The End of the Line

EVEN WITH ALL that, there still are reasons voters should support the sales tax hike for a mass transit system. But neither support group has managed to get that message across.

In some ways, the pro-ValTrans campaign was built for failure. Take the original brochure published to explain the system. Its cover has a photo of Miami's heavy rail system, totally different than what is being planned here. Take its widely distributed maps that show mile- wide corridors for the light rail line, even though transit planners know where most of the line will actually run, within 100 feet. The result: instant and often unnecessary panic by homeowners or, as some would say, a mile-wide corridor of angst. The regional transit authority did do some public education. Miller boasts of more than 400 public meetings throughout the Valley. It also paid to bring a light rail car and station to the Valley that's being towed from shopping center to shopping center. (Worth of the transit authority says there was no effort to curry favor with APS when the contract for managing and publicizing the car went to BJ Communications, run by Barbara DeMichele, wife of the utility's president.) But the transit authority is prohibited by law from actually promoting a pro- ValTrans vote. So that task fell to RSET--Residents for Safe and Efficient Transportation. It's an independent campaign committee funded largely by donations from business interests. Some effort was made to coordinate: The mayors who serve on the transit board were brought aboard the RSET advisory committee. And one of their first acts was to decide the campaign needed not one consultant but three.

Impact Communications, run by Bill Meek, is supposed to provide overall direction. Ben Goddard's First Tuesday firm is in charge of the media campaign. Roots Development, run by Rick DeGraw, was brought in to operate the headquarters on North Central Avenue and handle the get-out-the-vote effort.

The problem is that all three firms consider themselves experts in all areas. And they've proved in the past that working together can be disastrous. For instance, all three wanted to control last year's campaign against the English-only measure on the ballot. The campaign committee arranged a shotgun marriage of Roots and Impact, charging them with defeating the issue. They didn't.

Meek hasn't been a stunning success as the campaign coordinator. Insiders say although his firm was the first one hired--and was supposed to contact and educate the business community--fund-raisers were shocked to find major employers like Motorola and Intel were ignorant of the ValTrans program. That problem resulted in the original $1.4 million campaign budget being pared to $1.2 million; Meek says the cash flow has put the campaign at least a week behind, though he hopes to top the scaled-back goal.

That funding shortage created other problems. Three weeks ago, Meek attempted to slash funds for the telephone banks and the direct-mail campaign, both of which just happen to be operated by the other two consulting firms. But Meek was rebuffed when the other consultants showed that with the race this close and time running short, the only way to a victory may be to find the supporters and get them out on election day. (That was the technique used successfully in last year's Phoenix bond election: When you're asking voters to let you spend lots of money but only have a small campaign budget, don't create enemies by making waves. You just get your friends to the polls.)

Meek also did not work well with the mayors who were the out-front people in the campaign. It was finally this problem that resulted in Hamel being brought in, though, at least on paper, Meek is still in charge.

But the pro-ValTrans effort still hasn't caught fire. Mesa Mayor Peggy Rubach, a ValTrans supporter and member of the RPTA board, says the focus has been all wrong. "Our campaign has been run on an intellectual level," Rubach says. That campaign has consisted of speeches about growth, flip charts and TV ads showing cars disappearing from highways as if by magic. The opponents have instead gone for the jugular, with their first TV ad showing people playing with Monopoly money and screams about government spending billions on the system. With time running out, Rubach says, "Maybe it should be run more on a gut level."

A CAMPAIGN FOR ValTrans--and against the naysayers--should not be hard. As loose as the proponents are with the facts, the opponents have been at least as reckless. And, where they have no facts, they rely on unprovable theories and general government-bashing statements.

Chasse has taken the reins of the anti-ValTrans movement. He says he's leading the charge just because it's the right thing to do. "It's my nature that, once I believe in a project, to expound on it," he says. Of course, Chasse has benefited from his self-anointment as protector of the purse. It's an exposure he lacked two years ago when he ran a close third in the five-way race for the District 6 seat on the Phoenix City Council. The fact that Nadolski, who ultimately won the seat, supports ValTrans has nothing to do with his opposition, he contends. And, at least for the time being, he says he's not considering another run for the council.

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