By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Three days a week at 5:30 in the morning, with the sun not yet up, Mayor Paul Johnson laces up his Asics Gel running shoes for a ten-mile run. He meets a coterie of city employees, staff members, police officers and the occasional local politician, and 10 to 15 at a time, they run in the North Mountain preserve, sometimes at South Mountain, sometimes the Papago Buttes. On Thursdays they start at the mayor's house in Sunnyslope, at the base of North Mountain, and jog the ten miles downtown to City Hall.
Johnson stays in the middle of the pack, his long legs plodding slowly and purposefully at 10 to 11 minutes per mile, a head above the others. His gait, as one of his aides puts it, is "a little better than George Bush's, a little worse than Bill Clinton's." Johnson admits he is hooked on running, which is as addictive as any drug.
He is even more hooked on running for office, politics being an even stronger, more addictive drug. "I love everything about politics," Johnson says unguardedly. He was a councilmember by the time he was 25, mayor by 30, and though by all accounts he is a brilliant political tactician, even his allies worry--off the record, of course--that his political ambition is all-consuming, that he is "born of the politics-for-politics'-sake generation," that he's "a political watercolor artist," or "a retail politician," or that he's "always wanted to be JFK II."
Johnson is already building his public persona. He calls himself a "no-tax Democrat." He paints himself as a lower-middle-class boy who made good, a budget balancer who understands small business, the son of a carpenter who's going to stamp out big government. He is driven, not by a yearning for power, perhaps, but by a sincere, Miss America longing to do good, to prove his self-worth, to leave a legacy. He is a nice man, so clean-cut and deliberately uncontroversial that he annoys his more liberal colleagues in the Democratic party.
His greatest strength or greatest weakness, based on your perspective, is that he's a consensus builder, that he hammers on all sides of a disagreement until he can present the done deal at a city council meeting. Critics worry that it's the end of "open government" or public participation in the decision-making process, but his supporters see it as democratically expedient, as reasonable people sitting down and coming to agreement in a Socratic manner.
"Of course, civic leaders killed Socrates," quips Louis Rhodes of Arizona Civil Liberties Union.
Certain civic leaders of Phoenix would like to do Johnson in, too. They say he's too young, too naive, undereducated, that he has no "clear vision of the world," no guiding ideology except his quest for office.
@body:"Should one have a position on every issue?" Johnson asks half-jokingly, his six-foot seven-inch frame folded onto a couch in his office atop City Hall. "Ronald Reagan did, didn't he?" His blue eyes flash with the barb, then seem to go off somewhere far away. Johnson's got a way of listening that seems distant, and yet he hears everything and plays it back later.
Off-duty, Johnson is a man of much warmth and candor, but his office conversation tends toward political rhetoric, "Four score and seven years ago," but with a blue-collar, populist bent.
Take responsibility: "I can influence what my son learns more than any teacher." "A neighborhood block watch can do more to prevent crime than any police patrols." Don't expect government to do everything for you, a municipal variant, perhaps, of "Ask not what your country can do for you . . ."
This business about not taking stands he's heard before, and it rubs sore. "Ask me about any issue, and I've got a position," he says testily. "You want to know where I stand on abortion? I'm pro-choice. Ask me anything, I'll give you an answer."
What positions should one hold as mayor of Phoenix? With a salary of $37,500 a year, it is not the career job it is in other major cities. Johnson's top aides make nearly twice that amount. Most of the day-to-day decisions that make the city run are made by the City Manager's Office, and the municipal departments are staffed by career bureaucrats independent of any political patronage. The city council decides policy for the city manager to follow. The mayor presides over the council, and though he only has one vote--same as any councilmember--he gets to set the council's agenda.
"It's the strongest city-manager system in the country," says former mayor Terry Goddard. "The mayor can't even tell his driver to turn left or right. Any direct order to a city employee is grounds for dismissal."
Goddard and Johnson are a study in contrasts. Goddard is the Harvard-educated son of a former governor. Johnson is a construction worker from Sunnyslope who had to drop out of college to support his family, the sort of guy who comes home from work to play with his kids instead of going to the symphony.
While Goddard's tenure as mayor was marked with debate, Johnson avoids controversy, but he is consolidating what power the office holds. Johnson is said to understand and manipulate the chemistry of the city council in ways that Goddard never could. As Johnson points out, "With Goddard, they said, 'What did he do?' Me, they say, 'Where does he stand?' But you can see what I've done."
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.
Johnson readily volunteers that he does not come from the kind of family that breeds politicians. "I was not born and bred for this job," he says. "My dad wasn't a senator or a governor." The latter remark is clearly a swipe at Goddard. Then he continues, "My mother literally came to this state to pick cabbage. My dad shined shoes in front of what's now the Omni hotel. My parents didn't send me to Harvard or Yale, because we're lower-middle-class folks."
