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By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Seasoned veterans categorized Solomon's choice of Earl as naive, bad judgment or just plain dumb.
The law prescribes that an elected official must serve in office at least six months before citizens may attempt to remove him through a process known as recall. On the day that Leija hit six months in office, Mack Cole took out petitions to recall him. Cole is a retired military man and a former truck driver who speaks with a folksy, semi-Southern twang. He says exactly what's on his mind and generally doesn't trust politicians.
Cole remembers his first experience with Leija well.
They met, he says, during an event organized to paint over graffiti in Cole's neighborhood near 51st Avenue and Thomas Road.
"Leija approached me and asked me if I would vote for him, and I asked him why I should. He gave me the regular politician song and dance. "I told him what I expect from a councilman is to get with the community leaders, get some meetings going, discuss the problems in the neighborhood and draw up some priorities and goals and take them one at a time. He assured me that he would do that.
"I told him, 'I will assure you that if you do that, I'll vote for you. And if you don't do it, I'll recall you.' "I gave him what I thought was adequate time to get settled in."
Cole and Lloyd Love, who headed a Blockwatch covering the area near 31st Avenue, south of West Van Buren Street, led the attempt to recall Leija. Love was a big fan of Ortiz and wanted her back in office.
They approached Ortiz. She agreed to run against Leija.
Wilcox and Leija maintain that it was Ortiz who orchestrated the recall effort, so she could get back into office.
"Pat Ortiz wanted to get back into office, and the only way she could get back into office was to get me out of office," Leija says. "They figured they had to attack me early."
He and Mary Rose Wilcox were angry at Ortiz for not being honest, not just saying that she wanted to run for the seat from the very beginning. To them, it was a slap in the face.
The first recall election for a Phoenix city councilmember was going to be very ugly.
Recalling the Recall
Most political events in Council District 7 are referred to as either "before the recall" or "after the recall."
The election became a nasty campaign of public attacks, intimidation, threats of violence and courtroom drama. Leija was greeted at community meetings by groups of people spread through the audience waiting to ask the button-pushing questions--questions Leija says were designed to disrupt business.
"Why haven't you returned phone calls?"
"How much time do you spend in the office every day?"
On at least one occasion, he tried to throw them out. The hecklers refused to leave until a city attorney rendered an opinion that the meeting did not legally qualify as "public." Cole and others began a routine of demanding budgets and phone logs and other records from Leija's office. Leija challenged the signatures of people who circulated petitions for his opponents, but lost.
During the campaign, Cole claims shots were fired at him while he was in his front yard and his fence was set on fire. He told police that Leija or his supporters were behind the violence, an allegation the councilmember scoffs at.
On a separate occasion, Love also filed a report against Leija for harassment. Leija says they were just talking. Both sides made a variety of other allegations, ranging from the obscene phone calls that Leija says frightened interns on his staff to the death threats that prompted police to trace incoming calls to Ortiz.
Two other candidates entered the election, splitting the anti-incumbent vote. Leija won.
The Leija opposition challenged the election in court because Leija did not win with more than 50 percent of the vote.
That challenge failed. But the fighting did not end. Vicky Chriswell is president of the Westview Manor Blockwatch and not one to shy away from anyone. She's faced off with gang members who paint graffiti on neighborhood walls, entrepreneurs who want to bring more liquor into the community and, repeatedly, her city councilmember.
She worked against him in the election. He worked against her, afterward. This spring, a neighborhood cleanup was planned by the Westview Blockwatch. Chriswell ordered Dumpsters for the event. She says Leija's office called the supplier, canceling the Dumpsters. The reason? Chriswell says it was retaliation, because she had appeared at a public meeting where Ortiz and other Leija opponents held a banner in support of the Phoenix Police Department.
Leija says Chriswell canceled the Dumpsters herself. Chriswell immediately circulated a flier through the neighborhood, announcing that Leija had deep-sixed the cleanup event. This prompted a phone call from Leija. A tape of the April 12 conversation, produced by Leija's office, documents their less-than-politic conversation. Leija: "You better stop spreading these lies."
Chriswell: "Oh, kiss my butt, bud."
Leija: "I'm gonna counter your lies. You won't get away with it this time. I'm going into your community, and I'm gonna expose what you're doing, gal."