Had she not been allergic to cats, Kate Gallego, the newly elected mayor of Phoenix and an Albuquerque native, might have been a veterinarian.
Instead, the former Kate Widland 37, will be sworn in next week as the youngest and the only woman mayor of one of the top 10 largest cities in America.
“It’s exciting, a real honor,” she told the Journal on Thursday. “It says something good about Phoenix – that it’s an open community and the results you can get matter more than where you were born or your name.”
First elected to the Phoenix City Council in 2013, Gallego was re-elected in 2017. But when former Mayor Greg Stanton announced he was running for Congress, Gallego gave up her City Council seat to run in a special election to succeed him. Gallego subsequently beat opponent Daniel Valenzuela in a March 12 runoff election.
The midterm elections, which changed the composition of the U.S. House of Representatives, were a statement by voters that “they really want people who are like them, raising families and involved in their community,” Gallego said. “We don’t want elected officials on a pedestal; we want real people facing real challenges.”
Nationwide, there was “a wave of women who ran in response, I think they’d say, to the Trump election,” Gallego said. “I would not count myself in that group because I was already involved in public life and public service.”
Public life, however, was not something she thought about growing up in Albuquerque, although she was the student body vice president at Albuquerque Academy at the same time Elizabeth Kistin Keller, now the wife of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, was president.
Rather, she entertained the notion of becoming a veterinarian, she said, until her cat allergy put the kibosh on that.
Gallego is the daughter of attorneys Jim Widland and Julie Neerken, who fled Chicago after the infamous blizzard of 1979 and settled in the more moderate climate of Albuquerque. Here, daughter Kate celebrated her bat mitzvah at Congregation Nahalat Shalom and enjoyed the city’s amenities, including the parks and hiking in the city’s open spaces and in the mountains.
She left Albuquerque to attend Harvard University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and later earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Before becoming a councilwoman, Gallego worked on strategic planning with the electric utility company in Phoenix. It was there, she said, that “I spent a lot of time complaining we could do better, and then I finally gave up and said I’ll run for public office,” believing that she would get better results from that vantage point.
During her tenure on the Phoenix City Council, and as the city’s mayor and the mother of a young son, the environment remains a top concern to her, including clean air, clean water, preserving the city’s open spaces and parks, and “having a safe place to call home.”
But she said she is also focused on economic development, luring high-wage jobs, and improving the city’s infrastructure and public transportation system.
It was Albuquerque, however, that provided her with the groundwork and foundation for going into public life.
“It was such a diverse community,” she said. “It’s a community where you know you’re going to live and work with people who don’t look like you, and that’s important preparation,” particularly when so many cities across America seem ethnically segregated.