In fact, his parents didn't send him anywhere; one prominent local politician, when asked of Johnson's aspirations for higher office, snapped, "One usually starts by going to college." Johnson has attended ASU and now stands a year's credits away from finishing his degree at the University of Phoenix.
Johnson is highly intelligent without being intellectual. Despite his political sophistication, he is parochial. He has spent his entire 33 years in working-class Sunnyslope, and when he travels to New York and Los Angeles, he is surprised at how big and bad and dirty they are.
His political talents, Johnson says, are "a bolt of lightning for me, the greatest gift I've ever had and I want to do something with it." It caps a lifelong fascination with politics. He quotes extensively from what he has read, all of it about politics and public life, from Talleyrand to Kennedy.
Even when he was 9, Johnson was fantasizing about holding office; his childhood scrapbooks are filled with Kennedy photos torn out of news magazines. Johnson ran for student council in high school and lost, but it didn't matter because he spent his free time working for his dad until, by his senior year, he was earning $250 a day after school hanging drywall. Jim Kieffer, his high school government teacher, however, remembers him as a serious student, clearly fascinated by the government process.
Somehow, by force of will and by knocking on doors, Johnson got into mainstream politics without paying the usual dues--the law degree, the years of public service, the bureaucratic training. His brother Rob, with whom he shared a construction business, still can't understand why anyone would want to go from making $250 a day hanging drywall to $250 a week as a councilmember; the latter job pays only $18,000 a year.
"You want to find someone to nail me?" Johnson jokes. "Talk to my brothers."
But Johnson ran for councilmember anyway, in 1983 against Barry Starr, who defeated him soundly, but adopted him as an apprentice; then successfully against Ann Lynch in 1985. Almost immediately he started talking about being mayor, and his political allies, including Starr, thought he was jumping the gun. When Terry Goddard resigned in 1990 to run for governor, councilmembers scurried to see which of them would be selected as interim mayor.
The money was on longtime councilmember Howard Adams, but Johnson was already perfecting his knack at back-room alliances. He met secretly with Republican councilmember Skip Rimsza at Baxter's restaurant near the Paradise Valley Mall. Rimsza scribbled options and alternatives and flow charts on the back of a menu, "and the end result of all of them was Paul becoming mayor," Rimsza recalls.
When Adams realized that Johnson had Rimsza's vote, he stepped aside and the council elected Johnson unanimously. Then, in last year's general election, Johnson was so strong politically he ran unopposed.
It was a political ascent that still stuns his Democratic contemporaries. "Paul didn't come through the party," says one prominent politician. "He just ran.
"It's like Jesus," says one city councilmember. "Where was he from age 10 to 30? And where did Paul Johnson come from?"
@body:Two guys pour concrete by the side of the road at 28th Street and Windrose, six-foot-plus burly construction workers with big chests and bigger bellies. The older of the two is Paul Johnson Sr., the mayor's father; he's got a gray beard and wears a white cloth tied around his forehead like an Indian headband to keep the sweat out of his eyes. The younger man, blond and ruddy-faced, is Johnson's younger brother, Rob.
Johnson Sr. is of the basic and unimpressed sort, and the mayor describes his dad by saying, "The only way you can tell he's dressed up is he changes his work shoes for dress shoes. Other than that, his shirt isn't tucked in and his Levi's are hanging lower on his hips than they should be, showing parts of his derriäre that embarrass the kids."
Brother Rob remembers that he and Paul once invited their father to go to the health club with them. "If you want to get strong, go work on the job," Paul Sr. said, but went anyway. On their way out of the locker room, they passed a man shaving, standing nude and pressed up against the countertop as he scraped the angles of his face.
"Hey! Get your dick out of the sink," the elder Johnson shouted matter-of-factly. "People wash their face there." It came out authoritative, not vulgar, and the man did as he was told.
Though he has helped his son with his campaigns--both father and brother use the pronoun "we" whenever they speak of the elections--the elder Johnson doesn't think much of politics. He thinks his son should be working to make money to put his kids through college. He has no idea where the political gene came from, but he shrugs it off and says, "Kids . . . you let em do what they want."
On the night he became mayor, Johnson and Christa drove up to Paul Sr.'s farm in Prescott. Johnson päre was smiling, and said, "So you're the mayor?"
"I guess so," the son answered.
The father hitched up his pants and snorted, "Well, that's a bunch of bullshit, ain't it?"
