After A Long ‘runway,’ Hartke Eager To Fly As New Mayor - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

After A Long ‘runway,’ Hartke Eager To Fly As New Mayor

January 8th, 2019 SanTan Sun News
After A Long ‘runway,’ Hartke Eager To Fly As New Mayor

By Jason Stone

Staff Writer

Kevin Hartke is just days away from taking over as Chandler’s mayor, but you’ll have to forgive him if he’s a little impatient to get started.

Once the last of his three possible opponents had dropped out way back in May, he knew the job was his.

“I really decided that I was going to run for mayor two years ago,” Hartke said. “So, in many ways this has been the longest runway to mayor than I could have ever projected.”

After months of waiting – and years in the making – Hartke takes over for longtime mayor Jay Tibshraeny at this week’s City Council meeting. He takes the reigns of a city experiencing its greatest prosperity ever, and he knows replacing arguably the most successful mayors in Chandler history won’t be easy.

“We are the best run city in the entire state of Arizona,” Hartke said. “We’re structurally balanced. We’re fiscally sound. We maintain adequate reserves. We don’t confuse one-time money with ongoing money. In terms of financially, I couldn’t be more excited about being the mayor of Chandler.”

Hartke knows his main job is to keep the good times rolling.

To help him not mess things up, he’s been studying for the job like a law student cramming for the LSATs.

He has been attending economic development meetings to introduce himself to CEOs and other city influencers that he will be working with. He’s a frequent attendee of other city committees and boards. And he’s been educating himself in a wide range of city issues, from zoning to water and everything in between.

“It has just given me a lot of opportunity to explore what don’t I know and to ask questions of those folks, so I think I am as ready as I can be,” Hartke said. “I know what I know, and I know there are a lot of things I don’t know.

“Just because I have been sitting next to the mayor doesn’t mean I have been sitting in the seat. I have worked hard over the last seven or eight months to address those questions.”

To help him devote more time to the job, Hartke is stepping down as lead minister for the Trinity Christian Fellowship, a position he has held since arriving in Chandler 33 years ago. He will still remain on part-time and keep a small office about a mile from City Hall.

“I love the church and love the people,” Hartke said. “But I want to be operating more out of this office than that office. It’s just where I want to focus my time. So, I’m going to treat this like a full-time job in terms of my time.”

Hartke said he plans to build on community activities that Tibshraeny conducted – like the Mayor’s Listening Tour.

“Like I told him, anything I can do to help him, I’m more than happy to do,” Tibshraeny said. “We both share that common thread of wanting what’s best for Chandler.”

Hartke plans on being “a very active mayor.”

That makes sense for a man who has led an active life.

Blue-collar roots

Hartke grew up in a blue-collar section outside of St. Louis at a time when the Gateway Arch was being erected. His father worked for a printing company and his mother stayed at home to raise Hartke and his two older brothers.

Young Kevin was fascinated with the construction of the Arch and the possibilities it represented. He would regularly climb a tall tree outside the family’s home to watch the progress.

Hartke would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Missouri. He wanted to go to medical school but ended up changing his plans once he moved to northern Minnesota to take a job with a Christian organization that worked with the area’s indigenous people from the Cree, Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes.

He ended up moving to northern Canada to work on Indian reservations near the Hudson Bay. He wasn’t quite at the Arctic Circle; on some days, he would only see two hours of the sun.

Eventually, Hartke didn’t see a future with the organization he worked for and was looking for other opportunities. In the meantime, he met his future wife, Lynne, and the couple moved into her parents’ southern Minnesota basement with their newborn son to plot their next move.

That’s when he got a call from a little church in Chandler.

“They didn’t have coat racks,” Hartke joked about his interest in the job after years of below-freezing, nasty weather.

Hartke visited Chandler in January 1985, moved here in March and bought a house by that Thanksgiving. At the time Chandler’s population boom was just beginning, but cotton and corn fields still encircled the family’s neighborhood in every direction.

“At the height in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we were adding 1,000 people a month to Chandler,” Hartke said. “It was roaring.”

The Hartkes’ four children – two boys and two girls – all eventually graduated from Chandler High School. Kevin and Lynne have now been married for 37 years and have four grandchildren – the most recent coming in November.

It’s fitting that Hartke is replacing Tibshraeny because the outgoing mayor had a direct hand in getting the incoming one into politics.

The pair started a working relationship and friendship in the 1980s when Hartke frequently performed invocations of city meetings. Hartke also attended several meetings as a concerned citizen to follow issues such as human rights, homelessness, crime and immigration.

Eventually, Tibshraeny asked Hartke to serve on a city committee in the 1990s to kickstart his political career. Tibshraeny then picked Hartke to serve on the Human Relations Commission that was formed in the wake of what Hartke called the “famous, infamous Chandler Roundup.”

The so-called “Operation Restoration” was a joint operation between federal authorities and local law enforcement to round up hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants. Tibshraeny created the commission to help the city move past the controversial program.

Hartke’s work on those boards led Tibshraeny, who was then a state senator, some former city managers and others to persuade him to take an open City Council seat that Martin Sepulveda vacated when he was deployed to Iraq.

But after nearly a year on the council on an interim basis, Hartke came up a couple hundred votes short when he attempted to win the seat permanently.

“It was disheartening,” Hartke said. “I think anybody who loses, it just knocks the stuffing out of you because you run because you think you’re a good candidate and you think you’ve got what it takes. So, it’s a bit of soul-searching.”

He now looks at that loss as a blessing in disguise.

Not only did that loss lead to the formation of his nonprofit, For Our City Chandler, but it also gave him a chance to serve on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to gain more experience, and it allowed then-Mayor Boyd Dunn to appoint him to lead the city’s 2010 Census count.

“Had I won that election, several things wouldn’t have happened,” Hartke said. “Mayor Dunn really said we’re going to get you involved. So, I served on those three things in ’09 and ’10 and came back and ran.”

This time he won. He beat Donna Wallace in the general election to earn a spot back on the council – this time his own seat.

The other good thing about having to wait until 2010 is it put him on cycle to run for mayor.

An active agenda

Now that he’s mayor, he has a few areas he wants to focus on:

• Keeping the city’s finances on solid footing.

• Maintaining a friendly business climate.

• Discussing Chandler’s interest with the regional transportation tax expiring soon.

• Preserving and conserving the city’s water supply.

• And continuing Chandler’s build out with about 12 percent of city land still available for development.

“I think we’re still knocking it out of the park economically,” Hartke said.

While Hartke is looking to put his own stamp on leading the city, he said he was no doubt influenced by Tibshraeny’s management style. Tibshraeny was known for allowing time for citizens to speak on all sides of an issue at meetings, and Hartke plans to continue to give citizens a voice.

Hartke said being aware of people’s “grassroots fears” is actually crucial for a good leader. That’s why he has attended planning and zoning meetings that have ran past midnight for issues he knows will be contentious once they reach the City Council level.

After Thursday’s swearing in, Hartke will give his first State of the City address Feb. 21 at the Chandler Center of the Arts. Four videos are part of what Hartke is calling a “very dynamic, very engaging,” presentation.

“I’m not going to be doing an hour and a half monologue,” Hartke said. “Keep them wanting more. Don’t bore people.”

Hartke doesn’t want to bore himself, either. He will continue his work with his For Our City Chandler and has already planned some outdoor trips.

For Our City Chandler is entering its 10th year, tackling issues such as homelessness, poverty, suicide and drug addiction.

As for the outdoor trips, the Hartkes already have a camping trip planned for the Grand Canyon in March. The incoming mayor said he’s made about “two-dozen” rim-to-rim hikes at the Canyon.

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