REINVENTING THE BIG WHEEL

DERAILED BY AZSCAM, DEMOCRATIC OPERATIVE MIKE CRUSA HAS WAGED HIS BEST CAMPAIGN YET---TO SALVAGE HIS OWN CAREER

Neophyte campaigners are often shocked by the exhaustion and depression that come after an election, regardless of the outcome. It's like running into a brick wall, the veterans say, or coming down from a drug-induced high. Crusa claims that years of campaigning have rendered him impervious to this phenomenon, but some wonder if he just avoids it by transferring his addiction to another candidate or issue.

Some eyebrows were raised when, shortly after Crusa's alcohol rehabilitation, DeConcini hired him as the deputy manager of his 1988 Senate campaign. Crusa proved himself worthy of his former boss's loyalty. After the election, the senator gave him the plum position of state director.

Crusa was busy with his new responsibilities, but made time for more campaigning. He took a special interest in the Democrats' desire to capture the state Senate in 1990, becoming "de facto campaign manager" of Impact 90, a powerhouse fund-raising committee. Impact 90 pulled it off--the Democrats captured a majority in the state Senate that fall, and Crusa barely caught his breath before it was time to rally for the gubernatorial runoff between Fife Symington and Terry Goddard.

He need not have bothered. February brought AzScam revelations. Crusa's world crumbled.

Crusa "took three months off to contemplate my navel." He worked in his yard, painted his northwest Phoenix home and tried to improve his putting. When pressed, he admits that he did in fact work for Dial-A-Messenger, but just to get out of the house and get some fresh air.

Six months after he testified before the ethics committee, Crusa had landed what he considers The Summit Group's first big client, Scottsdale City Council candidate Richard Thomas.

Thomas won, and with every victory, Crusa leaves AzScam and Sue Laybe farther behind.

@rule:
@body:Her hair has grown in the two years since Sue Laybe's picture was plastered on the front pages, announcing her resignation from the legislature and her admission that she'd accepted bribes. A few strands of gray glint in the sunlight as she bends to sip her coffee; the oversize, signature eyeglasses are the same.

Sue Laybe spends her days counting money and her nights dealing blackjack. Her daytime employer has requested that she protect its identity. She laughs because the state now has jeopardized her nighttime job--for Ace Casinos, a charity gambling outfit--with recent legislation designed to limit Indian gaming.

No, the irony of her situation is not lost on Laybe. She always did support gambling, she reminds a reporter.

She's willing to dredge up the past--those hectic months during the 1990 election, when she met a wealthy contributor named Tony Vincent who would give her more than $24,000--because, she says, there are still questions surrounding what happened to the money that Vincent gave her. Specifically, the $10,000 that she took from Vincent and gave to Crusa.

Laybe says it never occurred to her to quit the legislature after the AzScam indictments were announced. She didn't believe she'd done anything wrong. Her most trusted adviser had told her so.

Laybe's and Crusa's stories vary enormously--from the nature of their relationship to their recollection of events during the 1990 campaign.

In his testimony before the ethics committee, Crusa recalled specific times--dating to the day in August 1990 when Laybe gave him the money--when he told Laybe to take the $10,000 and give it back to her secret source. Laybe, however, claims Crusa made it clear that he had found a way to get the money to the national party, and back to the state, and that he never told her to return the $10,000.

Laybe says there's an inconsistency in Crusa's claim that he urged her to return the money. Why would he tell the committee he had done that if he had also spent some of the money?

Crusa claims he had access to the cash all along. "I acknowledged having spent some of the specific money. I did not say that the money was not available," he now says. He says he can't recall how much he spent, or what he spent it on. The committee did not pursue the matter. "He wasn't on trial. She was," Representative Lisa Graham, a member of the committee, says. Crusa doesn't recall a conversation Laybe says they had in late 1990, in which she asked where the $10,000 had ended up. According to Laybe, Crusa pointed to the name of a contributor on a state party financial-disclosure form and told her never to mention the money again. She can't recall the contributor's name.

Laybe recalls another conversation, this time in January 1991. The rumor mill was churning out tales of Tony Vincent (Joseph Stedino's alias) and his pro-gambling money, and reporters were starting to call Laybe. She immediately contacted Crusa. They met and he coached her, telling her to stand by her pro-gambling position, to "say what wonderful things gambling would do for the state of Arizona. People go see Hoover Dam and they go up to Las Vegas instead of coming down to Phoenix. [He told me] how to put the spin on it. He always told me if you're going to get your story out, get it out first and get your angle on it first."

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