Paul Sr. came to Phoenix from Pennsylvania at age 7 with his own father after his mother died. Later, when he was 15 or 16, he and his brother hitchhiked back to Phoenix from Florida after his father had moved the family there. The two brothers married two sisters, bought houses in Sunnyslope, had nine children apiece--Johnson's "double cousins"--and went to work building homes for John F. Long.
Paul Johnson Jr., populist, tells an abbreviated version of the story in which his father and uncle hitchhiked to Phoenix alone when they were 7 and 11 years old. It's hard to tell if it's one of those family legends that have become distorted over the years or if it's an Abe Lincoln tall tale grounded in truth that has grown to help shape an emerging political persona.
There are other such tales: Over the years, the two pairs of shoes he wore out while knocking on every door in his district for his first, unsuccessful campaign for council have become three pairs of shoes, for example. He boasts of having been a small businessman, but by the time he was 26 he was already a full-time politician.
Though he speaks endlessly about the closeness of his family, he never mentions that his parents have been divorced for 15 years and have both remarried. His mother, Yvonne DeLisle, owns a redneck shot-and-a-beer tavern at 19th Avenue and Camelback. The smoke inside is so thick it nearly obscures the side-by-side photographs of Paul Johnson and Jack Kennedy on the back wall. When New Times came to call at the tavern, a great hooting and cries of "Shark attack!" broke out among the regular patrons. DeLisle frowned at her customers' exuberance, but politely declined to be interviewed.
"That's why my brothers and sisters and I barely drink," Johnson says. "We've seen the people at the bar whose lives have been ruined by alcohol." He remembers getting drunk only once in his life, when he was a teenager, running to the top of Squaw Peak at midnight, then coming home and getting sick; his father woke him at dawn the next morning, and without a lecture, deliberately put him through a day's hard labor to better savor his hangover. A lesson was learned, because now Johnson describes himself as "a three-beer man: I drink the first, spill the second and pass the third one on."
Sunnyslope is a few scant miles from City Hall as the city streets run. Metaphorically speaking, it's a distance of light-years that Johnson travels every day. He doesn't need Abe Lincoln stories because he really is "of the people," a solid man from solid roots, and that rings truer than any stylized persona he could cultivate.
@body:On a weekday evening in early July, Christa and Paul Johnson sit in the stands at the baseball field behind Paradise Valley High School at 40th Street and Bell Road to watch the Sunnyslope Little League All-Stars--which Johnson helped coach--play against the Moon Valley team.
The mayor has come straight from City Hall without stopping at home to change; the infield dust settles on his black dress shoes as he walks through the dugout to cheer the boys on, until the umpire notices there are too many adults on the sidelines and sends the mayor and a reporter back to the grandstand. Being mayor of Phoenix does not allow him to get away with much of anything.
Johnson's wife, Christa, is petite and cheerleader pretty with blond hair and dimples deep enough to sink a finger in. She shys away from public attention, and gives the impression that she supports her husband, but would just as soon he had a less-public career. When their younger son, Justin, impudently told a grown-up neighbor that he could ride his bike wherever he liked because his father was mayor, Johnson took him aside and said, "You've got it wrong, son. I work for that man."
Christa paints her husband as a devoted father and an affectionate, poetry-writing romantic. She says he's messy around the house and a terrible driver because he's so preoccupied. "If you see him on the road, get off," she warns.
The Johnsons met during the summer before their senior year in high school. Christa and a girlfriend were walking home from Roadrunner Park at 34th Street and Cactus when a pair of geeky boys called after them from the window of a house under construction. Christa wanted to ignore them, but her friend, "who didn't have a lot of dates," went to talk.
Paul Sr. drove by just then and saw the boys lollygagging out the window, so he walked over, tore the corner off a scrap of Sheetrock, handed it to Christa and said, "Why don't you girls write your phone numbers down so these boys can get back to work?" Johnson called her as soon as he got home from work, but "he was too tall," she says, and she put him off until late fall when she finally agreed to go out with him.
Christa tells of going parking with Paul at North Mountain one night, and as they looked out at the lights of the city, he said, "Some day I'm going to run this town." She laughed and thought he was goofy. Even now he says, "If I remembered saying that I wouldn't admit it." But it didn't dissuade Christa from going out with him, and the relationship heated up so much her father sent her away to a Christian school in Kentucky because he thought the couple was getting too serious.
The separation didn't work. They married that summer when she was still 17 and he just 18. And if he was too tall when they met, he grew another five inches after they married.
Johnson says now that he intended to go to law school, but he never even finished college, because their older son was born seven weeks prematurely. Christa had to quit her job to take care of the baby full-time and Johnson had to quit school to make ends meet.
