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Adventures in Government - State of the City Address

At its core, a state of the union/state/city address is almost always about the same three things: where we were, where we are, and where we intend to go from here.

Obviously, the speaker, as head of state for the city/state/union they're describing, has a vested interest in giving an optimistic take on current events. After all, why should people have confidence in them in they don't have confidence in themselves?

"Man, this is gonna be rough," I imagine someone saying. "Look, I'm just gonna go ahead and apologize right up front: this is gonna be a downer." And then explaining all the ways the city has fallen apart since they've been in office. Honesty, it turns out, doesn't always improve your chances of being reelected.

As it is, though, I think Mayor Jonathan Rothschild's speech had good reason to be optimistic. Comparing Tucson today to Tucson just a few years ago, the change is dramatic: downtown is cleaner and livelier, the vacant buildings around historic 4th Ave are all being restored and renovated, and all over the city new businesses are popping up while construction workers steadily repave the roads.

Roads, of course, are a sore spot for Tucsonans, as they are with people of every city. Roads, it turns out, are expensive to maintain. Still, you can already see the difference road work has made in the past few years, depending on what part of the city you live in. That's more than many cities can say.

The mayor spoke about all of this and more. I noticed how he cleverly worked in the names of each city council member into his speech, connecting each of them directly to one positive policy, initiative, or project. It was as if to say, "Hey, these guys helped too! Reelect them, maybe?" It was smoothly done (at least, smoother than I just made it sound), and I appreciate that the council and mayor seem to get along and collaborate well with each other. Having been to a fair number of city council meetings now, I know they all have their differences in priorities and personalities. However, when it comes to looking out for what's best for Tucson, I think they're all mostly on the same page. They take their duties seriously.

The mayor also mentioned the city's commitment to protecting its immigrants from persecution, bringing up places where undocumented immigrants can find support, protection, and information about their rights.

The mayor also vaguely mentioned that the City of Tucson will not be bullied. At first I thought was referring to its immigration stance. However, I now believe he was referring to a case in which a state lawmaker has accused Tucson of violating a state law that requires seized firearms to be sold back to the public. Tucson has clearly violated this law, choosing instead to destroy those seized guns. The City of Tucson is fighting this case, asserting that the law itself is an unconstitutional infringement on local rights. If Tucson loses this battle, the city will forfeit over $100 million in state funding, which would have a massive impact on the city's budget. It's unclear at the moment how the Arizona Supreme Court will rule on this case.

With the past and present accounted for, Rothschild began looking to the future. First, he acknowledged three Tucson police officers who had been shot in the line of duty in the past year, who have impressively recovered and returned to duty. This segued into a speech advocating for Prop 101, a referendum to increase the city's sales tax by 0.5% for the next five years in order to fund badly-needed equipment upgrades for Tucson's fire and police departments, as well as additional funds to work on yet more roads around the city. The tax would fund the repair and replacement of many emergency vehicles (many of which are long past due for replacement), as well as funding other overdue equipment upgrades including protective vests and body cameras for policemen.

While listening to the contents of the mayor's speech, I also watched his body language as he gave it. I've seen the mayor speak before and, like most people, he tends to have a fair number of pauses, ums, and ahs. However, this time he did not, thanks in large part to the two teleprompters placed to either side of him. They're placed about 45 degrees to the left and right of the center of the audience, so that as the mayor spoke he could turn from one teleprompter to the other, which makes it appear as though he's dividing his attention evenly to both sides of the audience.

It's a very clever setup, commonly used by everyone up to and including the President. If you don't recognize the inconspicuous teleprompters immediately, you can usually tell when they're being used by the way the speaker will always seem to be facing one of two directions: 45 degrees to their right, and 45 degrees to their left, pivoting unerringly between those two positions. It's an effective method to both give a prepared speech and appear to be looking at the audience while you give it.

That said, there's a skill to reading from a teleprompter effectively. As someone who had a speech impediment when I was younger, I'm well aware that there are plenty of pitfalls to giving a speech, even when the words are right there in front of you, and all you need to do is read them aloud.

There were hundreds of people in attendance, all seated at large, round tables, organized by groups. Each table sat about 10 people, so many tables were of mixed company. Mine included a couple of people from the board that certifies radiologists (a national organization, which is headquartered here in Tucson), and a man whose company has developed a method to test a person's blood quickly in order to determine what kind of antibiotic is most appropriate to combat their disease.

Round tables aren't ideal for this sort of setup, since inevitably a few people end up sitting with their backs to the stage. So, they either have to turn around and ignore the other people at the table, or they simply won't be able to actually watch the speech.

Knowing this, I made sure to be one of the first people in the ballroom so I could claim stage-facing seats for my group. As it turns out, though, I needn't have bothered; three people at our table never showed up, so everyone at our table was able to face the front of the room with relative comfort.

Before the mayor's speech there were several ceremonial events: First, the presenting of the colors, in which uniformed firefighters walked the flags of the United States and Arizona up to the stage to the tune of a live bagpiper. (I haven't experienced bagpipes in person very often in my life, so I was unprepared for the moment when the piper stopped playing and the bagpipes sighed into silence, as if audibly relieved to no longer have to hear itself.) Then there was a lovely rendition of the National Anthem, sung by a talented singer backed by a string quartet.

Then, a local rabbi gave a short speech and prayer. He spoke of the existence of facts and the need to stay informed. To my atheist friends, given a lack of context, the idea of a religious figure giving a speech about facts would be humorously ironic. To my religious conservative friends, well, they don't necessarily disagree with the existence of facts, they simply disagree with what those facts are.

In context, though, the speech was clearly an indictment of the Trump administration, which more or less set the tone of the event.

All in all, it was a good event. I can see why the mayor ran unopposed in his last election. Nobody's seat is that secure if they're not competent at their job.

So, cheers to Mayor Rothschild and cheers to Tucson. Here's to another good year.