NO MERE MR. NICE GUY

GUBERNATORIAL HOPEFUL EDDIE BASHA IS KNOWN AS A PHILANTHROPIST AND A CRUSADER FOR EDUCATION. WHAT HE'S NOT KNOW AS IS A DEMOCRAT

Eddie Jr. worked for the family business as a youngster. He played in a garage band and enjoyed being a big man on campus. One junior high instructor remembers him as a bright student and a ringleader, "someone who wanted to be important."

He encountered racism in high school, when he was a lineman for the Chandler High football team. According to local tradition, the player who scored the first touchdown of the year won a steak dinner at the local diner. Obediah Jackson scored the first two touchdowns, and Obediah Jackson was Chandler's first black football star.

"I didn't go down there, because they weren't serving blacks," recalls Jackson, who now owns a realty office in Phoenix. "Eddie Basha and another guy went down and talked to the owner of the restaurant, who said I could eat in the kitchen. Those guys organized a boycott, and then the owner came to the football field and told me, 'You've got to come down there and get your steak, because the whole school is boycotting the restaurant.'"
Jackson remembers Basha as an undersize but aggressive lineman with a gimpy back that required him to wear a cumbersome brace. "He'd never beat a guy when he was down, but he'd fight like hell to get him there," Jackson says.

That faulty back kept Basha from realizing his dream of becoming a Marine officer. At Stanford University, where he earned a degree in history, he belonged to a Marine fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma, and entered a platoon leader's class. He failed his physical because of his back. Basha graduated from Stanford in 1959, and if he had made a career of the Marines, he probably would have seen combat.

Despite his unrequited devotion to the Marines, Basha says he developed misgivings about the Vietnam War early on. "I always thought that if there had been more women in Congress, there would probably have been less of a commitment" to the war, he says. Basha says a forum never presented itself to oppose the war. And he never sought one out.

However, it was during this period, shortly after he left college, that Basha smoked marijuana--and inhaled.

Did he enjoy it? "I don't recall, really," he says. "I've done some things in my life I'm not proud of. I made a few parties in my life and tossed a few down in my younger days.

"It [dope smoking] probably happened over the course of a week. I regret that I broke the law. I did it, and that was it. I don't think there's any more to say about it. I just did it. I have a curious mind. I did it."
Basha and his second wife, Nadine Mathis-Basha, and their two sons--Joshua, 6, and Jeremy, 4--live in a 5,000-square-foot home in Chandler. His next-door neighbor is Phoenix Suns player Jerrod Mustaf.

Basha's four older sons, born to his first wife, Sherri, are grown and out of the nest. One is in college; the older three work for Bashas' Markets Inc.

Basha's home is spacious and tasteful, but hardly palatial. There is domestic help. Western art, of which Basha is a renowned collector, dominates the walls.

Nadine Mathis-Basha is younger than her husband. She's attractive, articulate, fun-loving, a doting mother. She's owns a company, Summa & Associates, which consults with business on childcare issues.

Basha had the sprawling home built because he wanted more privacy and security in the wake of his first wife's kidnaping. It happened in 1972, while Basha was at a school-board meeting. A man came to the door of his rented Chandler home.

"He was looking for me; he had a gun," Basha recalls. "He was going to take me and ransom me, because supposedly the story was his father was dying of cancer. Sherri escaped that same night from him--he was very inept--but still and all, it was very traumatic for all of us."
After 24 years of marriage, Eddie and Sherri Basha divorced in 1985. "We just grew apart," he says. Sherri, who is also remarried, declined to be interviewed.

A lifelong Catholic, Eddie Basha attends St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler, but he doesn't always hew to church doctrine.

"The fundamental determiner of my belief or my theology is my individual conscience, and, at times, my individual conscience is in conflict with church teachings. I don't think that makes me any less of a Catholic in my eyes or in my relationship with God," Basha says. "I believe that Catholics should have the right to practice birth control. I believe that priests should be able to marry. I believe that women should have the right to be priests, and to conduct Mass. I believe women have the right to choose [to have an abortion] without government interference."
Gloria Feldt, director of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, believes Basha is a relatively recent convert to the pro-choice camp.

"My own personal, informal conversations with him in years past clearly led me to believe he was not pro-choice," Feldt says. "However, the point is, he's clearly pro-choice now, and that's good."
Not in the eyes of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The organization had planned to roast Basha this month in a major fund raiser to benefit a clinic it wants to open in South Phoenix. Furor about Basha's pro-choice stance prompted organizers to ask Basha to withdraw from the event. Basha was unperturbed.

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