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A prominent Phoenix zoning attorney waved Councilmember Duane Pell over to the side during a break in a council meeting in the summer of 1988. In an apologetic tone, he said, "This isn't my idea. I'm only delivering a message."
And here was the message, Pell tells New Times: Neighborhood activist Elaine Lefevre, who'd challenged Pell in the 1987 race for council, would agree not to oppose him this year if Pell would get her appointed to the Phoenix Planning Commission.
"At the time, I was still waffling if I was going to run or not," Pell recalls. "I remember I kind of laughed. I told him to tell her she was too late, the commission vacancy was already filled. In all my years, I'd never run into that kind of thing before." Since then, Pell has decided to leave office. Lefevre is one of three candidates seeking his District 2 seat in the October 3 city election.
Several months after getting the message, Pell got a call from the County Attorney's Office, which had launched a criminal investigation of allegations by two developers that Lefevre tried to extort $100,000 from them for her "favorite charity" in exchange for her silence on their zoning application.
Pell says he recounted the message he received to the county investigator and was told, "That's extortion."
Lefevre flatly denies she ever sent anyone to Pell with such a message. "I don't know what you're talking about," she tells New Times. "This is a new one." She asks who supposedly carried the message and is told that Pell refuses to name him. "I love that kind of thing--unnamed people making these accusations," she responds.
Lefevre says she believes that this allegation--like the one from the developers--is a smear campaign designed to knock her out of the council race.
She says she's been told by her attorney not to discuss the allegations from the developers, but insists, "I have never asked for any money for my personal self or for a charitable contribution for my vote. Something that happened has been distorted." But she won't elaborate further.
Besides the criminal investigation, both Lefevre and the city are being sued by the developers who claim they were extortion targets.
Developers Tom Cavanagh and Don Liem have sued Lefevre for $50,000, plus attorney fees and interest. They're also seeking $2.5 million in a suit against the city that some zoning attorneys privately call "ludicrous." In their suit against the city, the developers claim they lost millions when they did not get commercial zoning on their property at 43rd Avenue and Pinnacle Peak Road. They originally filed a rezoning application in June 1988, but it was opposed by the Deer Valley Planning Committee, on which Lefevre served. With such neighborhood opposition, the developers withdrew their case and never presented it to the city.
"I think all this is an attempt by a developer, who can't get what he wants, to influence the election," Lefevre says.
Lefevre positions herself in the council campaign as a strong neighborhood activist who supports planned growth and wants the bulk of commerce concentrated in the village "cores." One voter she hasn't convinced is Duane Pell, who beat her by 900 votes two years ago. He has endorsed Thelda Williams for his seat.
"Elaine is very naive. She can be very nasty," Pell says. "She said a lot of things about me in the last campaign. If she'd have been a man, I'd have punched her out."
Pell remains angry that Lefevre tried then to paint him as dishonest because he hadn't filed the final papers on his 1985 campaign contributions. "My dad was dying at the time and I put it off," Pell recalls. "I had filed a form listing the amount I'd raised with a note that there was a serious illness in the family and the final report would come later. I had the list of contributors in the briefcase, so when a reporter called [about Lefevre's revelation], I reached in my briefcase and pulled it out. It was an oversight. I filed it immediately. But she made a big deal about my integrity and honesty." Pell says he's endorsing Williams, who also once ran against him, because she's long been an active community worker in the district. Both Williams and Pell made their first runs for public office as opposing candidates in 1983, the first year of the new district system. Pell prevailed, unseating long-time councilmember Jim White. "When I won, I started the District 2 Citizens' Forum, like an advisory group," Pell says. "Thelda was a charter member and has chaired it the last few years. Most people get active in something and then drop out, but she's stayed active. She doesn't do it because there's an election. She's always willing to work out problems, and that's what this council job is all about."
Pell says the only time he's ever talked with Lefevre was about an annexation case a couple years ago. But he was well-aware she was active in speaking out on planning and zoning issues in the Saddleback Ridge area, which extends up the Black Canyon Freeway from about Pinnacle Peak Road to the mountains north of Happy Valley Road. "That area is hot for development," Pell says. "As a spokesperson for that area, Elaine became more and more powerful. You know, I probably contributed to her clout. My policy with developers was, if you can work it out with the neighborhood, you're more likely to get my support; if you can't work it out, I'll probably oppose you.