Mayors-In-Waiting

Who said anything about running the city?

Governor Rose Mofford's decision not to seek re-election this year leaves only one important question for Phoenix residents, and it's not, "Gee, will our beloved Mayor Terry be leaving us?"

Governor Goddard, as his friends like to call him, is such a sure bet to jump ship that his colleagues on the Phoenix City Council are already well along in their struggle for succession. The public, meanwhile, gets no direct say because the succession, coming between regular elections, will be decided by the councilmembers themselves.

What a comforting thought.
Equally comforting is the fact that lobbying for the mayoral succession has dominated the council so completely virtually nothing else is getting done. As the city's population edges near the one-million mark, pressing issues such as the city's looming budget deficit are barely mentioned in weekly policy meetings. In one recent instance, the meeting was canceled altogether because councilmembers were preoccupied with other commitments.

But back to matters of importance. Wily veteran Howard Adams, councilmember for District 5 in north-central Phoenix, looks to be the clear front-runner at this point, City Hall insiders say. But, they add, his ascension is by no means a done deal. "It's going to be between Howard and Paul [Johnson, Phoenix vice mayor], and it's going to be nip and tuck all the way," says a source close to the council.

And the most powerful behind-the-scenes player deciding the contest, insiders say, is likely to be Phoenix labor leader Pat Cantelme, a city firefighter. "Cantelme will broker this deal," predicts the source.

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Cantelme could not be reached for comment, but another firefighter leader denied the union would be involved. "It makes me mad that someone is going around saying that," says state fire marshal Duane Pell, a retired Phoenix firefighter and former city councilmember. "We are friends with all the [mayoral hopefuls] and we are not going to try to influence the outcome at all."

Pell's protestations notwithstanding, consider the following: No fewer than three of the current councilmembers depend on the firefighters for major campaign support, including at least one key swing vote.

The firefighters union wields influence with Adams, who lobbies the council on public-safety spending, and with Mary Rose Wilcox, who built her political career on support from organized labor. Thelda Williams, the swing vote, received major campaign support from the firefighters union as well as the blessing of Pell, her predecessor in office.

In addition, the Phoenix firefighters' union, and Cantelme in particular, has built a network of alliances within City Hall and the mayor's office. No one is in a better position to know who needs what from whom, and that's what will decide the mayoral succession--a series of tradeoffs aimed at breaking the current deadlock.

Long known to covet the mayor's job, Adams has the inside track to garner support from John Nelson and Skip Rimsza, the council's other two Republicans. Adams is also angling hard for the vote cast by Williams, a Republican-turned-Democrat who represents District 2 in northwest Phoenix.

But Adams, as yet, doesn't quite have the votes he needs to knock out Johnson and a third competitor, District 7 councilmember Wilcox. And his current supporters may have a tough time standing with him when neighborhood activists go on the attack, as they are gearing up to do.

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"Terry Goddard was re-elected by 70 percent of the voters; clearly his ideas have the support of the people," says neighborhood activist Peter Martori. "But Howard Adams doesn't represent Goddard's agenda. In fact, he's been Goddard's polar opposite on the council on issues ranging from planning to citizen participation.

"For any councilmember to vote for Adams is to slap the voters in the face," Martori says. He points to Adams' long history of voting for neighborhood- wrecking developments and against programs that would empower the citizenry. Mayor Adams, Martori suggests, would wipe out all trace of progressive reforms instituted in recent years.

Freshman councilmembers Rimsza and Williams both got elected on promises to protect neighborhoods and promote citizen involvement. "How are they going to explain a vote for Adams to their constituents?" Martori asks.

But Adams, for years the council's most skilled deal-maker, has been lobbying for support among councilmembers since last October's election. He even happens to be pals with the presiding judge of the Phoenix City Court, who would cast the tie-breaking vote in the event of a four-four split. (Mayor Terry Goddard, the council's ninth member, would not vote on his own successor under city rules.)

Not bad for a Republican operating in a sea of Democrats.
"Howard needs only one [more] vote," notes Paul Johnson. "Everyone else"--including himself--"needs four."

Other observers say Johnson has no reason to sound so pessimistic. "Howard seems the likely choice at first, but a lot of people see Johnson as the wave of the future," says one insider. Despite the appearance of vote-splitting by Johnson and Wilcox, both Democrats, Johnson has strong support among Now Generation power brokers who rode to power with Goddard eight years ago.

If push comes to shove, Johnson is predicted to pick up most or all of the council's five Democratic votes. Johnson's critics, however, refer to him as "Pure Ambition" and say his leadership is tainted by opportunism. He worries neighborhood leaders because of his frequent support for projects backed by Big Money, and because he has at times ignored the recommendations of the council's citizen advisory groups. "He picks up on popular causes, like the environment, but if something comes up that [Johnson's financial backers] don't like, I question how long he would stick to his position," Martori says.

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