Dec 10, 2022 - News

Axios Power Players: 5 influential people in Phoenix

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Phoenix.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As 2022 comes to a close, we wanted to reflect on the people who have made the biggest differences in the Valley this year, and who is going to have the most influence in the year to come.

Why it matters: These influential individuals are shaping our city.

Methodology: We selected these power players using our own expertise, polling readers, and through interviews.

  • The list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.
  • People who made the power list were not notified of their selection until publication.

Katie Hobbs


Katie Hobbs speaks behind a lectern with a sign on it that reads election night
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Katie Hobbs, a former state legislator and Arizona's outgoing secretary of state, will take office as the state's 24th governor in January, becoming the first Democrat to hold the office since 2009.

Biggest move of 2022: Defeating Republican opponent Kari Lake, a vocal election denier backed by former President Trump, in the governor's race.

What we're watching: Republicans hold narrow majorities in both legislative chambers, so Hobbs will have to figure out how to compromise and negotiate while attempting to push Democratic priorities.

Diana "Dede" Yazzie Devine

President and CEO of Native American Connections

A woman speaking at a podium.
Photo: Courtesy of Native American Connections

Diana Yazzie Devine has been the CEO of Native American Connections since 1979, growing it to one of the largest affordable housing and behavioral health care providers in the state.

Biggest move of 2022: Her organization opened the first emergency youth homeless shelter in the west Valley and opened a sweat lodge at its Sunnyslope wellness center for residents to participate in healing ceremonies.

  • Meanwhile, she oversaw 22 housing programs with 10,000 clients throughout Phoenix. Programs range from emergency shelters to permanent supportive housing.

What we're watching: Who will succeed her. After 43 years, Devine has announced her retirement.

Michael Crow

Arizona State University president

A man speaking at a podium.
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Celebrity Fight Night

Michael Crow has led Arizona's largest university since 2002. He's expanded it to multiple campuses in the Valley, established programs in D.C. and Los Angeles and opened 25 new transdisciplinary schools.

Biggest move of 2022: The one we're all still talking about: Cutting ties with head football coach Herm Edwards. But in reality, it's his real estate endeavors that got him on this list.

  • ASU has committed more than 350 acres of university land for private buildings. The developers will pay ASU a fee similar to what they'd pay in property taxes, which it will reinvest into its athletics facilities.
  • ASU is choosing strategic developments including high-end office, retail, apartments and hotels in hopes of creating an urban center around the university campus.

What we're watching: Since he got to Arizona, Crow hasn't sat still. Now that this real estate project is well underway, we're eager to know his next move.

Joe Garcia

Executive director of the Chicanos por la Causa Action Fund

A man smiling for a headshot.
Photo: Courtesy of Chicanos Por La Causa

Joe Garcia, who is also the head of public policy at Chicanos por la Causa, spent decades as a researcher for ASU before joining CPLC in 2020. He's spearheaded the organization's political arm to spur Latino voter registration and education.

Biggest move of 2022: Garcia led a $10 million campaign to drive Latino turnout this year, which likely contributed to the narrow democratic victories in several statewide races.

  • The CPLC Action Fund also successfully pushed for the passage of Prop. 308, which will allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition.

What we're watching: It might feel like 2024 is a long way away, but in the political world, it's just around the corner. We'll be watching how Garcia and his team build on this year's success for the future.

Chris Bianco

Chef and owner of Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco and Tratto

A man in an apron with smoke from a stove in front of his face.
Chris Bianco in the Netflix's "Chef's Table." Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Chris Bianco is a James Beard Award winner and Arizona's most recognized restaurateur. He's also developed Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes, which he sells by the can.

Biggest move of 2022: Bianco got the celebrity treatment in an episode of Netflix's "Chef's Table" earlier this year, exposing the rest of the U.S. to his brilliance.

  • Our colleagues from other places keep asking us about him after having watched the episode.

What we're watching: Bianco already has a location in Los Angeles. We're wondering if his Netflix fame will lead him to open in more cities. Selfishly, we'd kind of just like for him to build more here.

Who we've got our eye on in 2023

  • Republican legislative leaders: Incoming House Speaker Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen will have to negotiate and battle with the new Democratic governor, all while holding together GOP caucuses that only have one-vote majorities in each chamber.
  • Kimber Lanning: The Local First Arizona founder and CEO has been supporting local businesses against the juggernaut of online retail and national chains for 23 years. Her work over the past year in promoting local business has included an incubator and accelerator. Local First Arizona recently received $9.5 million from the governor's office for a workforce training program in northern Arizona.
  • Gabrielle Finley-Hazle: The president and CEO of Dignity Health Arizona Central and West Valley had a busy year at the helm of one of the state's largest hospital systems. In April, Dignity Health broke ground on a new office building at Gilbert Medical Center that will house its graduate medical education program, and its Barrow Neurological Institute opened a new neuroscience facility in downtown Phoenix.
  • Silvana Salcido Esparza: The "Chef Chingona" celebrated 20 years of her beloved Barrio Cafe, where you will find some of the best Mexican food in the country. She also received the ASU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Servant-Leadership award for her advocacy and community building.
  • Kenny Dillingham: His name was unknown to most Arizonans a few weeks ago, but ASU's new head football coach is about to become one of the most watched people in the state. Sun Devil fans have been yearning for a return to glory that never came under Herm Edwards.

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022


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