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The race to lead the nation's eighth-largest city has been so quiet that Skip Rimsza was able to undergo and recover from triple-bypass surgery this summer without missing a beat on the campaign trail.
Rimsza, who represented north-central Phoenix on the city council until March, when he resigned to run for mayor, squares off against former east Phoenix councilmember Linda Nadolski in the October 25 special election.
With voter turnout expected to be as low as 6 percent, anyone could win--including one of the two lesser-known contenders, neighborhood activist G.G. George and Eagle Scout Greg Campbell.
But Rimsza's and Nadolski's council experience puts them at the head of the pack, and some wags say the front-runners' contrasting leadership styles and allegiances have turned the race into a de facto contest between two former Phoenix mayors: realtor Rimsza, in the tradition of Paul Johnson, or neighborhood activist Nadolski as the new Terry Goddard. However, unlike their mentors, neither Rimsza nor Nadolski has mastered the art of inspiring the masses.
As the status quo candidate, Rimsza sees the lack of interest in the current race as a healthy sign.
"I buy the premise when the city's doing a good job, and things are going pretty well and, frankly, there's water coming out of your spigot, a policeman comes to your door in four minutes, you might be a little less concerned about it [city politics]," he says.
Compared with Maricopa County and the State of Arizona, the city does seem bereft of many headline-inducing crises; however, voter interest in city hall has probably been sapped by this season's boisterous gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests.
The winner in October's mayoral race will serve for only a year, but both Rimsza and Nadolski see incumbency as a leg up in next fall's city election, and the leadership mantle for the remainder of this century. Incumbency usually does provide a significant edge, but this time, conventional wisdom may prove false, given the plethora of out-of-work pols who are likely to be loitering. That list might include Chuck Blanchard, Dick Mahoney, Sam Coppersmith, even Fife Symington.
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams--appointed last spring after Paul Johnson resigned to run for governor, she will serve until the special election--and councilmembers John Nelson and Craig Tribken are reportedly considering running for mayor next year. Tribken seriously considered a bid this year, but decided to wait after a heated reelection battle in 1993. "I think we've got a little too much ambition around here," he says.
Rumors also are swirling about Maricopa County Supervisor Betsey Bayless, former state legislator and U.S. Senate candidate Cathy Eden, real estate developer Drew Brown and development attorney Grady Gammage Jr.
But all that is simply tantalizing speculation. This time around, it's Skip or Linda.
Anton "Skip" Rimsza cast his lot with Paul Johnson in 1990 when, in his first weeks on the city council, he provided the vote that put then-councilmember Johnson in the mayor's seat. (Phoenix needed a council-appointed mayor because Goddard had resigned midterm to run for governor.)
On the council together, Rimsza and Johnson agreed on the curfew and juvenile gun ordinances and that government by consensus is best.
Rimsza is a member of the National Rifle Association, but he doesn't always adhere to the group's platform. Similarly, as a Republican, he hasn't always gone the way of the GOP--which makes him palatable to Democrats like Johnson.
Nadolski, who's often referred to as the godmother of neighborhood activism, was elected to the council in 1987, during the Goddard era at city hall, but was defeated by Johnson prot‚g‚e Kathy Dubs in 1991. Although he says he's been distanced from the current mayoral race, Goddard recognizes the similarities between himself and Nadolski.
Goddard says, "She's an activist, she wants to see the city as a tool to improve life for families here, quality of neighborhoods, sort of the long-term vision." While he hasn't been asked to endorse Nadolski, "I'm supportive and I'll do whatever is most helpful to her."
Like Goddard, Nadolski had a reputation at city hall for being difficult to work with. One of her former council colleagues calls her a "strategic eunuch" whose all-or-nothing idealism often hurt her own causes.
Unlike Goddard--who nurtured the neighborhood-planning process, created the city's arts and historic preservation commissions and can take some credit for the vision that is just now resulting in improvements, such as a new library and museums--Nadolski doesn't have clearly articulated goals.
Her crystal ball is fuzzy, her campaign literature stuffed with sweeping, Miss America statements like, "I will work to help us learn to live together and to eliminate hate and discrimination" and "I will work to cut government red tape."
Fuzzy or not, it may not be the time for a visionary. Goddard says his leadership style was anomalous, that Phoenicians have traditionally chosen "a mayor that essentially keeps the lid on for the business community. They [Phoenix mayors] don't rock the boat, they don't cause a tremendous amount of waves and they don't really do much, if anything."
Goddard capitalized on good economic times and bad blood between hungry developers and neighborhood preservationists. "Calling for opening the doors, getting people more involved, doing some long-range planning, was really well-received back in 1983," he recalls.