but that I brought great resources and worked hard to establish and protect the Preserve. Become a Steward!

  • Your resume and involvement in enhancing Scottsdale’s public art, especially your involvement on the Scottsdale Center for the Art, is impressive. What are your hopes to continue improving Scottsdale’s commitment to art?   

Anytime there is an economic contraction – the arts suffer.  As do many of our quality of life efforts:  funding for libraries, parks, social service agencies.  Working with Dick Bowers, City Manager, we tried to turn that on its head and INVEST in these public amenities during time of crisis.  I think our libraries, parks and public arts in Scottsdale are a daily reminder of the value we place on our community.  I am a fearless advocate for quality of life for Scottsdale – and I see lots of opportunity in our future to help enrich that conversation.

  • Many Scottsdale businesses are hurting. What changes/action do you want to see from the Council to help them?  

I’m proud the majority of our Council did not REACT to the COVID crisis but instead worked hard to be informed and not panic.  Because we are a tourism-driven economy, we were disproportionately affected both in terms of tax income and spread of the pandemic here.  We’ve done the hard work to get it under control.  Former City Manager John Little had a great idea – let’s strive to be the “healthiest city” in America! Specifically, I hope the Council will consider full or half closure of downtown streets to allow our restaurants to have capacity by spilling outside with pedestrians also enjoying the walk!

  • What is your advice for the next generation of Scottsdale’s leaders and advocates?   

We are a community of entrepreneurs with small businesses, tourism oriented industries taking advantage of our great climate, and the healthcare complexes we all benefit from having here.   So – lots of opportunity for leadership.  But I urge those business owners, non-profit leaders, policy leaders to learn about ALL of Scottsdale:  the educational opportunities K-SCC, public safety issues, the legislature and how it impacts us, the arts, Experience Scottsdale, neighboring communities especially SRPMIC, and more through Scottsdale Leadership.  If you can’t attend, donate.  If you can’t donate, mentor!  Scottsdale’s culture is a flexible and durable web we have woven – but we must all do our part.

  • What changes would you like to see for Scottsdale? What is your vision?  

Scottsdale spent almost 40 years perfecting and preserving an image of a small town western feel – to now being a most livable city.  We’ve nurtured a diversity of thought and talent – we can do more.  To have a thriving downtown, one of the most successful urban malls in America, unique boutiques, contemporary and western art, internationally renowned restaurants, curated arts to help us celebrate and grow our heritage, a vibrant faith community, and a celebrated nightlife – makes us the envy of the country. With major events and five-star facilities (TPC Scottsdale, WestWorld, Giants Stadium, Indian Bend Wash, Cattle Track Art, Civic Center Mall, and more) we will come back strong.