DEARTH WATCH

PHOENIX'S MAYORAL CAMPAIGN OFFERS NEITHER INSPIRING VISION NOR CONCRETE PROPOSALS. WHAT IT OFFERS IS SKIP OR LINDA.

At the turn of the decade, the real estate market plummeted and with it went the city's breakneck development. Leadership at city hall changed.

"The whole world had shifted on a pinhead, and it literally happened almost overnight," recalls Johnson, who was elected to the council in 1985 and became mayor in early 1990. "And I thought it was my job to step in there and try to make certain that we put to bed some of the division between the two groups and start working to rebuild an economy that was in big trouble."

With many developers struggling to remain solvent, and the city's public works program at a standstill, planning concerns were supplanted in neighborhoods by crime concerns. The temperament of neighborhood activism changed.

Richard Fox is president of the Phoenix Block Watch Advisory Board and a Rimsza supporter. (His board cannot endorse candidates.)

"We have a lot of issues in my neighborhood that people don't necessarily agree on, but the one thing we can agree on . . . is crime prevention," Fox says.

He's never understood why neighborhood leaders and developers couldn't get along. "It seems to me that the business people and the neighborhood people need one another," Fox says. "We want to see everyone getting along."

Nadolski and her supporters say that's a dangerous attitude, that adversarial relationships are healthy.

"Skip is a top-down kind of person who develops alliances between players who then format where they want to go, and I really believe that this kind of direction has to come from the people themselves, on the bottom," Nadolski says.

Paul Barnes, a member of the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix (a group Nadolski helped to form in the Eighties; it cannot endorse candidates, either), says Johnson and Rimsza have worked to make city hall less accessible to neighborhood activists.

"There's a feeling that the city, during the last three years, has not been as open as far as neighborhood participation as it had been in the past," Barnes says, pointing to an increase in the use of the city council's committees as the place to resolve issues.

"A lot of issues are resolved in these committees that obviously are pretty poorly attended by the public because they are held without a lot of notice, one, and, two, they're held at times of the day that make it impossible for people who aren't lobbyists to attend," Barnes says.

The process must be opened up again, agrees Holly O'Brien, the coalition's president, who says, "The more argument you have, the more give-and-take you have among people, the better off--even if you lose, you're educated to some degree."

The first campaign-contribution filings of the election cycle aren't due until October 13, so it's hard to measure successes and allegiances. But a calendar at Rimsza headquarters denotes the dates of fund raisers hosted by heavyweights such as Drew Brown, Don Isaacson and Phil Dion--developer, lobbyist and head of Del Webb Corporation, respectively.

And Rimsza's campaign staffers rattle off endorsements: Southwest Gas PAC, Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Moonlight Cove Homeowners Association and the Professional Firefighters of Arizona/AFL-CIO Fire PAC.

Barbara Wyllie, Nadolski's campaign manager, doesn't return a call seeking information about endorsements. One known endorsement is from the Arizona Human Rights Fund, an organization founded by people who fought for the city's gay-rights ordinance in 1991 and '92.

You wouldn't expect to find a straight mother of five hanging out in a gay bar, but that's just where Nadolski was on a recent Monday afternoon.

She sat in a booth at Wink's, a dim gay bar on Seventh Street just north of Camelback, sipping something nonalcoholic and chatting with the owner, Albert Weiss. Nowadays, Weiss says, it's "in" for straight candidates to campaign in the gay community.

Particularly for candidates like Nadolski, who have championed human rights. After she lost her reelection bid in '91, but before she'd left the council, Nadolski pushed for a citywide gay-rights ordinance. Victory didn't come for a year--but it won her the admiration of a large segment of the gay/lesbian community in Phoenix.

Almost every weekend--and some weeknights--Nadolski and her supporters make the rounds at the city's gay bars, encouraging patrons to vote for her and sign up for absentee ballots. "Bar hop" is listed on a big sign of volunteer activities posted at Nadolski headquarters, along with vacuuming and posting yard signs.

"There's no doubt about it. They [the gay/lesbian community] are a constituency that gathers in a public place, which makes it easier to campaign," Nadolski says.

The Arizona Human Rights Fund endorsement comes with a $250 contribution. Far more valuable is the grassroots support that comes along, too. AHRF chairman Bill McDonald estimates that as many as 15,000 gay/lesbian voters could turn out to vote for Nadolski--a formidable sum in an election that might see only 30,000 or 40,000 voters participate.

McDonald estimates a candidate may be able to reach as many as 5,000 gay voters in a weekend by making the rounds at Phoenix gay bars.

AHRF also endorses local and statewide candidates, and has raised about $15,000 for the 1994 election cycle, but "Linda's mayoral campaign is the focus. It has the highest priority," McDonald says.

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