Albert Einstein said one measure of intelligence is a person’s ability to change. Deedee Corradini, then, was no dummy.
In the early ‘90s, I was a young reporter assigned to cover City Hall. In those days, newspapers had the financial luxury to give reporters narrow and specific beats, and that bred a narrow and specific type of expertise. My office was in a press room in the City and County Building, and much of my daily routine involved reporting on, and getting know, Corradini, whose office was down the hall.
Not that I was an expert on Salt Lake’s first, and so far only, female mayor, who died Sunday at the age of 70. But I had a unique front-row seat to a set of decisions that helped define the way the city looks today. Like most people, Corradini was far too complicated to define in simple terms. Sometimes, she would march down the hall to let me know exactly what she thought of my reporting. Other times, she would pull me aside before a City Council meeting to share the latest joke.
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Raised in Lebanon and Syria, the daughter of a minister, she defied those who would force her into narrow cubbyholes.
But when I think about her leadership style, I come back to a snowy Friday in February 1992, not quite two months after she was first sworn-in, when she first toured Derks Field, the city’s aging baseball stadium.
Twenty-four years later it’s easy to forget context. Four major candidates had vied for the job of mayor in the summer of 1991. Only one, Mike Zuhl, the former chief administrator to the previous mayor, had made renovating the old stadium a campaign issue. The others, sensing a lack of voter concern, ignored this.
Now, as mayor, Corradini — who knew as much about baseball as you might know about the Japanese sport Bo-taoshi — was about to expend her political capital on a crusade for a new stadium.
And she didn’t want it built on the corner of 1300 South and West Temple, where Derks had stood for decades. Corradini didn’t know baseball, but she knew economic development, and she wanted the stadium built downtown, in Pioneer
Park, a place where she hoped it would attract businesses.
A key to leadership is the ability to mobilize the forces of power, and by May, Corradini’s site-selection committee had endorsed Pioneer Park, as had the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. A national architectural firm known for designing ballparks said it could fit a nice stadium on the site.
Soon, passions erupted. Residents around Derks Field donned protest signs and spoke of what losing the stadium would do the character of their neighborhood. Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi, himself a baseball fan, agreed with them. In the midst of it all, the magazine USA Weekend voted Derks the best place in America to watch minor league baseball.
Corradini could have dug in her heels, especially after a team of consultants hired to study all proposed stadium sites chose Pioneer Park. Instead, she changed. Early in 1993 she announced her decision to build a new stadium on the Derks site. “It definitely,” she said, “was the popular choice.”
She understood the political realities, of course. But over time, she also came to understand that a stadium meant much more to many people than anything that could be reckoned by accountants.
Corradini was complicated. She was no stranger to scandals but rose above them to win a second term. She seemed to attract as many boos and cheers whenever she made personal appearances.
But not many mayors have left permanent marks on a city the way she did — from the stadium to light rail to the Gateway development and her work to secure the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Even after she left office, she redirected her leadership skills toward getting women’s ski jumping accepted as an Olympic sport, often emailing me whenever a newsworthy twist in the fight came along.
The ability to change is, of course, only one aspect of effective leadership. Passion, clear vision and determination are essential, as well. Perhaps the best verdict on Corradini’s leadership is that we are, in many ways, living in the Salt Lake City she envisioned 24 years ago.