By Amy Silverman
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By Weston Phippen
Early Saturday evening, and three New Times staffers are having a meeting. Tony Ortega, Chris Farnsworth and myself sit in Ortega's living room and try to figure out a way to gain admission to a fund-raising party for Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Why do we have to hatch schemes? Why don't we just show up as members of the press? Because there's no way in hell they'd let us in. With most politicians, we'd have no problem. If we worked for any other publication, we'd be made as welcome as the CNN crew attending tonight. But the politician is Arpaio, and our paper is New Times. And we're about as welcome at his party as N.W.A at a KKK rally.
Why do we want to attend? Because we want to know what he's raising money for. Or rather, we want to know what he claims it's for. Arpaio's itching to run for governor. He can't get through an interview these days without mentioning what a wonderful governor he'd be, even while denying that he has gubernatorial aspirations. But he'd have to deny it. Because, first and foremost, above all else, Joe Arpaio is a liar.
Ortega has tried calling to obtain press passes. His calls were never returned. Tonight Ortega calls the private residence where the party is to be held and requests that two tickets be reserved in the name of Farnsworth. We decide to show up at the house separately. Ortega will appear as himself, since the sheriff and his flunkies know what he looks like. Farnsworth will appear to be an Arpaio supporter, there to give his money to the sheriff. And I will appear a little while later, pretending to be a naive Scottish tourist. If one of us gets eighty-sixed, the others might get to stay.
In jeans and a shirt, Ortega looks ready to mow his lawn, though his look is upgraded slightly when he throws on a coat. Farnsworth, clean-cut, fresh-faced and bejacketed, a hip John Boy Walton, looks ready to attend a Young Republican dance. And I look like I'm heading out to a leather bar, all in black, hair spiked, cuff and ring in my right ear.
I'm going along because I'm patriotic about Phoenix; I live here, I love living here, and I don't want law enforcement here to be in the hands of a thug whom Amnesty International views as a human-rights violator. I particularly don't want to let his political panhandling go unreported.
The party is in a house on East McDonald in Scottsdale. I get lost a few times, then finally find the place. It's barely visible from the street, and there's no obvious number. But there's a sign posted on the sidewalk, inscribed "Sheriff Arpaio's Extravaganza Parking," and an arrow pointing the way.
Tony Ortega has been and gone. He arrived at the same time as the CNN people. He knows one of the CNN guys, so he walked in with them.
When he saw David Hendershott, the sheriff's 300-pound enforcer, Ortega grinned and waved at him. "Hey, director!"
Then he saw Arpaio and went straight for him. "Hey, sheriff."
Arpaio looked grim. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Ortega answered with a question of his own. "Sheriff, why are you raising funds with your election three years away?"
"I'm not answering any questions tonight. No interviews. Were you invited? How did you get in here?"
Arpaio and Hendershott conferred. Then an organizer told Ortega to leave or the police would be called. Ortega pointed to the CNN crew and said that other press were there. One of the organizers, Bob Sigholtz, said, "They were invited."
Before leaving, Ortega asked Arpaio, "How can you keep telling people you'll talk to any reporter when you won't talk to me?"
Sigholtz pressed up against Ortega, thrust his face in his and angrily told him to get off the property.
Arpaio started to walk away. "That's it, just keep running away. Why won't you talk, sheriff?" Ortega asked him.
"Because I don't talk to trash!" Arpaio said.
As Chris Farnsworth arrived, he saw Ortega leaving. Farnsworth got in without incident.
I follow the sign, and head into the driveway. I've seen hotels that were smaller than this house. There's a guy standing there who looks like a pallbearer at a Mafioso funeral. He tells me to park in a street around the back, and a shuttlebus will come and get me. I do, and it does. It drops me in front of the house.
The looks people give me as I walk in the door are classic. I tell the woman sitting at a desk that I have a ticket reserved in the name of Farnsworth. "Now, why does that name sound familiar?" she says, beaming, and I wonder if she's on to me.
"Uh . . . maybe because he's here already. I'm not Chris Farnsworth. He's a friend of mine. He reserved two tickets, one for him and one for me."
"Oh. I see. That'll be a hundred dollars."
It pains me, but I pay $100 for my ticket. She tells me to write my name on a sticker and wear it on my chest. "Now just go ahead and have a good time," she says.