By Dolores Tropiano
Vice Mayor Kate Gallego was born and raised in Albuquerque, N.M., where the skies are clear and blue and open space is as ample as sunshine. It was in that enchanting space that she became conscious of environmental issues. As a child, Gallego’s dream job was to be a veterinarian, but those plans evolved from caring for animals to caring for the Earth.
After graduating from Albuquerque Academy, Gallego left her small town to attend the most prestigious school in the country – Harvard University in Boston, Mass. Gallego brought her love of nature with her, graduating with a degree in environmental studies. Later, she received an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Gallego moved to Phoenix in 2004, where she worked in strategic planning for Salt River Project. In 2010, the councilwoman married fellow Harvard grad, Ruben Gallego. (U.S. Congressman Ruben Gallego represents District 7.)
She also worked closely with former Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Democratic Party, before pursuing her own political career. Gallego was elected to the Phoenix City Council in 2013, representing District 8. There, she put her passion for the environment,
sustainability and economic development to work, being recognized for her leadership countless times over the years.
In 2016, Gallego and her husband were divorced. Their son, Michael, is 16 months old.
Gallego had been prodded by supporters to run for mayor in the past, so when Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton decided to run for congress, Gallego announced her run for mayor of Phoenix. As of May 25, there were seven other candidates competing for the city’s top
job. Elections take place on Nov. 6. If she wins, Gallego, 36, won’t be the first female mayor (there were two before her), but she will be the youngest.
Green Living magazine recently sat down with Gallego to talk about her past, her future, and her passion for the environment.
Let’s go back for a moment in your life. You spent your childhood in Albuquerque and were then thrust into a dramatically different culture at Harvard University. What was that like?
Being born and raised in New Mexico, there were lots of things I wasn’t exposed to. When I was growing up, the richest person in Albuquerque that I knew was the guy who owned the car dealership. When I was at Harvard they kept talking about investment banking. I
had no idea what that meant.
You majored in environmental science. What drew you to that area of study?
Growing up, I loved the outdoors and wide open spaces. It seemed so important to daily life and it was the perfect preparation for my studies. I did a lot of work on land-use planning and the needs of a downtown area.
You’ve had many accomplishments while on the council, including securing equal pay for women. Can you tell us about that?
It is important that women receive equal pay for equal work. It’s an issue of fundamental fairness, but it is also part of Phoenix’s values. I want Phoenix to be the type of city where everyone has the opportunity to advance and where hard work is rewarded.
Now, every city contract requires that the business have an equal pay policy. For example, the city of Phoenix owns the Sky Harbor airport newsstand. The owner said, “I’ve given a raise to every employee who has asked for it.” But the problem with that is that male employees are more likely to ask. We need to train women to be assertive about being fairly compensated.
After being on the city council for more than four years, do you remember the moment you decided to run for mayor?
The first time I considered it was when I chaired the campaign for Proposition 104, which is the citywide transportation plan through 2050. Transportation 2050 is an opportunity to develop different ways for people to get around the city – biking, taking the bus or riding the rail. It is exciting from a sustainability point of view. On the night of the vote, someone approached me and asked if I was running for mayor. It was nice to be appreciated for what I was doing. I was tempted.
Another moment came when the census announced that Phoenix was one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. With that kind of growth, I thought, it’s essential to ensure that we are thinking in terms of long term sustainability. It was very exciting.
Why did you choose this path at this point in your life?
The challenges that are facing the city are so important. I have a personal interest in sustainability. You can potentially make smart decisions and invest in sustainable growth, but we need strong leadership to make sure we are intentional about the kind of city we
want to be.
If elected, what would be one of your first priorities?
When I decided to run, I was working on economic development – bringing businesses in and growing those businesses here. I felt that Phoenix needed to be purposeful about business development. I believe a more diverse economy is less dependent on growth and jobs in home building and tourism because when there is a downturn, there are so many job losses that take place in the same industry. We need leadership that can help create a more diversified economy with more jobs in health care, in precision medicine and other industries.
How would your commitment to the environment influence your future work?
Prior to serving on the city council, I was chair of the city’s Environmental Quality Commission, which is a citizen commission that advises the city on environmental policy. In that role, I led the effort to develop the city’s renewable energy and climate change goals. The year I ran for council the book “Bird on Fire” came out calling Phoenix the least sustainable city in the world. I thought a good counterpoint to that book would be having someone on the council with a real interest in sustainability. So I ran and won.
The city currently has very ambitious sustainability goals. Right now we have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, and make big investments in renewable energy, parks and outdoor spaces, local food and healthy eating. We are also working to reduce heat islands through green infrastructure and building codes. If I am elected mayor, these passions will continue to be priority for me and for the city.
What part does green living play in your personal life today?
I drive a Ford Fusion hybrid. I have solar panels on my house. I try to make sustainable decisions in all areas of my life. We use transit when we can, we buy environmentally friendly products and reuse bags. We also recycle and conserve water.
On a personal note, what do you like to do for fun?
I have a son, Michael, who is 14 months old [at the time of the interview]. We go to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and he loves playing outside. He is fearless.
It looks like he may already be following in his mom’s footsteps with an interest in politic or at least “running” in a political office.
Michael was running on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. recently. The ABC evening news reported that a toddler had turned the U.S. House into his playhouse. It was a good news story.
Dolores Tropiano is the editor of Green Living magazine and the multi-tasking mother of Andre and Dante. She resides in Scottsdale, Arizona. Send card or email comments to Dolores@GreenLivingAZ.com.