Legal eagle, Scottsdale dad stays busy in and out of city hall
By Alison Bailin Batz
An attorney, an artist and a comedian walk into a bar…
This is not a joke.
It’s actually three ways to describe Ben Graff.
Graff is best known as a successful zoning attorney with Quarles & Brady LLP. He played a pivotal role in securing the approval for The Ritz-Carlton in Paradise Valley as well as UMOM New Day Center’s newly opened affordable housing project in Phoenix.
He authored one of the first planned unit development applications approved by the city of Phoenix and has become one of the pre-eminent attorneys furthering creative downtown infill development.
“Most recently, I was also elected to the Valley Partnership Board of Directors,” Graff says. “Valley Partnership is an advocacy group for responsible development in Arizona. Through this work, I will advocate for the interests of the Valley’s real estate industry and its partners to help all of us in responsible, sustainable economic development.”
Valley Partnership, however, is not Graff’s first foray into advocacy.
“Currently, I serve as an elected official. I am in the midst of a six-year term on the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board, which oversees 40% of Arizona’s water supply from the Colorado River,” says Graff, noting the board’s accomplishment earlier this year with the passage of the state’s historic Drought Contingency Plan.
In each of these varied roles, Graff has a reputation for building bridges.
“People assume my role as an attorney is adversarial, but it is really about building bridges,” Graff says. “And I’ve often used humor to build them.”
And that’s where the comedy comes in.
Beyond the city council chambers where votes get you the win, Graff has appeared at the Tempe Improv, where the laughs determine your fate.
“I first got on stage in 2018. I held my own,” Graff says.
And while his performances won’t cement him a place alongside the likes of Jerry Seinfeld or Eddie Murphy, actual cement is earning him a new role as an artist.
“I wanted to make my wife cement hand prints of our daughters — Madison and Sophia — for Christmas two years ago,” Graff says. “I, of course, had to tinker with the leftover materials.”
Before he knew it, Graff was sculpting the cement. Today, he has both a series of magnetized cement art and a series of cement planters which together mimic a downtown skyline.
“The fact that my wife says she has never seen anything like them before continues to be interpreted as a compliment,” Graff says.
With a plate so full, not to mention two daughters under age 6 who need him to help build forts and play Lego, certainly Graff ends his various pursuits there, right?
Not by a longshot.
A 2019 Best Lawyer in America honoree, Graff is not only a regent emeritus for the Arizona Board of Regents, but a graduate of Valley Leadership Class XXXI, member of the Phoenix Chapter of Lambda Alpha International (Land Economics Society), part of the inaugural graduation class from the Flinn/Brown Foundation Leadership Academy and on the board for Kids at Hope.
According to Graff, Kids at Hope dates back to 1993 when a group of youth development practitioners expressed concern and distress about the use and abuse of the term youth “at risk.”
“Rightly so, these pioneers realized our society might have unwittingly stereotyped an entire generation with an expression or label that unfortunately, devalues them,” Graff says. “The coining of the term Kids at Hope generated great interest not only in the community-based youth development field but also in education, recreation and law enforcement as well.”
Kids at Hope gives school districts the tools to cultivate an environment where all children can succeed. They have programs to help motivate kids and build their self-worth despite behavioral, physical or family related challenges.
“Beyond hope, we are giving tangible tools to educators and students to help change their lives forever,” Graff says. ν