Tucson Mayor Urges Fellow Mayors To Be Civil

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Just as there's hard work ahead in Congresswoman Giffords' recovery, there's much to be done to heal the nation's political wounds. This week, Mayor Bob Walkup of Tucson had a proposal. At the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Walkup urged his counterparts to sign a "civility accord." Host Scott Simon talks to Walkup about his efforts to encourage political civility.


Just as there's much work ahead in Congresswoman Giffords' recovery, there is much to be done to heal the nation's political wounds. This week, Mayor Bob Walkup of Tucson had a proposal. The winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mr. Walkup urged his counterparts to sign a civility accord - calls on mayors to quote, "strive to understand different perspectives," choose words carefully.

Mayor Walkup, who is a Republican, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for coming in.

Mayor BOB WALKUP (Mayor, Tucson, Arizona): It's my great pleasure.

SIMON: You met with President Obama.

Mayor WALKUP: I did.

SIMON: And things were civil?

Mayor WALKUP: Well, for the Mayor to - first of all welcome the President to Tucson on Wednesday of last week, what an event that was for our community. It changed everything. But now here I am at the conference of mayors, and we kind of hatched this as a result of the President's visit to Tucson. And every mayor said, oh, sign me up. We are ready to do this.

And mayors are the guys that are in front of the public all the time at the council meetings, and so it just took off, and I'm very pleased to say it was adopted and we're now moving to the next step.

SIMON: Well, give us some particulars. How would you change political rhetoric at the local level, if you could?

Mayor WALKUP: All of us that are in political life today are confronted with the public. Sometimes - or not understand what we're doing and why we're doing it. And like Gabby will tell you if she were here, that it seems to have gotten worse over the last couple of years.

So we said, well, let's try - let's try at the base level of the - all elected officials are elected for the moment, but we're all human beings. So why don't we shape up our - kind of our personal values and who we are as individuals, and let's start there.

SIMON: After hearing similar vows, in the U.S. Congress there was, of course, debate this week about repeal of President Obama's health care overhaul that passed last year, and I think it's safe to say that debate got a little heated. You know, words like socialist and Nazi were tossed back and forth. And it raises the question, is asking politicians to conspicuously tone down their rhetoric a little bit like asking 12-year-old boys not to make naughty jokes. It's just what they do.

Mayor WALKUP: But they don't have to do. And as a parent, you know, there comes a time in a parent's life when you take your son aside and say, you know, we're not using bad language in this house. He said, but dad, you know, they say these words all the time at school. I said, not in this house.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mayor WALKUP: Oh, okay, dad. So I think that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to say, okay, we know, we understand the aisle, but if there was a group of people that had a chance, it would be mayors.

SIMON: Because you're so relentlessly exposed to the public.

Mayor WALKUP: Twenty-four hours a day.

SIMON: Yeah.

MAYOR WALKUP: And mayors traditionally are the ones that have to make judgments, not whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, and I'll tell you, all you have to do is be a mayor for a little bit and you'll understand that that's what it's all about. So it is a matter of the common good.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mayor WALKUP: So I think we - the mayors have a chance. If the mayors started doing it, maybe we can pass it to our commissions and committees that we have in the cities. So maybe we can take that to the nonprofits and maybe the faith-based organizations, and then maybe itll drive up to the state level and then swing over to the federal level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor WALKUP: That's the objective.

SIMON: Mr. Mayor, does Tucson have something the rest of us can learn from right now?

Mayor WALKUP: Well...

SIMON: That youve learned?

Mayor WALKUP: I've learned, I could start in on a list of things that I've learned. I've renewed my pride in a city. And I'm proud - I cannot tell you, how proud I am of the city. And I also, when the president said civility, come on gang, let's be sure our prioritys right, I learned that and I'm going to carry that ball.

SIMON: For civility.

Mayor WALKUP: Yeah.

SIMON: And Mr. Mayor, I mean is civility just a matter of saying...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: ...of saying please and thank you after you've made a hideous observation about someone or...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor WALKUP: Of course, it is. But its also a place that you're not going to tolerate abusive behavior.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mayor WALKUP: We have city council meetings, people get up there and if somebody has a statement on their particular position, boy, if I hear one boo in the audience, boy, I bang it down. I said don't you do that again. You can share a position but I do not want one single abusive remark on anybody's part.

Well, when I do that and I've kind of sometimes I raise up out of the chair, nobody violates that principle. So it's like kids, you know, we started this conversation with son, were not using bad language in this house.

SIMON: Bob Walkup, the mayor of Tucson, thanks so much for being with us.

Mayor WALKUP: My great pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Youre listening to NPR News.

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