Phoenix’s Jewish mayor, Kate Gallego, is becoming a player in national media. She’s appeared several times on CNN as well as ABC’s “This Week.” She’s also been featured on the pages of The Washington Post. She’s OK with that as long as all the exposure helps people back home in Phoenix get what they need in order to deal with COVID-19.
She’s working, along with other mayors in the state, to convince the governor to mandate masks statewide. She’s also continuing to work on climate change issues and joked that her father reminded her, “If I could just do something about the heat in Phoenix I would definitely be reelected.”
She spoke with Jewish News about the media attention she’s received, the difficulties in combating COVID-19 and climate change and the importance of faith in a crisis.
Do you think the governor will issue a statewide mandate about masks?
I joined with mayors from across the state to urge the governor to mandate masks. The science has shown that masks really can save lives, and we do need to take important steps here. I’m glad all of Maricopa County is now wearing masks, and as soon as the governor gave us that authority, we moved forward with mandating masks in Phoenix.
I’m glad that the mayors did this on a bipartisan basis. It’s not about politics. It’s about the science and public health.
You’ve become a fixture of late on the national media stage. That seems to have helped in getting you some of what you have been asking for.
For many months I have been working to get federal testing support. I saw our peer cities were getting federal support whereas in Phoenix we were struggling to get tests for medical workers and people who were ill. I was told we didn’t qualify at the time based on the number of COVID-19 cases we had. We asked the federal government, and I tried again when rates increased.
I went on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos and talked about what I was seeing on the ground. Not far from my house people were backed up waiting for eight hours in their cars, sometimes struggling to breathe, while they waited to get a test.
I thought we could do better. Shortly after that show, the White House reached out and I was on the phone with FEMA, and now we have more testing.
How frustrating is it that you had to wait until you were making regular national media appearances to get attention?
I’m willing to do whatever it takes to raise awareness on the ground in Phoenix. I would have liked to see it much sooner, though. We are a hot spot, and we need that support. They mentioned me in a White House briefing by name, and I’m happy to reach people whatever way is most effective. Mayors are on the ground, and we see what is happening.
I’ll never apologize for advocating for Phoenix residents.
You are the mayor in a time of real crisis. How hindered are you by not being able to be together with your staff and talk to people in person — to have to wait until you can schedule a meeting on Zoom?
It’s certainly easier to deal with challenges in person. The more things are filtered by electronic media, the more people can miscommunicate. It’s not the same as being together in person. Communicating in a crisis is more important than ever so we adapt, we innovate.
In terms of innovation, how will Phoenix innovate in order to meet your goals of being “heat ready” and taking on the overwhelming task of fighting climate change?
During my time as mayor we’ve joined C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group which works together with cities of other nations as well as other cities in the U.S. It gives me a chance to collaborate with other people working on these issues and share our best practices. And we learn about their innovations.
We are working on the ground in Phoenix to see how we can lead the way.
There are companies in the building industry that are incredibly forward thinking about how we can reduce heat. We have solar and clean tech companies here and important work around transportation. We have a lot of support. Voters are with us on things like the light rail system.
My father likes to remind me if I could just do something about the heat in Phoenix I would definitely be reelected.
We also turn to some of the oldest solutions like tree planting. Tree cover tends to be more plentiful in wealthier neighborhoods, and we want to make sure all of our citizens have it.
I remember as a kid raising money for growing trees in Israel, and now I’m doing it in Phoenix.
How does your faith inform your work as a public servant?
Our faith teaches us you have to solve problems and pay attention to the community, and everybody has value and matters. We have to take care of people who are the most vulnerable, with health challenges and homelessness. I hope people see that it’s a big part of my job.
I’m proud to be part of our Jewish community. My rabbi, Rabbi Linder, has been helpful in connecting me with the faith community. He has helped me find testing locations for mobile testing units and meet other faith leaders to discuss COVID-19 and protections early on. It’s been wonderful meeting people through him.
In a time of great challenge so many Phoenicians turn to their faith.
Will you join a Zoom High Holiday celebration?
I think at this point we have to assume during High Holidays it will still be necessary to do social distancing. I had my first Zoom seder this year — it was a Zeder. It wasn’t the same, but it’s a memory I won’t forget — trying to sing with many people over Zoom. It was a comedy. JN