By Lincoln Shea
Former Scottsdale City Manager John Little is one of six top vote-getters in the August 4th primary which means he will move on to the November 3rd General Election. His face, and his moustache, are familiar to anyone who has followed politics in Scottsdale. He has served as Chief of Staff to legendary Mayor Herb Drinkwater. He went on to become Scottsdale City Manager. We had the chance to talk with Little about his take on the results from the August primary election and issues facing Scottsdale residents.
APG: Your campaign had an impressive finish in the August election. What do you attribute your success to in the Primary race?
John Little: Our success was simply the result of being able to reconnect with the thousands of citizens and businesses I have helped over the years. I spent thirty years helping preserve the desert for future generations and implementing strategies for the safety and well-being of our great neighborhoods. I was there when people needed sound barriers to protect them from freeway noise, traffic calming to reduce neighborhood cut-through traffic and I provided a helping hand to small shops and galleries in the downtown when they were struggling. People remember me as someone they can trust, someone who has demonstrated principled, tested and committed leadership for a full generation of Scottsdale citizens.
APG: Based on the primary results, what do you believe that says about the mindset of Scottsdale
John Little: I believe it suggests Scottsdale residents feel we are the cusp of great changes in our lives and in our community. I remember two other times in Scottsdale’s history when residents felt the same way. The first was during the “annexation” era of the 1980’s. Huge swaths of open desert were being gobbled up by cities in a race to secure municipal boundaries for future growth. Within just a few short years master planned communities started springing up which was very threatening to some but very exciting to others who saw these emerging neighborhoods as great places to raise families. A second time of great anxiety occurred in December of 2007 with the advent of the great recession. This became a life changing event for families as small businesses closed, workers were laid off and nearly empty city coffers threatened the many city services to which citizens had become accustomed. Today we again find ourselves in a time of great anxiety and uncertainty about how shifting economics and social dynamics will impact their jobs, schools and their quality of life.
APG: As a former City Manager for Scottsdale, would serving as a Councilman create any unique difficulties with staff?
John Little: No. Just the opposite. I more than any other candidate have a detailed working understanding of the City Charter and the clarity it gives to the separation of responsibilities between policy makers and administrators. The staff knows me and has confidence that above all I take my oath of office seriously and would not attempt to micro-manage staff. Some newcomers running for office sound like they are really more interested in running for Planning and Development Manager or Zoning Administrator. Just as in business, having a clear understanding of your role and respecting the roles of others is a good recipe for success.
APG: Mayoral candidate Lisa Borowsky was one of the council members who voted to terminate your contract as City Manager in 2009. Are there any lingering hard feelings?
John Little: None whatsoever. I was hired and promoted under the leadership of no fewer than four Mayors and five different City Managers. Since I left in 2009 there have been five more who have occupied the City Manager’s Office about one every two years. It’s not personal, it’s just business. Disagreements happen just as they do in the private sector when boards of directors and CEO’s have divergent opinions. Let it also be said that the challenges this city will be facing in trying to rebuild our economy and get our businesses and schools reopened will require all our attention. There will be no time for petty politics. And that should be true for every member of the city council regardless of past personal or political histories.
APG: Mayor Lane has also expressed reservations about you. What say you to that?
John Little: A dozen years ago the Mayor and I both assumed our respective leadership positions at roughly the same time. We shared goals but disagreed on the May tactics. The Mayor wanted the City Council to have a City Treasurer who would act also as Chief Financial Officer and report to the Council. I asserted that I believed that to be a direct violation of the City Charter. Three Council Members agreed with him and three agreed with me. Reasonable people can have disagreements. Ultimately the Mayor fixed the problem by asking voters to approve an amendment to the City Charter which they did one year later. People who know me know I manifest my Irish heritage by always looking ahead and letting bygones be bygones. The importance of responding to the challenges of today and tomorrow surely override any events that transpired over a decade ago. I wish Mayor Lane success and happiness when he leaves office after many years of service to our city.
APG: In your opinion, what is the driving issue for the November election for Scottsdale?
John Little: There is not a single driving issue. There are a number of related issues that together define what I believe to be the greatest challenge we face as a community, and that is, defeating COVID-19. The pandemic has single-handedly changed the trajectory of our lives forever. The challenge is to aggressively define our new future so we can be the masters of it rather than victims of it. Failure to produce a plan will have devastating impacts on every aspect of our lives from education and employment to civil unrest and long-term psychological and sociological impacts. For those candidates who believe growth and development is the only driving issue, they are living in a fantasy world. Nothing tops defeating COVID and post-COVID recovery as the top issue for the protection and economic wellbeing of our families, and ultimately for the economic health of our neighborhoods and city.
APG: Many Scottsdale businesses are hurting. What would you do to help them?
John Little: Help for business will take two different forms. The first addresses the things we need to do now to help each other. A business doesn’t hurt. People hurt. Who’s hurting are the owners of the businesses and their families, the employees who are furloughed, the employees who get COVID trying to keep the business from closing, The people who supply the businesses the landlords and property managers who rely on the business paying its rent. People are hurting and by helping the people we help the businesses. We need mortgage protections, rent protections and temporary eviction moratoriums. We need to make sure every Scottsdale family has access to ample food supplies and medical care. We need to retrain our workforce in the new skills that will be needed by tomorrow’s workforce. Of course a fundamental strategy to helping businesses recover will require our special events, resorts and convention businesses to be recharged and fully operational. Scottsdale is well-positioned to capitalize on our reputation as a safe and healthy community.
APG: With the circumstances brought by COVID-19, how have you been able to reach voters and get your message out?
John Little: Given the interest in our campaign, we have been fortunate to have an incredible number of people reaching out to us making our job a little easier. We have an attractive and easy to navigate website loaded with information on the issues of concern to voters. Since the beginning of our campaign I have been way more concerned about the information coming in and listening and much less concerned about the messages going out.
APG: Do you plan on doing anything different leading up to the November election?
John Little: We are always doing something different. That is a hallmark of my candidacy. It is not “business as usual”. I have a talented and creative team that makes sure we exhaust all available means of interacting with voters. We are running a campaign that has elements honoring Scottsdale’s past, listening to citizens about their views of the present, and of their hopes and dreams for future generations of Scottsdale families.
APG: What don’t people know about John Little and your campaign for City Council?
John Little: There is hardly anything people don’t know about me. And after this interview is published there will be even less. But for starters, I think some people might mistake my affability for not being tough. But I have the heart and grit of an Irish street fighter. I’ve beaten cancer, survived the loss of our son Ryan, rose up through the ranks of a 2,600 employee organization from and entry level job to the city’s top job. I’ve been on the front page of the newspapers and now have entered the mosh pit of local politics. Balancing me out is my wife Lori, for 27 years a clinical exercise physiologist at a local hospital who also just earned certification from Titleist as a golf fitness instructor. In between work and politics we are active volunteers supporting the Miracle League of Arizona and St. Vincent de Paul Charities.