The Operator and the Undertaker

The council race in District 4 pits a perky outsider against the ultimate city hall insider

"I call this Poseyland," city council candidate Phil Gordon says, pointing to two pink pushpins on a wall map.

The pins impale neighborhoods in north central Phoenix, wealthy enclaves where Gordon's opponent Posey Moore Nash polled well in a September 9 general election.

Other pins radiate out from Poseyland and pierce neighborhoods in the city's District 4 where Gordon wants to shore up his support, places that he's targeted for even more mailings than the tens of thousands of pieces he's already put out.

The rest of the map, moving outward to the district's borders where neighborhoods tend to be more working-class and less affluent, is pinless. Gordon knows his support there is strong.

To some, it's surprising that Gordon is facing much of a challenge in the district at all. Although it's his first city council election, Mayor Skip Rimsza's former chief of staff is well-known, he's backed by powerful local interests from nearly the entire political spectrum, and he's raised three times as much money as Nash.

But facing five opponents in the September 9 election for the seat being vacated by Craig Tribken, Gordon fell just short of the required majority of votes to win the seat outright. He got 49.3 percent of the vote; he needed more than 50 percent.

So he and second-place vote-getter Nash (22.4 percent in the general) will face off next week in a run-off election.

Nash has used the opportunity to advertise herself as an equal contender with Gordon rather than just one of several long shots for the seat.

And, as the election draws nearer, that may be helping her chances.
More often than not, campaign observers describe both Gordon and Nash as excellent candidates for the post. Both claim to have the interests of central Phoenix neighborhoods at heart, both are described by supporters and adversaries alike as intelligent, dedicated, genuine. Both grew up in the district, which is bounded roughly by Peoria Avenue, McDowell Road, Seventh Street and I-17.

Voters can't go wrong, says the conventional wisdom. Arizona Republic political columnist Keven Willey wrote recently that she's so impressed with both candidates, she'd split the district down the middle and put both in office if she could.

Nash likes to hear that. But she knows being one of two well-qualified choices isn't good enough if she's to turn all of District 4 into Poseyland and upset Gordon. That's why she's trying in the final weeks of the campaign to differentiate herself from her opponent.

That's not a difficult task.

When Posey Moore Nash describes her hopes for the city of Phoenix, she has a tendency to depart the political arena for the realm of propriety.

She wishes people would behave themselves.
Take Mayor Rimsza, for example, and his reaction when Nash told him that she planned to run for city council in District 4.

"Are you crazy?" Nash says Rimsza answered.
She knew that she faced stiff competition from Rimsza's former chief of staff, but she didn't expect the mayor to exhibit such poor manners.

"He's a petulant child," she says of Rimsza.
She's heard the stories about the Phoenix city council's infantile antics and dysfunctional relationships, which might explain how the council has stumbled its way into a string of embarrassing debacles. From the secretive rezoning which benefited Sumitomo Sitix to the disaster over raising the Esplanade's roof to building parking palaces for Jerry Colangelo, the city's government has developed a serious credibility problem.

The city simply hasn't comported itself well. And Nash thinks she's the right person to help it improve its conduct.

She's just perky enough to make it seem possible.
The 45-year-old Phoenix native sits in her campaign headquarters while a watchful John Simich, a dedicated Nash volunteer, stands at the ready to help. Simich fidgets, seemingly worried that Nash will make a serious misstep, but she mostly ignores him.

If she's being careful about her responses, it doesn't show.
Nash has light blue eyes and short red hair--a mark of other successful Arizona Republican women, she quips, referring in particular to newly sworn-in Governor Jane Hull, who days later would give Nash her endorsement. (Gordon, on the other hand, is a Democrat, but the city council election is supposed to be nonpartisan. The GOP couldn't keep from making it partisan, however, sending out recent mailings in favor of Nash.)

The majority of her support, Nash says, comes from friends and neighbors, particularly those who have been served through the years by her family's undertaking business.

Nash's grandfather moved to Arizona in 1904 and opened A.L. Moore and Sons Mortuary in 1906. It stood until last year, when it was demolished to make room for a new city court building.

By then, the family had little to do with the historic structure, leasing the building to another company that took care of its day-to-day operations. But Nash continues to be a consultant in the mortuary industry, a job she says she'll quit to devote her full time to city hall should she win Tuesday. (Her husband is John Nash, a demolition contractor who, she says, has no business with the city. They have been married for 10 years.)

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