John Giles was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. Today he serves as the 40th mayor of his hometown.
Prior to being elected mayor in 2014, Giles was a missionary in Seoul, Korea, earned degrees from both Brigham Young University and Arizona State University, served on Mesa’s city council and managed his own law firm.
Giles is committed to bettering Mesa through multiple initiatives, including his NextMesa vision.
As mayor, Giles has overseen the city’s growing economy, which has attracted $1.5 billion in new capital investment thanks to employers such as Apple and Textron Aviation making the city their home and adding thousands of new jobs.
Chamber Business News sat down with Giles to learn more about him and his plans as mayor.
Question: Why did you originally decide to run for mayor of Mesa?
Answer: I think every politician says this but running for office wasn’t really on my game plan. I served on our city council in Mesa 20 years ago and I really enjoyed that experience. I served for four years, but I felt like I had kind of been there, done that. I had worked all the demons out of my system.
So I had no intention of running for office again, but a few years ago our good Mayor Scott Smith resigned to run for governor and it created an opening. It was suggested to me that I [should] consider it and after initially fighting against the idea, once I allowed myself to think about: would I like to be mayor? I realized this is my dream job. There is nothing I would rather do than this job.
I handed the keys to my law practice to my son-in-law and [I’ve] had a great time as the mayor of Mesa the last four years.
Q: How is being mayor different than practicing law? Do you think your time as a lawyer has helped you in your time as mayor?
A: I don’t know how you best prepare to be a mayor or an elected official because everyone comes at it, most people come at it, from a different background.
I have really enjoyed it. I think part of it is that it’s different. [For] 25 years before this I was practicing law and I enjoyed that as well. I felt like I was providing a good service, I was helping my clients, it was a rewarding experience, but after doing 25 years of the same thing, it’s a lot of fun to do anything different.
Being a mayor is really a fun job. I don’t think I’ve ever had two days that are the same in the last four and a half years, which is what I love about it. You’re moving and doing something every waking moment. It’s not a full-time job, it’s an all-the-time job. It’s nights and weekends and holidays and that’s what I love about it, I’m not complaining. It keeps me very busy, but I love it. It’s an okay job but it’s a great calling. If you’re passionate and you care about this, and I think people who do this generally are, then there’s nothing more fun than working 24/7 on a cause that you’re passionate about.
Q: You’re dedicated to “taking Mesa to the next level” through your NextMesa vision, what does this entail?
A: Ever since I’ve been elected, I’ve been trying to use the city of Mesa logo as a kind of a visual aid to help people hop on the bandwagon of taking Mesa to the next level.
Mesa is doing very well. Part of my job is to brag about Mesa and I can do that really well for a long time because there’s lots of great stuff going on. But if you look at the city of Mesa logo, it’s got these three flat-topped mountains, or mesas, stacked one upon the other. I like to use that to kind of challenge people [by saying] ‘we’re on a certain level as a community, and it’s not a bad view from this Mesa but there’s another Mesa that we aspire to get to as a community.’
So let’s celebrate all the great things about our community but let’s also pay attention to what can and should we be doing to get better, a place where our kids and our grandkids can anticipate that they’re going to be able to stay and have rewarding careers and a great quality of life. I think if we’re satisfied with where we are now, that’s not going to happen. We really have to aspire to be better than we are.
Q: You’ve also been focused on the development and growth of downtown Mesa, why is this important to you?
A: I was born and raised in downtown Mesa. This is the old Mesa I grew up in and it was a thriving economic, busy place. It has been a little disappointing to see [that] this downtown, like nearly every downtown, between shopping malls and freeways and other things happening, it kind of sucks the lifeblood out of this really cool, historic, authentic downtown that we’ve had.
So it’s been a passion of mine since I was on our city council 20 years ago to see what we can do to revitalize downtown Mesa. I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that between the Mesa Arts Center, light rail, a lot of the other projects that we’re involved in right now.
Bringing ASU, that’s what I’m excited about right now. In the very near future, we’re breaking ground on a beautiful new ASU facility here at Center St. and Main St. in downtown Mesa.
