Donkey Gong

Some state Democrats will stop at nothing to dethrone their chairman

In Washington, D.C., the Democrats are bleating about the politics of personal destruction. But here in Arizona, some Democrats are doing a pretty good imitation of Ken Starr.

Last week, a three-inch stack of paperwork hit my desk, the result of a local Democrat's opposition research into one of his own, state party chairman Mark Fleisher, who is one of about a dozen state party officers who are up for reelection at the party's convention, scheduled for 10 a.m. this Saturday at the Plumbers Local 469 hall in Phoenix.

There are some powerful Democrats who want a new state chair.
I admit that I got the creeps while flipping through the documents provided to me. There are Superior Court records, bankruptcy court filings, a federal fraud investigation that shut down a company Fleisher worked for a few years back.

Mark Fleisher does not have a sterling business record. That much is made clear by those papers.

But does that make him unfit to serve as chairman of the Arizona Democratic party?

Where's the three-inch stack of Arizona Democratic party business records, painstakingly detailing Fleisher's track record as chairman? There is no dossier on party business, just a flurry of letters that make unsubstantiated claims about Fleisher's poor performance on behalf of the party.

There's no evidence--or even an accusation--that Fleisher misused party funds, although he has had some outrageous cell-phone bills. Fleisher has raised eyebrows by suggesting to a meeting of state Democratic chairs from around the nation that people in his position should get paid. But he was up-front about it; it's hard to label that move anything more than tacky.

Should Fleisher be reelected? I don't know.
What I do know is that the opposition research I saw is the result of last-minute digging by Democrats who want to oust Fleisher. I also know that their disdain is as much about his 1987 bankruptcy as the Republicans' antipathy for Bill Clinton is about Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.

When you're out to get someone, you cast a wide net, pull in what you can. Bankruptcy, blowjob--what's the difference?

In typical Arizona Dem Keystone Kop fashion, Fleisher's antagonists haven't bothered to anoint a replacement for him. Apparently, anyone else will do.

No one knew much about Mark Fleisher when he was elected to chair the Arizona Democratic party in January 1996. He was simply a longtime activist, a real estate salesman and businessman who moved to the Valley in the late 1980s from New Mexico.

Democratic party loyalists were shocked when, shortly after Fleisher's election, a local daily reported that he had been a registered Republican during parts of 1992 and 1993. No one learned much more about him, it seemed, until quite recently.

Fleisher's resume lists a smattering of interests: owner of a commercial real estate firm; owner of a "Las Vegas Tour Company" that "recruited high-end players for Caesars Palace, Bally's and the Riviera Hotel and Casino"; infomercial producer/director; "personal representative" for Indy race car driver Johnny Unser; and, presently, real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.

The public record lists Fleisher's business problems, including eight lawsuits filed by banks in New Mexico in the mid-Eighties, for money owed by Fleisher. Fleisher filed for bankruptcy in Albuquerque in 1987, listing his business income for that year of about $33,000 and gambling income of approximately $12,000. His debts totaled more than $880,000. The bankruptcy was discharged in 1989.

Apparently, business didn't get much better for Fleisher when he moved to Arizona. From 1988 to 1994, he worked as director of marketing for Twin Star Productions, which sold various self-help products, including a weight-loss aid called the "EuroTrym Diet Patch," a hair-growth aid called "Foliplexx" and an impotence treatment called "Y-Bron."

In 1990, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Twin Star, alleging the marketing of the products was "false, misleading or deceptive." That year, the company paid $1 million in damages and agreed to stop its deceptive practices. Fleisher was not an officer of the company, and thus was not named in the complaint.

Twin Star filed for bankruptcy in 1991, with $9.7 million in debt. The company's president and Fleisher were sued separately for nonpayment of debt, as well, but successfully defended themselves with the bankruptcy.

At the same time, Fleisher operated another company, Starlite Productions. Starlite was successfully sued for nonpayment of debts. The company ultimately went bankrupt, with liabilities of more than $300,000.

Fleisher refuses to discuss any of it. "It's not relevant to what this is at all," he says, and that's all he'll say.

Does Mark Fleisher's dubious business record have anything to do with the pitiful condition of Arizona's Democratic party? That's a difficult question.

At best, Fleisher's been a mediocre chairman. The party was doing poorly when he took over; it's still doing poorly. Although his personal expenses are high--an estimated $16,000 over the past two years--no one has accused him of misappropriating party funds.

There are complaints that the Arizona Democratic party only doled out $12,300 to candidates in the 1998 election cycle, although it raised $449,000. Fleisher says the $12,300 figure is misleading because it doesn't include mailings paid for by the party, or money raised by state House and Senate leaders and labor groups for candidates at Fleisher's behest.

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