Four Bore Years

No credible challengers in the mayor's race; might as well Skip it

Phoenix elections are rigged in favor of the incumbent. Candidates campaign in July and August--the time when most of the city's voters are on the San Diego beaches--and turnout is historically abysmal, around 16 percent. The lower the turnout, the better the incumbent's chances.

And while Skip Rimsza may not have done a lot as mayor to further public policy debates, he's made sure his campaign machine is well-greased. At one fund raiser alone last February, Rimsza raised well more than $250,000. He's got the cash, he's got the name recognition, he's got the hair.

He's going to be our mayor for four more years.

To understand why Skip Rimsza needs a turbo-charged challenger, you need to know a little of the history of government in Phoenix.

Like our federal and state governments, Phoenix city government has three branches. But instead of legislative, executive and judicial, Phoenix government is divided thusly:

1. Mayor and council.
2. City manager.
3. Business community.
Once in a while, the mayor runs the city.
But more often than not, it's one of the other two "branches."

Margaret Hance, who served as Phoenix's mayor for almost a decade in the Seventies and Eighties, deferred to business leaders. The "Phoenix Forty," as the city's most powerful bankers and lawyers were known back then, ran the joint.

"Margie was a ribbon-cutter, a smiler," says one longtime political observer.

Then Terry Goddard was elected mayor in 1983. Goddard diffused power in Phoenix by ushering in a new era, where council members were elected by district instead of at-large, and planning was revamped to reflect the "village" concept. Goddard listened to business leaders, but also had his own vision of where the city should go. His successor, Paul Johnson, was much the same.

We'll long remember Goddard for his leadership on the bond election that built a new City Hall, a new library and a new art museum. Johnson championed the teen curfew.

While they took charge in some respects, Goddard and Johnson still ceded much of their power to the city manager, first Marvin Andrews and now Frank Fairbanks.

Rimsza has let the city manager take care of day-to-day operations, while business leaders such as Jerry Colangelo and organizations such as the Downtown Partnership and Phoenix Community Alliance have co-opted the city's vision.

That's why we now have a bizarre, Galleria-like parking garage rising like a roadblock in front of Colangelo's behemoth new baseball stadium--but squalid services for the homeless.

And now, I hear again and again, Fairbanks and his crew are exhausted. No wonder--they've been running the show for years.

Memo to Fairbanks and the support crew at City Hall:
Reinforcements are not imminent.

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address:

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