Paul Dembow sits down with the Arizona Digital Free Press
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
Uncharacteristically cold and wet for the Phoenix metropolitan area the first week of January 2023 was the time, the Capital Grille was the place and outgoing Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow was the interview.
“Headed your direction. I will be probably eight minutes late, I apologize,” was the message that pinged my smart phone seconds after being seated at The Capital Grille. It is a place with a warm greet, prompt service, all while surrounded by soft jazz, impressionist paintings, high booths and faux big game trophies.
“Oh, we know Paul,” said the man overseeing lunch service of the first-class eatery on that gloomy day. A moment later, I was seated, water was served and Xavier, our waiter, appeared.
Then a familiar voice filled the room — one that is recognizable to anyone who has come to Paradise Valley Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, over the last 12 years. It was Mr. Dembow.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said as he entered the dining room. He greeted with a smile, a warm handshake and ready to order. He had water, I had iced tea. We both ate red meat. “I am sorry for running late. But thank you for coming to meet with me.”
We exchanged pleasantries and began to discuss his legacy as a volunteer, elected leader of the Town of Paradise Valley and who he is today on the other side of trials and tribulations of community service.
“The public service thing, if everything is going well, it is the quietest job on the planet, if you are doing a good job,” he said. “I was very lucky in business and that gave me the opportunity to give back. If you are doing a bad job, that is when you start to hear from people.”
He says he believes his biggest shift in personality being a tenure elected official is learning how to listen better, especially when he disagreed.
“I always tried to listen to the residents, but the way I have changed a lot and something I noticed on the various Town Council’s I have served on was that sometimes it was just the ‘squeaky wheel’ that got addressed,” he said. “The unfortunate part of that is sometimes that can affect all of Paradise Valley.”
A successful entrepreneur, a way of thinking he says dawned on him as early as 6 years old, Mr. Dembow has myriad financial interests coupled with a brand consulting business following the sale of the family manufacturing business in 2016.
Best laid Paradise Valley plans
“If it doesn’t overwhelmingly support the General Plan, I just don’t think we should support it,” he said after being asked how he has evolved following his time at Town Council. “I guess my biggest change is I try to look at everything globally for the entire Town of Paradise Valley. The General Plan really matters.”
As lunch arrives, Mr. Dembow outlines how one’s world view can shape an interpretation of a municipal document. As we both eat, Mr. Dembow discusses the contrast between the two most recent iterations of the town’s guiding document and how one led to a divisive conversation — and another that never happened.
“You can look at it and say, well everyone wants single-hauler trash service,” he said. “The single-hauler trash issue, other than the recent short-term rental issues, are the most divisive things in our community. On the single-hauler trash issue, it was really unfortunate how it was handled.”
As the dining room volume began to increase with silverware being used, ambient music flowing and cheers from neighboring businessman in for lunch, Mr. Dembow began to discuss his political philosophy during his time at Town Council.
“I never tried to not put my ego into specific issues,” he pointed out of how his political leanings. “At heart, I am a conservative with a libertarian bent.”
A house of many mayors
As lunch came to a close, and nerves had settled, we shifted our attention to the figureheads of the community. Mr. Dembow, it turns out, has served with four mayors. But when asked what he thought his legacy at Town Hall might be in coming years, he paused, thought, and said:
“To the people who I have worked with to get everything done legislatively and pragmatically through code, a very reasonable, good working person is what I think they would say,” he said, “Even if I disagreed with them, I would say I always sought the best-possible solution for the Town of Paradise Valley.”
Respect, no matter one’s personal feelings, is a trait of any worthy elected leader, Mr. Dembow contends.
“The police and our staff are the face of our organization and as a leader of the organization you have to treat them well,” he said while alluding to the idea not all of his colleagues follow suit.
“You have to work with the cards in your deck and I always tried to work the best with them by treating them with respect. Unfortunately, over the years, some of our council members haven’t treated staff well and that to me was always problematic.”
A brief dive into Mr. Dembow’s Town Council biography reveals a man focused on civil service. A member of Experience Scottsdale, working as a liaison for Paradise Valley resorts, as an Arizona State Committeeman and a Committeeman for Doubletree (Legislative District 28), and as the president of his HOA.
“No disrespect toward any previous mayors, but Jerry Bien-Willner’s IQ and legal abilities is — and I put myself in this category — is head-and-shoulders above the rest,” is how Mr. Dembow began his discussion of the great leaders he felt he has worked with. “He is just a brilliant guy that has the legal skill-set, tactics and strategies to get success.”
He spoke fondly of all four mayors he served with calling Vernon Parker likely the nicest politician he has ever met.
“I am sorry he didn’t get elected to higher office, he would have been great to be representing Arizona,” he said.
During his tenure Mr. Dembow also served with mayors Scott LeMarr and Michael Collins, who had a “leadership style all is own,” Mr. Dembow offered.
“Scott is such a fantastic person. I think his leadership style is closest to mine whereas he is quiet and speaks when he needs to speak,” he said explaining the statement of direction, which is guiding document outlining the scope of scrutiny for the council-appointed Planning Commission. “Not all the time, but sometimes you would have situations where [deliberations] would go so far off the rails, you would be thinking, ‘what the heck?’”
Hot towels and final thoughts
Xavier, our waiter, appears once again with a plate of hot towels, kind of like a barbershop, and proclaims, “This is my favorite part of the meal,” and uses prongs to hand both myself and Mr. Dembow with hot towels.
“I think it’s the little wins,” he tells me of what he thinks he is most proud of during his time at Town Council. “Knowing who to call. Nine times out of 10 residents just don’t know if it is door No. 1, door No. 2 or door No. 3.”
Mr. Dembow says, in a sense, he is a collector of people.
“Collect people, that is how I train sales. Collect people because you never know when you will need a favor, I don’t know, I am just built that way,” he said. “I have been that way since I was a little kid, when I was 6 years old, I knew I wanted to be in sales. I always knew it had be a win-win deal; if people didn’t feel like they were getting a good deal they would get upset.”
As the check came, which Mr. Dembow paid, he began to talk about what matters most to him.
“My family of course is No. 1,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do are close. I want to be a stand-up guy, and be there if they need help. I believe that is the definition of friendship.”
We ended on that note, talked about where we had to go, what is good about our lives and what the New Year might bring.
“Man, that looks like a freakin’ super car!” I yelled as we walked away from each other once out of the restaurant and he headed toward his midnight blue corvette. “It is one!” he quipped.