Brace Yourself for 1990

Will Arizona overcome or be overcome?

Mecham's uncanny ability to give voice to the dark passions in this state rallied one front in the anti-King offensive.

In another camp, the Knights of Columbus and Italian-American organizations throughout the state met to map out a course of action to restore the holiday for the man who discovered America. Once more politicians had taught the insidious lesson that if black people gain something then white people must lose something.

Mecham loyalist Julian Sanders launched a petition drive to let the voters of the state decide whether the King/Columbus bill ought to stand. Although he preached moderation, Sanders soon made his intentions transparent.

Sanders leaked copies of a letter he'd written to the head of the Mormon Church wherein he claimed, "he (King) exceeded Lucifer in his ability to deceive the masses with impressive oration and dedication in spite of his addiction to alcohol, tobacco and sex."

Despite this unhinged ranting, Sanders was joined in the quest for petition signatures by Pat Quaranta of the American-Italian Club of Phoenix. Overcoming his obvious distaste for Sanders' hectoring of King, Quaranta joined this strange bedfellow because he'd do whatever was necessary to restore Columbus Day.

Neither man was able to gather the 43,350 valid signatures necessary on his own, but combined, they estimate they have about 80,000--enough to get it on the ballot, even allowing for invalid signatures that will be thrown out.

Despite his success, Quaranta is not interested in killing the King Holiday. "I told people I'd hold off as long as possible on filing these petitions," he said. "I was praying they would have another special session that would settle this by restoring Columbus, but it never happened."

One other avenue open to Quaranta and others was outlined by Attorney General Bob Corbin. In an informal opinion on November 28, the prosecutor said that because of a technicality, the part of the legislation that canceled the Columbus holiday was improperly drafted. If a lawsuit were filed, it was Corbin's opinion that the King section would remain intact and that the part of the bill dealing with Columbus would be thrown out. Both holidays would be legal.

A successful lawsuit would deal with Quaranta's problem and he would not have to turn in his petitions. An isolated Sanders would not have enough signatures of his own.

It was also hoped by King holiday backers that a quick lawsuit filed before the petitions were turned in would avoid the image that lawyers were somehow frustrating the will of the people to vote.

The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest began to explore the possibility of filing suit. Quick pursuit, however, has never been the strength of lawyers, liberals and committees. The unexpected success of Sanders' petitions, coming as they do--one day before Hanukkah and four days before Christmas--have caught King supporters both distracted and disillusioned.

Everyone knew that signatures were being hustled at places like the Phoenix Cardinals games, and everyone knew the deadline was December 21. Still, people have most often reacted with, "Oh, they can't possibly have enough signatures!"

Frankly, the most visible King leaders are stretched too thin at this critical moment.

For three years, Pastor Warren Stewart has chaired the King organization. The father of five young boys, the head of the state's largest black church and an active member of the pro-life movement, he has for some time warned that he would step down. Earlier this year he said he would resign in January and if a campaign in November was necessary to save the King holiday, the effort ought to be led by a white man. Stewart's move was acknowledged as politically judicious in a state where less than 5 percent of the population is black.

The most visible white leader on behalf of King has, of late, been Arnie Zaler, the chairman of the Outreach Committee of the Jewish Federation.

Recently Zaler's mother suffered a brain aneurysm. He spends so much time on trips to her California bedside, at his computer-software business and agitating for a King holiday, Zaler's own children have begun to ask after him. Two weeks ago his grandfather passed away, and suddenly Zaler's sense of loss was matched only by the sense of responsibility as he shouldered the family duties of burial and estate.

Beyond these all too human problems, questions of whether or not to sue have also foundered upon the delicacies that afflict dealings between the well-intentioned and minorities.

Kevin Lanigan, executive director of the Center for Law, said they would not sue without the go-ahead from a black client.

Pastor Stewart refused to carry that burden. Why should a black organization risk the failure of the suit when the King holiday was for everyone? Let the Center go ahead and sue if it so chose, reasoned Stewart, but why use the King Committee as cannon fodder?

After three years of his leading the charge in the face of constant rejection, after securing a King holiday only because of the Super Bowl--of all things--after announcing his resignation and asking that someone in the white community step forward, here come these damn liberals asking that the Pastor get out in front of this litigation.

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