"We love Linda. She's been there for us," he adds. "We've made no overtures to Skip, which may be unfair."

Rimsza, who did not originally support the gay-rights initiative, voted for it in the end--as part of a Johnson-orchestrated consensus. "Skip is not a terrible, terrible person," McDonald says. ". . . There's a lot worse people than Skip Rimsza."

Skip Rimsza likes to be prepared. He's got this speech he wrote in March, which he carries around "like a security blanket"--just in case he forgets what he wants to say. So far, that hasn't happened.

While Nadolski has rented an old house for her headquarters, and relies mainly on volunteers, Rimsza has a covey of Generation Xers and an office upstairs from his "general consultant," Mike Crusa. (Best known for his bit part in AzScam, Crusa is a longtime Johnson confidant.)

Contrary to his campaign brochure, which boasts that Rimsza personally returns constituent calls and holds neighborhood meetings, access to the candidate is problematic. Campaign manager David Schwartz agrees to a paltry 30-minute interview--with the media consultant present--and it's all but impossible to schedule a photography session.

Schwartz faxes a letter from one constituent brimming with praise for Rimsza, whose office got an unsightly cable-TV control unit removed from outside the gentleman's home. But Vickie Limparis, one of a streetful of homeowners on Bethany Home Road that has spent years trying to get someone to listen to concerns about the Squaw Peak Parkway, says Rimsza "never showed his face on this street. He never talked to us, he didn't return phone calls, he, I guess, decided to ignore the situation, hoping it would go away."

Limparis doesn't have kind words for Nadolski, either.
Rimsza looks like a Skip, and it's not just the khakis, navy blazer and floral tie. He's buoyant, boyish--with a wide grin, a full head of hair and a pink glow.

"I'll catch ya," he says, an eye squeezing into an automatic wink, as he's off to glad-hand the next electoral victim.

Rimsza's in fine form at a recent candidates' forum sponsored by his fellow agents, via the Paradise Valley Realtor Marketing Service. It's his turf. G.G. George and Nadolski mill around awkwardly before the forum, while Rimsza holds court in a corner. "Look what I got," an older man says, showing Rimsza a G.G. George brochure. The men chuckle.

A Rimsza staffer moves through the crowd, handing out campaign stickers. Rimsza expresses remorse over Johnson's loss in the recent gubernatorial race, accepts a compliment about his recent weight loss and refers to his open-heart surgery as a "little deal this summer."

When it's time to speak, Rimsza gets the coveted last word. The three (Greg Campbell didn't show) have lots to say about crime, but there's no discernible difference in message.

The Rimsza stump speech covers three topics: neighborhoods, the economy and families.

Neighborhoods: "You don't outrun this urban cancer. You've got to stay put" in inner-city neighborhoods, and fight for revitalization.

The economy: He's helped boost Phoenix through his leadership as chairman of the city council's Committee on the Economy, including "a little contest called Super Bowl XXX."

Families: "A kid has no business on the streets at 2 a.m." or carrying a gun to school. We must stop the forces that "wreak urban terrorism in this city."

Warm applause.
Twenty minutes later, the candidate's smearing jam on a toasted bagel at the Eggery at Central and Camelback. Griffin Merkel, his media consultant, sits nearby.

Up close, a few gray hairs glint at Rimsza's temples. He tones down the back-slapping-realtor bit for a one-on-one. But he's terse, almost defensive, as he offers canned responses to questions about his background and philosophies.

The Rimsza family relocated to Phoenix from Illinois 39 years ago, when Skip was just a few months old. His father, who ran a grocery store in Chicago, was held up by two "thugs" who were ready to shoot him until some fast thinking prompted the senior Rimsza to dig up some hidden cash.

"There really are, for people, defining moments in history where they step up or cower back, and my dad stepped up," Skip says. His father "got creamed" in business early on in Phoenix, then opened a real estate company, which was ultimately successful.

Rimsza joined the family business. He didn't consider politics until 1989, when a group of friends cajoled him into running for city council against six-year incumbent Bill Parks. Disgusted with politics in the Mecham era, Rimsza ran and won. He won again in '91, and served on the council until last March, when he quit to run for mayor.

He's divorced and remarried, with two children, Jenny, 12, and Brian, 13, from the first marriage.

In late May, he thought he'd hurt his arm while out campaigning. It was much more serious than that. A month later, doctors performed open-heart surgery to bypass clogged arteries. Rimsza says his recovery is complete; he mountain-bikes 11 miles to work every Monday.

Rimsza welcomes comparisons with Paul Johnson, noting that both come from large, Catholic families. Johnson stood up for Rimsza at Rimsza's second wedding.

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