By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The once and present mayors claim a cordial relationship, but they are locked in quiet rivalry. Political junkies speculate that they may someday run against each other. Goddard's supporters fear that Johnson, if he's doing anything at all, is undoing his predecessor's more liberal agenda.
Deputy chief of staff Barry Starr, Johnson's smooth-as-silk ‚minence grise, counters: "The function of city government is to get garbage picked up, the roads paved, when you turn your water on, something comes out, when you flush your toilet, it goes somewhere. People don't want to deal with that. They want to deal with lofty ideological issues and to hell with the city. Paul says the city has to function. There is an intelligentsia that wants something else."
And it isn't populist politics.
@body:June 16, the night of the public hearings on the gay-rights ordinance, Johnson presides over Phoenix City Council from a dais in Civic Plaza, trying to keep the crowd under control. The speakers seem to come from an angry and paranoid Central Casting, a Floyd R. Turbot character talking about sequestering gays, a grumpy old man relating mass murders to the collapse of moral standards, a mincing flamer who used to be gay but was saved by religion. Is this The Gong Show?
Johnson maintains composure as a malcontent refuses to relinquish the microphone. "We've heard your comments 20 times since I've been here on city council," Johnson says sternly as he shuts off the microphone.
Johnson never wanted the gay-rights ordinance to come to public discussion because, as he says, once the players take sides out in the open, their positions get cast in concrete and won't budge. The dispute between America West and Southwest Airlines over facilities at Sky Harbor International Airport, the land swap at the Indian School had been resolved (some say too quickly) in back-room dealings. This emotional, largely symbolic ordinance, however, leaked out of the back room and became a full-blown spectacle.
Johnson's wife, Christa, and his staff say he did a lot of reading and soul-searching on gay rights, trying to balance his blue-collar prejudices, religious views and fair-mindedness. There is an apocryphal story that Johnson claimed he'd never even met a gay person before the gay-rights debate. Gay activist Charlie Harrison says, "We gave him a Homo 101 course and he wasn't the best student. I like Paul, but I think it's revolting that he runs along after the Martin Luther King bandwagon while stepping on faggots. Either you're for human rights or you aren't."
Johnson answers, "If you have the ordinance, you're not going to stop discrimination. If you don't, you're not going to stop people from being gay."
Insiders claim that Johnson refuses to be the fifth or tiebreaking vote in any issue--hence his reputation for not taking stands--and in this case, his wavering indecision and the resultant toothless compromise lost him friends on both sides of the issue. Although Johnson is quick to point out the intolerance of the religious right, which fought so bitterly against the ordinance, his great concern was that it would somehow "saddle business" with undue costs in conforming to new regulations. "Too much government" cuts into profits, lost profits cost jobs, lost jobs hurt the city's economy.
His devotion to the bottom line is so great, in fact, he even asked one of the many civic leaders he consults with if the civil rights legislation of the 1960s would have passed in hard economic times. The person he asked was appalled, and answered that in bad economic times when jobs are scarce is when people need antidiscrimination laws the most.
Johnson's cost-to-business rationale has surfaced regularly of late, regarding arts and environment and planning and historic preservation. Is the "no-tax Democrat" becoming a closet Republican?
"Everything is being forced through a funnel of, 'Yes, we want to do environmental good, but only if it's acceptable to the business community,'" says Kay Jeffries, who recently resigned out of frustration from the Environmental Policy Subcommittee. "Paul's bottom line is what the business community will accept."
Johnson takes umbrage, pointing to his endorsement of oxygenated fuel to improve air quality and his commitment to planting trees, and says, "I will compare my environmental record with anyone's."
While he touts his "design review" program, his critics call his approach to planning "one-stop shopping for developers." The city council decisions to tear down First Baptist Church and the Square One block were presented as the usual done deals despite the protests of historic preservationists, including Terry Goddard. They were duly surprised when the council passed a last-minute stay of execution for the church.
As for Square One, Johnson says, "I would love to have saved it. Does that mean we're not committed to historic preservation?
"Terry's more pure" on these issues, he says, and of course the issues are pet concerns of the liberal and educated elite, not of parochial, boom-town Phoenix, where progress means development and development means jobs, and to hell with those Harvard-educated, East Coast types with their pots on the Squaw Peak Parkway and their tolerance of perverts.