REINVENTING THE BIG WHEEL

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

To Crusa, even campaign signs are a fine art--whether they're the 4-by-8s stuck up along busy thoroughfares or the smaller signs that people put up in their yards. His clients marvel at his obsession with staple guns, glue and wood.

Coppersmith chuckles, "Nobody really knows if they work, but it's part of the kabuki. They're one way of convincing yourself . . . that you're running." Campaign veterans love to share tales of sign battles. Paul Johnson recalls one of Crusa's harebrained sign schemes. During Johnson's first successful campaign for city council, Mike instructed Paul's brother Rob to hang just one campaign sign upside down. Rob was to move the sign every week to maximize the shock value. This sign-erection ritual was a source of great embarrassment to Rob, who had to answer to curious passers-by. In the end, he began draping a sheet over the sign during the installation process, waiting until he had climbed back into the truck and starting the engine to pull it off and drive away.

Dean Winslow, a longtime friend of Crusa's, remembers election eve 1982, when he and Crusa stayed out all night to put up DeConcini signs. Winslow crawled onto a Pete Dunn billboard at Thomas and Central, stapling DeConcini signs along the bottom to form the word "Done." Perhaps the most vital ingredient to Crusa's success is his ability to recruit volunteers and get the most out of them. He knows that a few hours of labor outmatch the worth of a cash donation. Crusa has a special knack for communicating with volunteers, especially young people. Some believe he's sincere, others say he's Machiavellian.

Tricia Wasbotten Parker never knew what hit her. She never thought about the fact that she spent hour after hour--even on an 18-year-old's precious Saturday nights--stuffing envelopes and transcribing letters, with popcorn and a campaign tee shirt her only remuneration. Truth be told, she didn't much care for Dennis DeConcini, who was seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 1988. After volunteering to work a few hours a week on the DeConcini campaign as part of a college class, Wasbotten Parker had found herself assigned to Crusa, the campaign's deputy manager. "I can't explain the attraction to Mike," she says five years later. "I don't even want to use the word sexual because I don't want anything to be misconstrued that I was ever sexually attracted to Mike--but it was that kind of magnetism."

Crusa made her feel important by validating her worth through praise and important assignments. He made her a part of the process. Wasbotten Parker went to class in the morning and work in the afternoon; nights and weekends belonged to the campaign. She walked precincts, made telephone calls, typed letters. And, as "Mike's intern," she sometimes won the honor of riding with him to campaign events. "I was like a sponge. . . . I was soaking up everything he had to give. Personal advice, political advice, campaign strategy, his opinion of the building we were going by. Everything. I just wanted to be with him."

She remembers that he chewed aspirin and ate king-size Baby Ruth bars when he was sick. And she swears it's the best job she's ever had, even though he's stood her up for lunch a couple times since the campaign ended.

Another 88 DeConcini volunteer, who asked that her name not be used, recalls that Crusa got her to do just about anything--including canvass ultraconservative Sun City. When her husband complained that he never saw her, she told him, "Well, you know, they make me feel good at that campaign. They treat me like they want me there, they like me and they need me. And that's more than I get from you."

Maidi Terry, who worked as an intern and staff member in DeConcini's Phoenix office for almost a year while Crusa was the senator's state director, observed similar behavior. But Terry views Crusa as manipulative. If he was in a good mood, "he made us feel like we were an important part of the office," she says, describing him as "almost neurotically pleasant."

On bad days, he was "incredibly arrogant," lashing out at staff members in front of other employees for no apparent reason.

Even today, Marcia Imber says she doesn't know why Crusa fired her in 1990 from her position as office manager of DeConcini's Phoenix office. He had recruited her just months before. Imber and Crusa had a friendship dating back to DeConcini's 76 campaign. Crusa won't discuss personnel matters, but says he had his reasons.

Imber had reconsidered her opinion of Crusa even before he fired her, contending that his charm is dangerous. "I think he's a charismatic leader like David Koresh, like Fidel Castro," she says. "That's why he's a success in political management. Because he can size up a situation so quickly and know what that person wants to hear. Or what that group . . . needs at that time." @rule:

@body:In The Summit Group's central Phoenix office, the waiting area consists of a folding chair behind a door. Crusa has a secretary and an assistant, but it's pretty much a one-man show. His private office offers a first-floor view of the parking lot. Carefully preserved and framed newspaper pages line the walls: "Mr. Coppersmith Goes to Washington," "GOP's Arpaio defeats Armer in sheriff's race," "Pintek beats Judd by 2,200 votes."

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