Statesman or Henchman?

He's already the state's GOP power broker. He'll soon be Arizona's senior senator. Will the volatile John McCain Rule by fear or respect?

McCain and Woods were once like brothers. After McCain won a seat in Congress in 1982, Woods became his first district director.

"We used to be very close friends," says McCain, acknowledging that the alliance has eroded in the past few years. He refuses to say why.

It's unclear how much impact the estrangement from the Enforcer has had on Woods' political future. Indeed, Woods' popularity--GOP operatives say Woods is the most admired Republican in the state--may have something to do with McCain's disdain, with the senator taking exception to being passed in the opinion polls by his former prot‚g‚.

So in an election year in which virtually every other candidate with promise is trying to advance, Woods apparently isn't going anywhere. At one time, Woods coveted the Senate seat that Dennis DeConcini will vacate this year. But lacking the fund-raising punch that comes with a McCain blessing, Woods backed off, leaving a clear path for McCain's anointee, District 4 U.S. Representative Jon Kyl.

Woods also backed off on the governor's race, publicly announcing his support of Symington's reelection campaign. He may jump in if the governor is indicted.

While it may be common for a United States senator to involve himself in his state's gubernatorial race, McCain's focus has narrowed of late. He has become deeply involved in the politics at Phoenix City Hall, where two of the three candidates McCain backed in last fall's "party neutral" Phoenix City Council election now occupy chrome-and-purple offices.

Former McCain staffer Karl Gentles ran Cody Williams' successful campaign. McCain endorsed Williams and signed a fund-raising letter for the candidate.

McCain appeared at a fund raiser for Craig Tribken's unsuccessful challenger, Ron Gawlitta, and lent his name to an endorsement letter. The senator also loaned Gawlitta contributor lists. McCain staffers tried to solicit contributions for Gawlitta from at least one Phoenix heavyweight--former Salt River Project general manager and former state regent Jack Pfister.

But it was Sal DiCiccio, a former district aide to McCain, who benefited most from the senator--including a fund raiser at the McCain manse on North Central Avenue. Ironically, McCain had backed DiCiccio's opponent--incumbent Kathy Dubs, also a Republican--in the previous council election.

Until last fall, DiCiccio's most remarkable political accomplishment had been to serve as a press aide for then-Maricopa County sheriff Dick Godbehere, who, incidentally, was recruited by McCain. Now DiCiccio is a Phoenix city councilmember, thanks to McCain.

"He [McCain] was the only one who helped me in my campaign," DiCiccio says. "I didn't get any help, really, from any of the [other] party stalwarts." It's no accident that while the Democrats flounder, pitting strong candidates against one another in the upcoming U.S. Senate primary, Jon Kyl--a key cog in the emerging McCain political machine--is the lone Republican candidate.

The Democrats can also be counted on to beat themselves up in the gubernatorial primary. McCain doesn't want the Republicans to make the same mistake.

So the Enforcer has little talks with misguided people such as Sandra Dowling.

John McCain is blunt in his assessment of Paul Johnson: "I don't trust him."

That might explain why the city council race between Sal DiCiccio and Kathy Dubs shaped up as a power struggle between McCain and then-Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson--or, perhaps, because Johnson has long been viewed as a prime gubernatorial candidate, as a power struggle between McCain/Symington and Johnson.

Johnson allies supported Dubs, a political novice who was blindsided by the influence exerted on her race by the heavyweights.

"I kind of realized that I was, like, in the major leagues by accident, when I'm really just supposed to be in the minor leagues," she says.

Upon his election, DiCiccio immediately began to question policies of the "world's best-run city"--particularly with regard to costs surrounding the building of the spanking-new City Hall. Johnson-loving city staffers bristled at this, particularly when DiCiccio paraded McCain through the new building on a tour.

"I'm asking a lot of questions around the city cause I just think that it's important to find out why they do the things that they do sometimes," DiCiccio says.

He hadn't even been sworn in, let alone issued city council stationery, when DiCiccio started looking for chinks in the city's--and Johnson's--armor.

On November 19, DiCiccio wrote City Manager Frank Fairbanks, requesting further investigation into the people involved with Forestry for Phoenix, a pet Johnson environmental project that spent tens of thousands of unaccounted-for dollars and planted precious few of the trees it was supposed to. Three of the people involved with Forestry for Phoenix--Chris Warner, Mike Morgan and Claude Mattox--were heavily involved in Dubs' campaign.

DiCiccio received Fairbanks' report on January 31, but was not impressed by it.

"I think staff just basically asked the questions . . . and they didn't do any in-depth investigation in that report. And it got to be a political hot potato because it involved the mayor [Johnson]," he says.

Morgan, who also received a copy of Fairbanks' report, wasn't impressed, either. In a missive dated February 5, he asked Fairbanks for a run-down of the costs associated with answering DiCiccio's request, and questioned DiCiccio's motives.

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