City Manager Miranda makes his task personal

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z 2014-05-23T10:12:23Z City Manager Miranda makes his task personalErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In the sparsely decorated office of Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda, on the top floor of City Hall, a copy of a February 1958 Arizona Highways magazine lays on a small table. A photo of Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background and a bank of thick white clouds in a smog-free blue sky, is on the cover.

The image is a constant reminder for Miranda on what his focus should be: keeping Tucson unique and improving the quality of life for its residents and visitors.

Miranda makes this ever-changing challenge personal. He is Tucson, through and through. Born here, schooled here, married here, patrolled the city’s streets as a cop, Miranda looks at his mountain of tasks with simple determination to make it all work.

“I think it’s important, as Tucsonans, to keep our memories of the past and our vision of the future, intact,” said Miranda who with his wife, retired educator Maria Miranda, are the parents of three young adults.

The University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni will honor Miranda next month for his years of public service. He joined the Tucson Police Department in 1975 and rose through the ranks to become chief before his appointment as the city’s top administrator. All this will be recognized at the group’s annual Portraits of Excellence Scholarship Dinner at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa.

Genuinely shy, the 61-year-old Miranda deflects attention away from his accomplishments. He prefers to talk about others, namely his family.

Miranda grew up on the south side, near South 12th Avenue and West Valencia Road. His father, Raúl Miranda, was a World War II veteran who later worked for nearly 30 years on a Pima County road crew, rebuilding and resurfacing miles of asphalt ribbons. His mother, Amalia “Molly” Miranda, was a homemaker who also worked at her family’s Mexican restaurant, Molina’s Midway.

All around the Miranda home were other similar, blue-collar families, doing their best. Many of the men worked in the nearby mines or in mine-related businesses. The women worked at home or outside.

Miranda said he grew up in a neighborhood “where we all saw ourselves as common people.”

Outside of his teachers in Sunnyside schools, Miranda’s principal teachers were his parents. His father demonstrated to him the nobleness of getting dirty and working hard; his mother pushed him and his younger sister, Louisa Procci, to study hard.

“He had one of those jobs where he had to take his shoes off before he came into the house,” Miranda said of his father.

To underscore what they wanted for their son, Raúl Miranda sometimes would take his son to a road job, to see the crew pasting asphalt on a hot day. It was good and honest work, “but he thought I could do something else.”

That ‘else’ was not defined, but it was clear that education could take Miranda somewhere good.

“Education and going to the UA was a dream for our parents,” he said.

But it took a baseball idol to drive home the lesson.

Like a number of Tucson baseball-loving boys in the mid-1960s, Miranda’s local hero was Eddie Leon, an All-American player at the UA. One day while Leon was still a Wildcat, Miranda went with a group from the Boys & Girls Club to the UA. There, Miranda spied Leon taking batting practice.

Leon stopped to talk to the kids and took them on a short walk away from the baseball diamond to a large UA building. Miranda said Leon said to them: “Want to make a difference in your lives? There it is.” It was the library.

The baseball hero echoed what Miranda’s parents had been telling him. “That was a game changer for me.”

Miranda went on to attend Sunnyside High School and the UA, then join TPD and City Hall, where on the 10th floor he has another reminder of his commitment to his hometown. In a corner is a black bat, with some dings and bruises. It’s vintage 1941, with names of some legendary New York Yankees burned into the wood.

But it’s not the names that draw Miranda’s attention. The bat belonged his late father, who died in 2007.

When city issues knot up his thinking, Miranda holds the bat, looks out the window and recalls his childhood lessons of doing right by Tucson and its families.

Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at netopjr@azstarnet.com or at 520-573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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