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Mesa mayor skips election back home to talk art at Tampa convention

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TAMPA, Fla. – Mesa Mayor Scott Smith was up for re-election Tuesday, but instead of campaigning back home he was in Tampa talking about public art.

“If I lose, I’m in deep trouble,” joked Smith, who was running unopposed for re-election.

The luxury of running unopposed allowed Smith to attend the Republican National Convention, where he took part Tuesday in a panel on the impact that fine arts and arts education have had on his city.

“There is a direct connection between the health of the arts and culture in your community, and your ability to grow economically,” Smith said. “People want to live in a place that is vibrant, that is growing.”

Smith was joined on the ARTSspeak panel at the Tampa Theatre by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Grammy-nominated musician, and former New York Yankee, Bernie Williams. The session was moderated by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Williams said that growing up in Puerto Rico he was more involved in music than baseball. Puerto Rico’s arts culture helped define who he was.

Williams, who would often played his guitar in the Yankee’s clubhouse, said that being raised in a culture that appreciated the arts made him not only a better person, but a better baseball player, too.

When Huckabee asked which was a a bigger part of his life, baseball or music, Williams said he was thankful to have played in the World Series six times, but he might be prouder of his Grammy nomination.

Although it was built before Smith took office, Huckabee also made a point of mentioning the Mesa Arts Center, which hosted a GOP presidential debate this February.

Huckabee said the art center is an important part of the city’s culture, adding that Smith has been successful in maintaining the center, along with other outlets for the arts, while in office.

That has come, according to Smith, at the same time the city has had to deal with financial issues. He said he faced a $65 million deficit when he took office four years ago.

“Of course you start cutting,” said Smith. “The first things you want to cut are the frivolous things. Arts and culture are considered by some to be frivolous.”

But not by him, Smith said. And not by residents of Mesa who provided their input on the value of arts and arts education. Because of that, he said, the city has tried to cut as little funding for art-related programs as possible.

Smith sees the lack of opposition to his re-election bid as a vote by Mesa residents that they approve of his handling of the city’s budget.

“You believe that in some way that is a referendum on the job that you’re doing,” he said. “You also recognize that it brings a huge responsibility, that to whatever we have been doing, let’s do it better.”