City's new mayor is portrait of hard work, little flash

2011-11-13T00:00:00Z City's new mayor is portrait of hard work, little flashRhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Mayor-elect Jonathan Rothschild tends to start his weekday mornings the same way.

His sneakers have a meeting with a treadmill sometime around 5:30 a.m.

He stops at a midtown Starbucks on the way to his law office, and without demonstrating any grave need for variety, orders the same thing: a tall coffee with nonfat milk. Breakfast is Greek honey yogurt. Once a month, he shakes things up with a blueberry muffin.

His legal colleague, Richard Davis, reports when he arrives at the office at 7:30 a.m., Rothschild is almost always long settled in for a day of real estate and business law.

Rothschild lives a lot in his head, reading voraciously. The book he's poring through now? One on water policy. Which he swears is really good.

Saturdays are almost always devoted to a half-day at the office. Weekends almost always involve a nap.

No sports, other than being a bad golfer in high school, although he does enjoy UA basketball games.

No cooking.

No musical instruments.

There might have been a spelling bee award in primary school.

When a reporter protested that he seemed, well, rather boring to write about, he relayed the comment to his colleagues. There wasn't, he acknowledged, a rush of disagreement.

In fairness, there are some spots of color.

He published a book of poems in 2008, with a rather intimate exploration of family and friendship and love. He listened to Jimi Hendrix on his ride into the office the morning after he was elected mayor. He has a weekly poker game.

As befits his character, he's a conservative player, says fellow attorney and occasional stand-up comedian Elliot Glicksman, who has been playing weekly, very-low-stakes poker with Rothschild for 29 years. And while the other guys might have a beer, Rothschild downs coffee.

He might be smart, Glicksman said, but "He's a dull guy." He jokes that what's interesting about his buddy is that "he can be boring on a multitude of subjects."

There is, of course, a difference between a colorful personality and a kind of interesting that comes from a more cerebral place.

His wife of 32 years, Karen Spiegel Rothschild, a pediatric physical therapist, said that when the two then-recent college graduates met at a dinner in 1977, she was drawn to his thoughtfulness and the fact she found him interesting and well-read.

And while people don't talk about his dynamic personality, what they do say - and it's almost the first thing out of their mouths - is he's a hard worker. Consider:

His daughter: "He's just one of the most hardworking people I know. He's a serious man. And when it comes to work, he's very serious."

Davis, his partner: "Jonathan is one of the hardest-working individuals I know."

Glicksman, the attorney and poker player: "He's a stickler for details, and he's a workaholic."

Jeff Rogers, the chairman of the local Democratic Party, said he's been doing campaign work since 1963 and he'd never seen a candidate put in as many hours in direct voter contact as did Rothschild, whether that was knocking on doors or making phone calls. He was surprised to see Rothschild had already assembled hefty briefing books on city issues. "He dug into each and every issue. I just think that shows the work ethic he's had."

Describing his own approach to the office, Rothschild tends to use words like "pragmatic" or "measured." He won't be pounding on tables or doing the trial-lawyer showboat. "This is not trial work. At least it shouldn't be. I see it as more of a civil conversation and a lot of mediation."

But he said he doesn't expect status quo, either. "Many times, you'll see a politician run a boisterous campaign and then end up governing cautiously. Although you saw me run a careful campaign, maybe you'll see more boisterous governance. I think that's what the community needs."

Rothschild gets a bit riled up when he hears the criticism that some detractors think his 180-day plan is a lot of talk - literally - with meetings scheduled with educators and business interests and politicians from a bunch of jurisdictions and neighborhood groups.

"That's a bunch of baloney," Rothschild said. "It's an active and aggressive agenda," he said, noting there are big things embedded, such as streamlining the onerous land use code. "But aside from that, talking to people is a big part of the job."

Rothschild has a long history with nonprofit service, serving as president of both Casa de los Niños and Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging. Daughter Molly, 19 and a sophomore studying theater at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, said she was 13 when she started going along with him to Operation Deep Freeze runs, which provides shelter to the homeless on freezing nights. "It just really opened my eyes to how the world really was," she recalled.

The morning after his election, Rothschild was up early, making coffee at Casa Maria soup kitchen. "A community is judged by how it treats the least among us," he said, noting he had meetings set up that first day with outgoing Mayor Bob Walkup and interim City Manager Richard Miranda.

He says he sees his new role as an extension of community service. His wife, who has also been a regular volunteer, said while she'll continue doing her current job, she will also try to use her position to focus on childhood health.

People who know him say he has a good sense of humor when he loosens up. He's probably going to need it.

He'll be sworn in Dec. 5.

 

"Many times, you'll see a politician run a boisterous campaign and then end up governing cautiously.

Although you saw me run a careful campaign, maybe you'll see more boisterous governance. I think that's what the community needs."

Mayor-elect Jonathan Rothschild

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

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