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"I am getting more and more impressed by your publicity machine," a diner tells Jason Rose as he sits down at Nixon's. Rose grins and makes the slightest bow of his head, as if acknowledging a hand clap of applause.
Nixon's, a kind of Planet Hollywood for political junkies started by Rose, Phil Miglino and Rob Hess, was in the day's paper--again--when former governor Fife Symington showed up. Symington spent most of the evening in the kitchen, Rose confirms, talking to a classmate from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, where Symington is taking classes while he waits out the appeal on his federal fraud conviction.
"Used to be, you couldn't get the guy away from politics," Rose comments to the diner. "Now he's happier talking about sauces."
The 28-year-old Republican political consultant may be in the restaurant business, but he's more in his element discussing the memorabilia on the walls than the grilled-swordfish club. There is a direct-mail flier from Robert Kennedy's doomed campaign for the presidency, a vintage World War II-era Life cover, a quote from Ayn Rand, a caricature of Nixon crossing the Delaware done by Mike Ritter, the political cartoonist for the Mesa Tribune, and a portrait of Rosa Parks, sitting at the front of a bus that also carries Madonna.
For Nixon's, the cameo by Symington is another shot of free advertising to add to the restaurant's press clippings, which include a mention in the New York Times. For Rose, it's another sign that his latest venture is getting noticed. And getting notice--for his clients and his business, if not for himself--is his life's work.
Rose's career in Phoenix has skyrocketed. A former vice president at the consulting firm Nelson, Robb, DuVal and DeMenna, Rose struck out on his own as a public-relations guru last year, forming Rose and Company. He worked on Tom McGovern's attorney general campaign and gathered up investors for the opening of Nixon's.
Rose tried to save the Cine Capri, campaigned for a transit tax and fought a development on the rim of the Grand Canyon. He's worked to convince the town of Payson to accept a Wal-Mart, represented developers in Scottsdale and backers of an oil refinery in Phoenix. He worked on the campaigns of Scottsdale Councilman Greg Bielli and Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana. There are derogatory epithets Rose's opponents might use, but the term "slacker" isn't one of them.
Slick is. Slick, and maybe a little greasy: Things go just a little too smoothly for Rose, they say. Critics characterize Rose as a lot of show and little content.
He's lost as many as he's won, but it's a testament to Rose's salesmanship that the clients keep coming to his door.
Rose doesn't hesitate to use his political connections to his advantage. Besides campaigning for Campana, he employed her daughter, Cassidy Campana, in his public relations office until recently. Last year, Campana voted with other council members to approve a Scottsdale project Rose was deeply involved in. Bielli, while a member of Scottsdale's redevelopment board in 1997, voted in favor of another Rose client.
He's vacationed in London with state Senator Scott Bundgaard, whom he counts as one of his closest friends. Last year, Bundgaard chaired a legislative committee that unanimously approved a tax break for one of Rose's clients.
Rose, Bundgaard and Sam Campana say there is nothing improper about their friendships. But Bundgaard recently backed out of his investment in Nixon's when the business deal became public. Sam Campana, whose boyfriend and daughter were Nixon's investors, also scrambled to distance herself politically when questions were raised.
Rose is now working behind the scenes for the Phoenix Coyotes and another group of developers in Scottsdale on a plan to convert the sagging Los Arcos mall into a hockey arena and convention center. The arena would become the new home of the NHL team, which is seeking an escape from the confines of the America West Arena and the clutches of Jerry Colangelo.
A group of local residents--called NO PUCKS, Neighbors Organized to Prevent Unauthorized Community Killing--opposes the plan: They say it would destroy their neighborhoods and bring crime and noise to the area. They hope to overturn the City of Scottsdale's efforts to create a stadium district which would subsidize the redevelopment with state tax dollars.
But Rose has been able to keep the contest from playing out as another case of David vs. Goliath. Before the opposition even had much of a chance to organize, it was Rose's idea to put together a pro-arena group called Don't Let Los Arcos Die. The group has shown up in force at city council meetings, wearing yellow stickers reading LOS ARCOS NOW! in contrast to their opponents' orange ribbons.
The two camps have bickered over a vote for the stadium district, with each side gathering signatures to force a public decision on the issue in May.
Meanwhile, the proposed arena is running into snags that even Jason Rose and good PR may not be able to fix. The Town of Carefree, which had earlier agreed to be part of the required two-city pact to form a stadium district, pulled out two weeks ago. Other cities, including Fountain Hills, Paradise Valley and Glendale have refused to sign on.