I’m motivated to do this not just out of a sense of nostalgia of what I loved about Mesa as a child but more significantly, it’s a great way for our community to remain relevant, and economically it’s a great way for us to bring revenue back into a part of our city that hasn’t had that for a while. I’m doing it out of a passion for my community but I’m also doing it because it’s really good business to have a strong and vibrant urban core in the middle of Mesa.
Q: How do you plan to continue Mesa’s growth?
A: Mesa has been very successful in attracting growth on the outside edges of our community and more recently in our downtown. We’re committed to making sure that continues to be the case. We’re very excited, just a couple of weeks from now we’ll be opening another extension of light rail in downtown Mesa. We’ve been excited to participate alongside Tempe and Phoenix in all of the economic growth that follows the light rail corridor. That’s going to continue to have a big impact on the downtown part of Mesa for decades to come.
In the edges of Mesa, where things are growing very, very quickly. Out in the Gateway area, Falcon Field area, Riverview area. Things are going literally as fast as they possibly can. We’re selling houses as fast as they’re being built and relocating big successful businesses in those parts of our town on a daily basis.
Things are good, but my biggest fear for our community is that we will become complacent and Mesa will be at risk of being that city you come back to and visit grandma and grandpa rather than being the place that people are moving to and the place that people are staying at. That’s the challenge, to not be complacent with the success we’ve had but to use that as encouragement and reason to work even harder.
Q: What has been your favorite accomplishment during your time as mayor?
A: It’s been fun to be the mayor of Mesa for the last four and a half years because the economy is doing great. Good things are happening on a daily basis in our city.
I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to work collaboratively with our schools to do a better job of preparing our young people for kindergarten. School readiness is a passion of mine and it was a program I was excited to work on in partnership with our school districts.
On the other end of the education spectrum, Mesa needs to do a better job, as does the entire state of Arizona, in higher education attainment. That’s part of the statewide Achieve60AZ goal, which I fully subscribe to. We have tried to do a better job of attracting more and different higher education opportunities to downtown Mesa and to Mesa generally. That’s part of why we’re so excited that ASU is coming to our downtown. But we have other great options, Benedictine University, Mesa Community College, A.T. Still University, I could go on.
I’m proud of the emphasis we’ve put on education in Mesa. To me, that’s one of the core values of our community. For generations, as new families arrived to the Valley of the Sun, if they showed up in a station wagon or a minivan, people point to Mesa and they say, ‘that is a family oriented community, that is a community that places a high value on public K-12 education,’ That’s our legacy and I’m very committed to making sure that stays our legacy as a community.
Q: What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?
A: A fun fact about me. Well something that people I’m told find interesting about me is that prior to being the mayor, I haven’t been as good about this since becoming the mayor, but in my 40’s I was really active as an endurance athlete. I did several Ironman races, several marathons, ultra bike rides, things like that. I still enjoy doing that, I’m not at the level I was a few years ago, but when I have the time that’s what I enjoy doing.
Q: What’s your current favorite restaurant in Mesa?
A: Oh man, you’re going to get me in trouble. Mesa doesn’t get its due when it comes to food. Some people, kinda snarky people, will say that if you need a good meal, don’t go to Mesa. But Mesa’s got several independent, small restaurants that are amazing. I’ve to mention more than one of them.
Jalapeño Bucks is a great barbeque joint. You’re literally sitting in an orange orchard in between orange trees having great barbeque and all kind of chips and salsas and burritos.
Blue Adobe Grill, where I went today for lunch with a bunch of other mayors, is great kind of New Mexico style hatch chili restaurant in downtown Mesa.
But we’ve [also] got República Empanada, Worth Takeaway always scores high nationally in rankings in terms of quality, really good cuisine in Arizona. So, anybody who thinks Mesa’s not a good place to go out to eat, I would love to take that challenge. I can take them for several weeks to a different place every night and they’ll really enjoy themselves.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I try to take every opportunity I can to thank the citizens of Mesa for letting me be the mayor. I love this job. I pinch myself every night when I go to sleep because I’m just having so much fun.