In politics they call it spinning a story. Damage control. In the real world, they call it covering your ass. In any case, Crusa would take his own advice just weeks later, after news of AzScam broke--telling his side of the story first, cutting a deal with the county attorney, handing $10,000 over to the County Attorney's Office and testifying before the ethics committee.

Some parts of his testimony involved what Crusa says he told Laybe to do with the $10,000. Much of the testimony dealt with their relationship, which Crusa portrayed as respectful but casual.

"There are times I know I didn't see or talk to Sue for three, four, five months at a time, six months at a time," Crusa told the committee. That's a lie, Laybe says. "I would not make a political move without asking Mike Crusa first." But because many of her alleged conversations with Crusa took place in parking lots, in the car or on the telephone, she doesn't have any way to back up many of her claims. Those who were around Laybe during the 1990 campaign admit that they don't have details, but they do recall that she was in almost constant contact with Crusa.

Charlie Harrison was incredulous when he heard Crusa's testimony. The local Democratic activist and Laybe confidant sat in front of his television in disbelief, first watching news of the charges against Laybe and later listening to Crusa's side of the story.

Throughout the 1990 campaign, Harrison says, "I would ask [Sue] about the most dip-shit little nothing thing and she'd have to check it with Crusa." (Harrison was indicted in 1991 on two counts of perjury resulting from grand jury testimony. He pleaded no contest earlier this month to a class 2 misdemeanor charge, and was fined $240.) Jeff Browne, who worked as a consultant to Laybe in 1990, echoes Harrison's observation. He recalls that Laybe had an "almost chemical need" to be in touch with Crusa on every matter. Browne, Laybe and Crusa all confirm that the three traveled to Las Vegas together on election night in 1990, to celebrate their victory. (Browne's other clients that year included attorney general candidate Georgia Staton and state education superintendent C. Diane Bishop. The Virginia-based consultant says he's been blackballed from Arizona politics because of his affiliation with Laybe. He was not charged with any wrongdoing in AzScam and says he didn't know that Laybe had taken tens of thousands of dollars from Vincent until the story broke.) Crusa stands by his testimony. Maybe Laybe had a different interpretation of their relationship, he concedes, but as far as he's concerned, he never treated her any differently than other legislative candidates.

"We would run into each other at regular Democratic-type events. Okay? That's basically what it was," he says.

Laybe says that's inaccurate: "I had his car phone number, his direct office line . . . his home number, pager number." They had a secret code--6666--so that he would know immediately that she had paged him, she says.

"I'm not going to say that's not possible," Crusa responds. "I don't know about a secret code on the thing. There was a whole lot of people that I gave a number to to use the pager to let me know who it was."
Laybe wanted to physically attack Crusa the day he testified before the ethics committee. She's tempered her feelings since. "I should have gone and asked a lawyer about the $10,000, whether or not it was legal," she says.

She's even tried to contact Crusa, handing him her card at Nucleus Club meetings and suggesting they meet for coffee. She calls him at home. "I wrote him a letter saying I was sorry and forgiving him for what he did and I want to make sure he's okay," Laybe says. He ignores her. @rule:

@body:Crusa is happy to share his philosophy of grassroots organizing. Some call it the product of inherent talent, a sixth sense. Others say it's lifted straight from political-science textbooks.

First, you gotta know how to pick em. "I want it clear--you can't sell a pig in a poke," he says. "I try to stay away from those who I don't think are electable."

Crusa asks prospective candidates why they're running and why he should vote for them. If they can't answer those questions, there's no hope. "I'm not the candidate," he says. He'll help shape a message, but the basic ideas have to come from the candidate.

The Summit Group offers custom campaign services. It will run telephone banks or organize the entire campaign with campaign staffers that Crusa recruits and trains. No job too big, no job too small.

Save one. Crusa assiduously avoids fund-raising, leaving the campaign finance reports to accountants and lawyers. He distributes copies of election law to his clients the way a dentist hands out toothbrushes. As for campaigning, Crusa's philosophy is simple: The more contact the voter has with the candidate, the better. Face to face is best, but by telephone is okay, too. It's not enough to contact random households; direct mail, telephone banking and neighborhood walking are precise sciences, Crusa believes, and he employs methods designed to get the maximum effect for the minimum expense.

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