The firehouse alarm rings and Johnson and eight firefighters pile into a fire truck and an ambulance and race off into the afternoon. Over the next two hours, they'll resuscitate a 92-year-old woman at a nursing home and then, before they make it back to the firehouse from the emergency room, climb to a squalid second-floor apartment in a motellike building where an expectant mother has fallen and possibly injured her unborn child. If anyone recognizes the mayor at either scene or in the hospital, he keeps it to himself.

Johnson indeed has a boyish fascination for the myriad pieces that make up the mosaic of city government. Some critics maintain that Operation Occupation is merely a publicity stunt, "putting on funny hats," as one put it.

"His philosophy about being in office is, 'This is the neatest job I could possibly get, and wow, am I having a good time,'" says another. "He's not there for the purpose of educating himself and maturing. He needs to do that and it's going to make him a better person, but I wonder, why do we have him running the city so he can learn these things?"
Of course, politics is about finding fault in the least of matters, and perhaps Johnson's popularity with voters puts him under microscopic scrutiny. However ingenuous he may be, the sophisticated, political tactician side of his personality realizes that he can't be mayor forever without collecting enemies. His wife worries that he could eventually say or do something that will be misconstrued in the press and harm his career.

Johnson so adamantly wants to keep his record clean that he won't let his brother Rob apply for a job in the fire department for fear that people will think he used his influence to get him a job.

But in fact, the murmurs and whispers circulate already. The names Chris Warner and Mike Lieb come up, developers who market themselves as friends of the mayor and are rumored to have undue influence, especially in zoning matters. There has even been talk that Warner picks out Johnson's clothes. "He's sure been doing a lousy job," quips deputy chief of staff Barry Starr.

Johnson has tangled with Warner over zoning favors asked and turned down, but they have stayed friends. Lieb is a real estate broker with whom Johnson plays basketball. (White guys can't jump? That's definitely his situation," Lieb says.) Both friends are considerably slicker than Johnson; however, it's unlikely that Johnson, even if he weren't so damned honest, would let either affect his judgment with his political reputation at stake. "Those guys are just hustlers," says brother Rob. "He doesn't listen to them."

More whispers point to Johnson's hiring of Mike Crusa, campaign consultant and former aide to Senator Dennis DeConcini, who testified against former state legislator Sue Laybe in the AzScam hearings. Laybe gave Crusa $10,000 to launder through the Democratic party, but he instead put the money in a safe-deposit box and borrowed from it until Laybe came under scrutiny.

Laybe went to prison, Crusa was not prosecuted, but the incident raised eyebrows, as well as questions about Crusa's ethics and loyalty. Johnson hired Crusa to do piecemeal campaign work, because he "has a soft spot" for him--even if his advisers told him not to.

Sue Laybe points out more coldly that Crusa is the best campaign consultant in town (having worked for Paul Tsongas and state senator Chuck Blanchard as well), which Johnson will need in his political future.

@body:As confirmation of his national ambitions, Paul Johnson stepped out this summer to stump for presidential hopeful Paul Tsongas.

"They say it takes three things to be president," Johnson says of Tsongas, "charisma, organization and money. Tsongas didn't have any of the three. The only thing he had was message."
Whatever that message was, Johnson bought it.
Chris Warner recalls when Tsongas and Johnson first met during the presidential candidate's swing through Phoenix early this summer. Warner and Johnson stood at a gate at Sky Harbor International Airport in the early-morning hours waiting for Tsongas' plane. When the senator came down the jetway, he walked right past Johnson--who was still looking on down the corridor--then noticed Warner's patrician good looks and assumed he was someone important. Warner pointed Tsongas toward the mayor.

"You're awfully tall for a mayor," Tsongas said as the two shook hands.
"You're awfully short for a president," Johnson retorted.
Their second meeting was at the Democratic Convention in New York, at an early-morning pep rally with more than 700 Tsongas supporters. The senator again missed the mayor, reaching out instead to shake hands with the distinguished-looking Barry Starr. "Senator, you know Mayor Johnson," Starr said as he guided Tsongas in the right direction.

"Ah, yes," Tsongas replied, "you're going to be cleanup speaker for me, right?" Johnson was indeed scheduled to speak about Tsongas' fiscal plan. Moments later a flunky with a clipboard sought Johnson out to tell him his speech had been canceled.

"But we just talked with the senator," Starr spoke out in Johnson's defense, and convinced the aide to keep Johnson on the program.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets