WHO KILLED KING?

THE VALLEY'S HOTTEST POLITICAL STRATEGISTS TEAMED UP TO PUSH MLK DAY. NO WONDER IT FAILED.

Then he adds something that's a little peculiar, coming from the man whose business is knowing how to flush out voters and who accepted the final responsibility for 302's success. Referring to Zaler's charge that more should have been done to encourage the voting of minorities, Robb's voice takes on a condescending tone. "I find it somewhat amusing that the suggestion is that I was the one who could have caused those voting constituencies to vote in higher numbers," Robb says. "I don't know what I could have done to make this an important issue in those communities."

Which raises, then, a troubling question: Were the minorities--the most natural constituency for a Martin Luther King holiday--shortchanged because of an outreach campaign overseen by a conservative firm that doesn't understand them?

With more effort, could those 8,500 votes come out of South Phoenix?
Who was the MLK Day campaign aimed at, anyway? FOR ALL BOB ROBB'S conservatism, his admiration of King is real. It began two years ago, on the twentieth anniversary of King's death, when Robb saw on television a videotape of King delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech for the first time. "I was simultaneously mesmerized and transported by it," he says. Long a student of public policy, Robb embarked on a plan to read King's writings and biography, and emerged at the end believing that "King was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived."

Although he volunteers readily that he has never advocated civil rights legislation, his commitment to equality in principle seems clear enough even to some liberals. Bill Jamieson, who drafted Robb into the MLK Day campaign and is a public affairs consultant with the liberal firm of Jamieson and Gutierrez, says that it may be the only political issue on which the two men agree: "Robb and I would probably come out close on a litmus test for racial justice."

What is probably true is that the conservatives who worked for the passage of an MLK Day had not openly objected to discrimination for the greater part of their lives, to the point that the issue had begun to ache in their bones. Some of them speak of civil rights with the same broad, blank, cheerful enthusiasm they would bring to the discussion of a team sport.

In fact, MLK-BAC co-chair Terry Hudgins thinks that civil rights and sports may be the same thing. "The football field is the equalizer of all races," he says heartily, when asked to share his civil rights philosophy. "On the football field, it comes down to raw talent and what we desire to achieve. The equalizer is the contest."

He is a slow-moving, slow-speaking man who attended Northern Arizona University on a football scholarship. He is 43, but was not an activist during the age of campus activism. Transplanted to Arizona from conservative Orange County, California, he studied faithfully and went to ball practice. Now he works for Arizona Public Service Company with an eight-by-ten of President George Bush propped up in his office, near the larger portraits of his wife and young daughter. His associates credit him with an unsuspecting niceness that sometimes plays like naivete. He is born-again. He became involved with the MLK holiday when drafted into it by CEO Mark DeMichele.

"Everyone should start on that level playing field, whether it is women or men or Hispanics," he elaborates about civil rights. "In terms of our constitution, it says that all men are created equal, and we should go from there.

"Not everybody can be the quarterback or wide receiver. But there are particular talents that are possessed by certain of our minorities, by certain Anglos, that when used in relationship to the team, you can move the ball down the field and achieve success.

"As we create the opportunity for minorities to succeed and play a role on the team, then think of the medical cures that could be discovered if we have the talents of a black or Hispanic! What if they discover the cure for AIDS?"

When the MLK-BAC formed early this year to push the holiday, its members brought sentiments such as these into the arena that was already dominated by Unity and Arnie Zaler. Such sentiments had very little in common with Zaler, whom the MLK-BAC soon asked to be a member of its strategy committee.

Zaler, 41, became a ringleader of grassroots efforts for the MLK holiday more than two years ago, when he was a delegate of the Black-Jewish Coalition of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. It was hardly, however, his first brush with civil rights activism. At ages fifteen and sixteen, he actually traveled from his hometown of Denver, Colorado, to Georgia and Alabama to march with King.

In college in Boulder, he was a campus organizer who demonstrated on behalf of civil rights and other causes at colleges from Kent State to Berkeley. Not just any organizer, either--the sort of high-profile leader who became well known to the local police. He claims that officers twice responded to his tendency to shout "pigs" at the top of his lungs by taking him aside and beating the hell out of him.

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