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How New Tempe Mayor Corey Woods Plans To Tackle The Coronavirus, Divisive Times

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Friday, July 10, 2020 - 1:06pm

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Corey Woods
Katie Campbell/KJZZ
Corey Woods in KJZZ's studio in March 2020.

MARK BRODIE: Corey Woods was sworn in as the new mayor of Tempe last week. The 41-year-old is crossing a lot off a lot of firsts for the city's leader. He's the first black mayor of Tempe, and he was almost certainly the first to be sworn in virtually. He is, in fact, recovering from a mild bout of COVID-19 and was quarantined at home. In his first speech as mayor, he talked about many priorities and thanked the people of Tempe for entrusting him with this role. Our co-host, Lauren Gilger spoke with him more about what it's like to be entering office at such a tumultuous time and how he plans to tackle the rising numbers of coronavirus we're seeing.

COREY WOODS: First and foremost, I mean, I think the biggest thing is that, you know, we have to encourage people to follow all local and CDC guidelines regarding, you know, wearing a mask when in places of public accommodation. And then I think we have to try to encourage people as much as possible to stay home whenever they can. So I tell friends of mine and family members, if you're able to order groceries, you know, from a service where they can drop it off right at your doorstep, that's obviously a great option. If you're able to get your food through a delivery service or to pick it up curbside, that's a better option than going out as well. It's great that we spend time and our money supporting our local businesses to make sure that they are still here after this pandemic subsides, but at the same time, we have to do it safely. And so that's what we're clearly going to encourage people to do right here in Tempe.

LAUREN GILGER: What do you think the city's role should be in things like enforcement when it comes to, you know, packed bars on Mill Avenue, for example?

WOODS: I think we absolutely have to enforce our, our ordinances — not only our ordinance, but Maricopa County ordinance. They are, they passed an ordinance themselves with a unanimous vote, also stipulating that people have to wear a mask in public and social distance where possible. So my perspective is, we are clearly trying to make sure that we're not fining people and costing, you know, taking money out of people's pockets or taking money out of the pockets of local business owners. But at the same time, if we have tried to educate you or issue a warning, and you were just willfully refusing to, to ignore it, I think at that point, that's where, you know, a disciplinary action is clearly something that we might have to utilize in order to gain compliance. But clearly, you know, the first things we're trying to do were to educate the population about, you know, about the local and countywide ordinances and, and hope to get people to comply that way. But, yes, if we can't get compliance, we might have to issue a fine at some point just to show people that this is obviously a very serious situation. We can't have people infecting others. We got it — we have to do whatever we can to keep our citizens safe, and that's what I'm committed to doing as the mayor of Tempe.

GILGER: So that's a little bit about the public health side of this. What about the business side of this? You mentioned like, trying to make sure that a lot of the small businesses in Tempe can make it through. What do you see as a city's role there? How do you hope you can help them?

WOODS: First of all, I think the biggest thing is, we have to really understand that our small businesses are going through an epic challenge right now. You've got people who have sunk their entire life savings into opening up a small business and providing services to our community. So my hat's off to them. And I, and I recognize just how challenging that has to be right now. So I think we have to do whatever we can to help on the education side, whether it's providing signage for their businesses to explain to patrons who want to come in as to what the local ordinances require. I think we can provide certain kinds of programs to help in terms of marketing and helping people to know that a lot of their favorite small businesses are still open for business and still selling food or other goods and services. And so whatever we can do to encourage people to continue spending money at these at these establishments, I think is something we should be doing.

GILGER: Another issue you spoke about in your first address is mayor is policing and police reform. We're seeing sort of a moment of national reckoning with racism in light of so many police shootings. There have been calls in Tempe to defund the police department there. And you are the city's first Black mayor. I mean, what do you think needs to be done? And from your perspective, what does police reform look like?

WOODS: So I think the biggest thing that we have to do is we have to take a look at de-escalation techniques, use of force policies, civilian review boards, seeing if there are current functions within the police department, which would be better handled by a human services or community services department. So I think those are all of the things that people are really looking at us to take a hard, honest look at and commit to doing reforms. For me, it's not about committing to a certain percentage. Well, you know, like some people would want, "Well, I want you to defund the police department to the tune of 20%." It's not about committing to a percentage. It's about really taking a look at the operations of our police department and our Human Services department, because let's say we recognize that there's a gap somewhere in Human Services that we really could provide more funding and more employees in a critical area to help people who've been adversely affected. We need to first do an analysis and find out where those areas are, and then see if there are funds in the police department that might be better used in a human services capacity. But that's going to take time to really do a thorough, thoughtful analysis. And the thing I really pointed to during my swearing in speech was, these are not issues or problems that we got into overnight. These are problems that have been brewing for quite some time. And so we're not going to get out of them and have solutions overnight.

GILGER: Last question for you then. If we were in more normal times, we would be talking about things like development and downtown Tempe or traffic issues, who knows what, but to end with then I will just ask this: What does a successful Tempe look like to you, and what would you like to achieve in your time as mayor beyond these sort of immediate challenges that we've talked about?

WOODS: I think it's a whole host of things. I think we have to have a thriving economy in the city of Tempe where our small, medium and large businesses are making money and have the ability to hire people and keep people employed. So I think a strong economy is key to the city of Tempe's future. I think it's also having a diverse economy when it comes to different companies and industries. So I think we have to do everything we can to make sure that different kinds of businesses can thrive here, and that we're not just simply putting all our eggs in one basket. I think we have to do whatever we can to continue partnering with Arizona State University. I can think of things when it comes to assets with homelessness, COVID-19 testing. There are so many different things that we could actually partner with them on to really help to advance the city of Tempe, and I'm looking forward to doing even more work with them as we move forward. And I think that one of the things that I've always talked about, and we haven't touched upon in this interview so far, is affordable housing. I think it really is key when I talked about diversity in the business context, it really is talking about diversity from a housing standpoint as well. We have to make sure if we're going to remain the diverse, inclusive community that the city of Tempe is known for being, that people of all different backgrounds can still afford to live here.

GILGER: All right. That is the newly sworn in mayor of Tempe, Corey Woods, joining us. Mayor, thank you so much for the time.

WOODS: Thank you so much, Lauren. Really appreciate it.

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