There were other setbacks. When he was just 20, a contractor wheedled out of paying him $10,000 for a job, and he and Christa had to sell their house and car to pay off debts. Just a few years later, when he was a councilmember, the same contractor came to Johnson, without recognizing him, to discuss zoning for a project. When the matter came before the council, Johnson voted in the project's favor because he felt it was the right thing to do, but was so angry he excused himself immediately from the meeting and went home to lie down. He might be a fair man, but he couldn't forget the hardship the man had caused his family.
With a mayoral salary of $37,500 and some modest rental income, Johnson has always had to watch pennies. He admits that someday he'd like a job that pays better. Christa claims her husband is tight, and as proof she offers that they and their two children spent ten years in a 670-square-foot house with a broken swamp cooler. After Johnson became mayor, she'd had enough and sold it out from under him.
And so they built their own big, new house on a lot 100 yards away, leaning on every one of the Johnson brothers and cousins until all their relatives were afraid to answer their telephones. They bought toilets at garage sales. Johnson had some plywood campaign signs left over from the election and used them to close in the house. The stucco contractor was late, and Johnson lived a week of embarrassment waiting with larger-than-life portraits of his family sprawled upside down and sideways across the front of the house with the words "Johnson for Mayor" in white letters on a blue background. One of his brothers talked Salt River Project workers into dumping a couple of truckloads of sludge dredged from the Arizona Canal to fill a wash in the backyard. "The house smelled like fish for a long time," says Christa, "and we have seashells in the yard."
@body:Late in August, Johnson sits in the kitchen of a firehouse on North 23rd Avenue. He's wearing a blue golf shirt with a fire department logo on it, because he's sitting in with the boys overnight. His face is ashen, because he's just come from a serious traffic accident at 27th Avenue and Camelback, and a young woman they'd treated for a broken sternum and shoulder had screamed in pain all the way to the emergency room.
Johnson rides with the firefighters, the police department, the water department as part of a program he calls "Operation Occupation." He claims it keeps the various city departments real in his mind, and that when related council decisions come up, the city workers and facilities are more than abstractions and numbers on paper. It's given him some great anecdotes:
A water department crew sent him down a manhole to show him how they snake out the sewer lines. "It was pitch black and it looked like the walls were moving, but I figured it was sludge," Johnson remembers. "When my eyes adjusted, I realized the walls were an inch thick with big sewer roaches."
The men up top warned him not to stir them up or they'd start flying and swarm on him. One worker kicked dirt down the back of the mayor's shirt collar to make him think the roaches were crawling on him. "Pull . . . me . . . up!" Johnson ordered, but they insisted he scoop out the sludge first. As proof that Phoenix city jobs don't depend on political patronage, those men are still alive and employed.
One night Johnson cruised Van Buren with a vice squad detective and picked up a young hooker named Peaches. Peaches was 14 and wore her hair in pigtails, but she audaciously ordered the mayor to "whip it out" to prove he wasn't a cop. Then she lectured both the mayor and officer on the importance of condom use and gave one to each of them before the cop arrested her.
Christa was already sleeping when Johnson got home that night. He threw his clothes over a chair in the bedroom, and the condom fell out of his shirt pocket. At about three o'clock, he woke up. Christa was thumping on his chest, and when his eyes focused, he realized she was holding the condom and demanding, "What's this?"
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.
Johnson was calm, even chatty, in the waiting room before his speech. When he stepped to the podium, he faltered a moment, because microphone and TelePrompTer were too low for his six-foot seven-inch frame. After he said his piece and came down from the podium, he turned to Starr and said, "Man, that was a kick." It was a national political debut, even if, as he later joked to Starr, "Maybe a couple of retired folks were watching on TV," but he enjoyed it.
Since Tsongas' withdrawal, Johnson's been campaigning for Bill Clinton, making good impressions as the budget-balancing Democrat from Arizona, and of course making connections that may help him in the future.
Johnson states unabashedly that he will probably run for the U.S. Senate or for governor of Arizona, but he won't commit to either, not because he wants to be coy, but because it's too early to decide. Likely he'll watch his options carefully, figure how long he can stay mayor without losing too much political capital, decide which is the safer bet. He's got more than $200,000 in his campaign war chest left over from his unopposed mayoral race. One could do some serious damage with that much cash.
When pressed on which race he'll run, Johnson counters facetiously by asking, "Why not vice president?" Then he muses, "Senator? That's heady stuff, but you have to understand demagoguery and give good speeches." And besides, he continues, it takes a while to earn enough seniority to accomplish anything.
"The day you become governor, you can start making a difference," he says. And, one supposes, he wouldn't have to move out of Sunnyslope.
And then where does one go after being governor?
"Look at Mr. Clinton," he says playfully.