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

Basha's company bought into a partnership with holdings in western Pinal County that became controversial in 1988 and 1989, when some of the principals lobbied the state to spend $50 million to widen Maricopa Road, which bisects the property. Some partners were later involved in a campaign for development of a $500 million regional airport in the vicinity.

Basha says, "It was a syndicate. It was speculation. As a rule, we [Bashas' Markets Inc.] don't do that, but this was a small venture. It was a group of people. It was kind of like a fraternity."

When critics of the Maricopa Road and regional-airport projects began leveling accusations of self-dealing, Basha says, he let his property go back to its prior owner. He had also been appointed to the Governor's Regional Airport Advisory Committee, but says he did not attend any of the task-force meetings until the property had been disposed of. However, he did vote by proxy to recommend that the airport be constructed.

"I had no conflict of interest when that vote was cast," Basha says. "I would never vote where there was a conflict of interest. We're clean. Bashas' and I personally were clean on that issue. . . . And I have never gleaned a nickel in my public service to any commission or appointed office I have served."
Basha also started an art business for his sons, Western American Prints, which produces limited-edition prints. He's part owner of a ranch near Prescott, and he owns some gold mines that failed to develop when his partner in that venture passed away.

Then there's Robert S. Jacobs, better known as Crazy Jake, a Superstition Mountains prospector who bilked numerous well-heeled investors after convincing them he had found the Peralta treasure. Basha was one of those investors, although he denies losing any money to Jacobs.

Still, Basha says with a laugh, "I'm not lily-white. I've made some bad investments in my day."

Everywhere Eddie Basha goes on the campaign trail, he hearkens to his Chandler roots. The town has always been the center of his universe; he its favorite son.

But despite 12 years of distinguished service on the Chandler School Board--and his appropriation of the maxim that "all politics is local"--Basha in recent years has not been a big player in local government affairs.

"I've never seen him at a city council meeting," says one Chandler politico who describes Basha as "a wonderful friend." "He doesn't deal in the local public arena."
Nearly everyone in Chandler says nice things about Eddie Basha, and intends to support him in his gubernatorial bid, but there is a tinge of sadness that Basha seems to have outgrown Chandler.

"Eddie never gets excited about a local issue. Everything is very remote," another friend says. "That kind of ticks off many of us who have been fighting in the trenches."
Two years ago, Basha agreed to chair a city committee studying the issue of firefighters' compensation. However, Basha only attended a couple of committee meetings, one participant says, adding, "About all he contributed were the doughnuts."

Then there's the porn shop. Last year, Bashas' Markets Inc. sold a prime storefront in the heart of Chandler's resurgent shopping district to Carl Tamuty, who opened a shop called Naughty but Nice--a lingerie and accessory shop offering a wide assortment of X-rated films.

Neighborhood merchants came unhinged. The city council rushed to adopt an ordinance restricting the locations of such businesses.

"Eddie's really done a lot for the community and the Valley, but I really think this is a thorn in his side. He had to have known," says art-gallery owner Joel Hamilton, one of the few Chandler residents willing to speak on the record about Basha.

Basha, who was not involved in the negotiations, says he didn't know. He says Tamuty misrepresented his intentions for the building. Tamuty, who for two years has owned a similar East Valley store called New Sensations, denies this.

Basha says if he or his company had known Tamuty's plans, they would not have sold the building.

@rule:
@body:Terry Goddard, former Phoenix mayor and the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1990, is in the race again. Paul Johnson, the sitting mayor of Phoenix, is expected to get into the race soon.

Basha's political consultant, Bob Grossfeld, sums up a Goddard-Johnson-Basha primary succinctly: "It'll be two ex-mayors of Phoenix against a guy who cares about kids."

Education is Basha's political and personal touchstone. His opponents will paint him as a single-issue candidate, a label Basha alternately eschews and embraces.

The Basha camp was to have issued its detailed plan for education reform by now, but it's been delayed. Basha says he believes most of the money to finance his school programs can be gleaned from other areas in the state budget through "reprioritization" and the narrowing of tax loopholes.

"I've said that after we did all that, if we weren't where we wanted to be, that I would not be intimidated to go before the public and say, 'We need targeted dollars.' I wouldn't shy from that, and I resent that about the present [Symington] administration, because each year is another generation lost."
And how will that message sell in Sun City?
"Probably not as well as it's gonna sell in other places," Basha says. "But the Sun City people have to remember that if we don't have a healthy, prosperous economy, you can throw Social Security down the drain, in my opinion. We need productive citizens, and the only way to get productive citizens is through the classrooms of this nation."
Basha says he will also "tie the crime issue" to his quest for better schools. "In most cases, crime's a manifestation of poverty, of illiteracy, of uneducated or undereducated citizenry," he says.

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