Dick Mahoney

At Dick Mahoney's rambling, Spanish-style house in Encanto, there are some very noticeable things: a slightly disreputable gazebo in the backyard, a swimming pool filled with silt, and a pervasive air of altogether cheerful neglect. All his books are noticeable. But most noticeable of all is the poem.

"A Poem to Dick" was authored by one of Mahoney's sisters, and it is written in the dining room right onto one of the walls, in big letters. It seems as bold as a billboard.

Although perhaps that is only because the emphasis is on poetry right now, since Mahoney is quoting poetry. He is quoting it musically and with something akin to rapture, his head thrown back against a front room chair. He is spewing forth memorized verses by Charles Baudelaire, by Stephen Spender, as though there is nothing more important in the world to do on this campaign weekday than caress these sensuous words and consider them again. Sometimes, as with Baudelaire, he quotes first in French and then he translates a couple of lines at a time. His face is alight.

He even agrees to write down a couple of his own poems. "Do you read Spanish?" he wants to know. He happens to write Spanish sonnets. He copies down a couple of Spanish sonnets.

"John F. Kennedy felt that you could arrive at some understanding of life through poetry, and that is something that I have been interested in all my life," he is saying. "One of the weaknesses of my generation is that they are all cognitive, too pragmatic. They need to be more lyrical, emotional, gut-level."

It is not a predictable remark, but it is predictable that JFK would be referenced in it, since Mahoney brings up JFK quite a bit. He knew JFK personally through his father's political friendship with him. In '82, Dick wrote an excellent book about him that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He knew Robert Kennedy, too--even better. He knows other well-known people, including Mother Teresa, who arranged for him to adopt the Honduran child Molly, whose custody he now shares with ex-wife Mary Jo West.

He is so inspired by the famous people he has known and knows, and so garrulous about them, that it is rumored his campaign staffers have threatened to listen to his political speeches while propping bingo cards in their laps. Into the various squares on the card, the story goes, they would like to inscribe the names of JFK, RFK, Mother Teresa, Mo Udall, Stewart Udall, Bruce Babbitt and others who are most often mentioned. And then, as soon as Mahoney has dropped each of these names into his remarks, they would like to declare, "Bingo!"

It is an affectionate story, probably targeted as much toward Mahoney's irrepressible enthusiasms as toward his pretensions. Roger Burrell, an old high school friend of Mahoney's, muses that during their days together at Brophy Prep, "Some of the kids really looked up to him. And some people thought he was full of shit."

Burrell isn't one of the latter people, but they aren't difficult to find.

"I think some of his concerns and approaches to certain issues are a bit too esoteric to capture the imagination of the public," says someone who asked not to be identified, who has served with him on the board of Chicanos por la Causa, the nonprofit social services agency. "He was interested in building a nondenominational chapel in the Mercado. I was interested in feeding the belly and not the spirit."

Says Phoenix Gazette political columnist John Kolbe, "The Mahoney type [of progressive Democrat] is interested in [the poor and disadvantaged] the way you might be interested in a frog you can dissect. But they do not necessarily want to have them to dinner."

Anyone who is concentrating on the symptoms of pomposity may be missing the point of Dick Mahoney, however. The point, according to his plentiful friends and admirers, is that he has lived a rich and committed life, and that he has proven many times that he is willing to dedicate his energies to promoting changes that advance his beliefs but not necessarily his ego. The point is also that, more than any of the other young candidates, he is running a campaign based on vision and ideals instead of political realities. And that, so far, he has been able to transform ideals into a winning proposition.

One of his fans, Paul Eckstein, the managing partner of Brown & Bain law firm who is also considering a run at John McCain's Senate seat, believes that Mahoney's history of dedication to causes and his leadership abilities are the primary reason for the catty remarks that plague him. "Here you have this guy who seems to have everything--intelligence, he's well educated, he's energetic. And that is just too good to be true," Eckstein says. "I think there is just an awful lot of jealousy out there over this guy's talent."

The talent has been apparent since early in his life, and it has been given every opportunity to develop. Mahoney's story, in fact, is one about an uncanny match-up between temperament and training.

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