THE LEADING MAN

IN HIS SCREEN DEBUT, WOODS GIVES PERFORMANCE OF A LIFETIME-AT $640 A HEAD

The lineup of stars sounded like the cast from a Love Boat episode, but the production was Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods' movie, The Hound of Publicityville, which premiäred June 22 at a fund raiser for Woods at Symphony Hall.

With a cast that includes Richard Anderson (the Bionic Man's boss), Carol Channing, Rip Taylor and local personalities, such as Danny Medina, Lou Grubb and Sam Steiger, how could the movie miss? With tickets selling for six-something, the show figured to pack em in.

Then it became known that the price per ticket was six hundred-something; specifically, $640. That's the legal limit an individual can contribute annually to a candidate for a statewide race in Arizona. Woods has been mentioned as a possible GOP foe of Governor Fife Symington in 1994.

Just how much does it cost to rent the 2,599-seat Symphony Hall? The people in charge of hall rental referred a caller to Jan Denton, a public information specialist for Phoenix Civic Plaza. Denton acknowledged that the price was a public record (the City of Phoenix owns and operates the hall), and when pressed, admitted that the Woods bash would cost about $3,000, including lights and ushers. But Denton made a point of deferring to Steve Tseffos, official flak for the state Attorney General's Office.

"He's the PR person and he's told us that we're to say nothing or release anything. It comes out of his office," Denton insists.

Why would Tseffos, a state employee, field calls on a campaign event during regular business hours?

Contacted at the Attorney General's Office, Tseffos chattered freely about the event--referring to it as "our fund raiser." But he wasn't crazy about having a reporter attend. That's a bit of a surprise, given the title of the movie and the excesses to which Woods goes to put his name and face before the public.

For example, Woods was conspicuously absent from the courtroom as the jury in the Max Dunlap murder trial came back with a verdict. But as soon as the verdict was in--Dunlap guilty; a triumph for the attorney general--Woods' lieutenants rushed to inform the boss, who materialized seemingly out of thin air to bask in the spotlight. Of course, if Dunlap had been acquitted, Woods would have had more pressing business.

And Tseffos doesn't mind hitting the airwaves himself once in a while, though he's not always eager to reveal his identity. In February, New Times reported that Tseffos disguised his voice and posed as "Bill from District 18" when calling KTAR's Talk to the Governor radio show last November. "Bill" criticized Symington for his stand on anticrime legislation. Tseffos denied he was "Bill."

But when it came to the world premiäre of Woods the screen star, Tseffos was bashful, saying he didn't want any "critical reporting" on the crucial fund raiser. "I specifically didn't invite any members of the media because a), it's a fund raiser and b), I just didn't know where to start and stop . . ." he says. "So you're gonna have to persuade me, because it's not something I'm inclined to do, really."

Tseffos was asked if he felt comfortable taking calls about a campaign event.
"Well, it's our fund raiser. I mean, why wouldn't I?"
"Because you work for the attorney general and you're a state employee."
"Give me that again."
"Because you work for the attorney general and you're a state employee."
"Yeah, so?"

The Secretary of State's Office says it's not illegal to do limited campaign business from state offices on state time. (Even if it were illegal, there's little for Tseffos to fear, since Woods is responsible for enforcing campaign-finance laws, a task he has shown little interest in.)

But Woods himself made political hay out of similar transgressions. During his 1990 campaign, Woods called for his Republican primary opponent, Steve Twist, to resign from his position as first assistant attorney general. He claimed that Twist was campaigning from the Attorney General's Office.

At an April 1990 fund raiser, Woods recounted the tale of how he assigned campaign workers the task of calling the Attorney General's Office and anonymously volunteering their services for Twist's campaign. When they called the main number at the Attorney General's Office, the "volunteers" were transferred to Twist's office.

According to Tseffos, Woods had no comment on his screen debut or the fund raiser.

The Hound of Publicityville--which features Sam Steiger as a Columbo type, a stand-in as Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini and Grant Woods as himself--got mixed reviews from attendees. The plot: Montini is buried under a stack of attorney general press releases, and Woods is accused of the crime. Columbo (Steiger) investigates. In the end, the culprit is revealed to be Ladmo.

Woods has yet to announce his intentions for 1994, but that didn't stop his fund raisers from selling more than 400 tickets to the event. The fact that Symphony Hall can hold five times that number might have made Woods' faithful wonder if they had accidentally wandered into a Phoenix Cardinals game.

Still, at $640 a pop, the massive cash infusion will be more than enough to allow the attorney general to retire his 1990 campaign debt of $9,000-plus and add a healthy sum to the $1,500 (as of last December) in his 1994 exploratory committee account.

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