By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
But the discord has been costly.
Badly needed federal money has been lost while community leaders fought. Precious local funds have been used on special elections. Private capital has been distanced.
And now old friends no longer even speak.
The Old Gang
Pat Ortiz and her husband, Joe, have lived in or near their home on West Monroe Street, a stone's throw from the heart of West Van Buren, for at least three decades.
In 1979, she joined the Murphy School Board, where she became one of the handful of folks who had a hand in cleaning it up. The schools were tragically in shambles, closed down more than once by the health department, and it was the general feeling of city leaders that the southwest part of the city would give way entirely to industry.
More than a decade ago, a tall fellow named Earl Wilcox came to Ortiz's house to explain why he should be elected state representative. Wilcox left not only with her vote, but with a new office manager for his campaign headquarters. It was the beginning of a long friendship.
Mary Rose Wilcox stood behind her husband's campaigns until 1983, the year that the city council's district system was introduced. She became the first representative of District 7. Back then, she was a strong will behind a shy smile and a quiet voice--but a far cry from the state's most powerful Hispanic woman, which she has become.
When Wilcox ran for city council, Ortiz helped her win. She believed in the Wilcoxes, believed they were good people. They were old friends. They were from the community. A fall left Ortiz confined to a wheelchair some years ago, but that has never slowed her down. Over the years, she's served on the boards of various neighborhood organizations, private agencies and police committees. Mary Rose and Earl Wilcox used to stop by the Ortiz house for coffee and to chat and catch up on the news in the neighborhood. They knew each other's children and watched them grow up to have their own children. In 1988, Pat and Joe Ortiz celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary with a big second wedding. Both Earl and Mary Rose Wilcox were in the wedding party. It is of little surprise, then, that when Mary Rose Wilcox left the council seat she had held for nine years to run for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Pat Ortiz came to mind as a replacement. It was 1992. Wilcox and her then-campaign manager, Solomon Leija, who is also the husband of Wilcox aide Terri Leija, sat in Ortiz's living room. They asked if she would like to serve out the remainder of Wilcox's council term. At the time, such interim appointments went only to people who agreed not to be candidates in the next election. Ortiz assented. "I didn't understand city politics," Ortiz says. "I had no idea I would even be considered. Everyone was making sure I would agree not to run. I didn't think I'd like it."
Leija sat at Ortiz's kitchen table and wrote her r‚sum‚. Wilcox rallied the votes from the council. Ortiz was sworn in July 3, 1992. "We put her in there, and we hoped that she would keep my wife on during that period, that she would support us and that she would help us raise funds for my campaign," Leija says. There was a party in the Ortiz front yard to mark the occasion. Earl and Mary Rose came over with tables and chairs and food. At some point during the evening, the conversation turned to Leija's campaign to become the next elected councilmember from District 7.
Ortiz told him she would not support him in the race. "I made some commitments to city people that I wouldn't support a candidate," Ortiz says. "He was very unhappy with me about that."
That was just the beginning. When Mary Rose won her election to the Board of Supervisors in November 1992, her former staffers, including Terri Leija, followed her into county positions.
Solomon Leija was busy running a hot race for the council seat. Earl Wilcox was busy with a court battle--one that he eventually lost--over invalid signatures on his petitions to be put on the ballot for reelection as the Maryvale justice of the peace.
Ortiz was, effectively, on her own for the first time since taking office four months earlier. "It was a challenge. It was very difficult," Ortiz says. "Terri took over everything when she was there."
Ortiz learned fast. And that, she says, was a turning point. "I began to realize how much you could really do in this office," she says. "And how much wasn't being done.
"It made me very angry. I got very hostile after that. I didn't want to talk to them after that."
Ortiz became popular quickly, partially because of timing. The Phoenix Police Department began a 90-day program of increased enforcement activity, scheduled to dovetail with a federally funded school and community improvement program started by the Murphy School District. Having lived at the center of one of the highest crime areas in the city, Ortiz was more than ready to help clean it up.