By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
First of all, he was born into an activist tradition. His father William P. Mahoney was not only a former county attorney in Phoenix, but was the man who conceived and lead the court battles that during the Fifties eventually succeeded in desegregating Arizona's schools. William P. also campaigned for Kennedy in Arizona in 1960 and won the support of every Democratic delegate in the state for the young Massachusetts senator.
And William P. had inherited his social conscience from his father, a former Oatman miner turned state legislator, who was behind the reformation of Arizona child labor laws and the first minimum-wage law for women passed outside of New York state. The concern for the underdog that seeped into Dick Mahoney's veins had been steeping for generations.
Then there was the matter of Mahoney's education, some of which occurred informally at home. His friends from high school remember that there was no television in the house, but that there were obsessive conversations about politics held around the dinner table. There was a library that appeared to be limitless. Says Mahoney: "My parents taught us that what was unreal was material, and what was real was spiritual." They were the sort of parents who were aware of the power of ideas. "I have always believed that in each era, there are ideas that are about to be born and that are dying. If you can identify and articulate the ones that are needed, then you can bring about enormous improvement in people's lives," Mahoney says. "JFK knew this at age 22!"
He played football at Brophy, and then he shipped off to Princeton in '69, where he says that within a year he was the highest scorer in the Ivy League. He was also, immediately, a student at a highly unusual school, particularly within the milieu of the turbulent late Sixties.
Unusual in that the administration of Princeton adopted a positive approach to student unrest, with the result that there was never any real violence on the campus--which was the point. The administration actually encouraged its students to become politically involved in a constructive way. In 1970, the Movement to Elect a New Congress, a multicollege effort to oust congressmen whose politics were fueling the Vietnam War, became headquartered at Princeton, and students were exempted from classes in order that they might stump door-to-door. Mahoney had to choose between the Movement and sports. "That was it for me and football," he remembers.
His willingness to give up football had probably taken root during his freshman year, when he and a roommate had driven to Washington, D.C., to take part in that year's massive antiwar demonstration. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the fall of '69, in the middle of a crowd as large as 900,000, he became a believer in something larger than the sentiment that the war should end. He began to believe in unity. "It is impossible to describe the harmony and passion that existed among people," he says. "They weren't protesters. They were there because they felt very deeply and felt a common bond with anyone else who felt deeply. They were shoulder to shoulder and chest to chest.
"Then somebody said, `Peace,' in a normal speaking voice. People kept saying it again and again and again and again and it sounded like a hollow wind.
"That was a moment."
He immersed himself in the Movement to Elect a New Congress, he grew his hair down to his shoulders. He saw that, as a result of the Movement, seven new congressmen were elected whose horror at the war mirrored his own. He saw that "if you get enough people who are like-minded together, you can change things. You don't need money, because the Establishment is never as strong as it thinks it is and never as willing to go to the mat."
It is this belief, he says, that has allowed him to maintain a healthy dose of his Sixties idealism and continue to work to try to change the system--even though he doesn't always succeed.
He has thrown himself repeatedly into the grunt work of many local campaigns; he says he has been willing to work for candidates who possessed "enough gumption and idealism to cut across the grain," whether he believed they could possibly win or not. "Talk about the veteran of lost causes," he says with a laugh.
But he hasn't always lost. Local politicos remember that, in '84, he was very instrumental in salvaging what appeared to be a lost cause. Drafted forty days before the Democratic convention, he agreed to help spearhead a last-minute attempt to woo the Arizona Democratic delegation into the camp of Gary Hart. He and attorney Jim Walsh did it, too. Political consultant Alfredo Gutierrez, who headed the effort for Walter Mondale that was quite deeply entrenched before Mahoney and Walsh even got rolling, says, "This is a guy who can bring people together and inspire them. They out-organized us."
Within his own campaign for secretary of state, Mahoney's dogged belief in "changing the system" has also been greatly apparent. Says Gutierrez, "This is a passionate human being! He believes in the social perfectibility of mankind! It is hard to reach down and maintain that fire, but he is somebody in whom it remains much closer to the surface than in the rest of us."