By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Up until June 30, Skip Rimsza was a shoo-in. He had five years in the mayor's seat, a huge campaign war chest and the backing of a bipartisan group of movers, shakers and politicos. Crime was down, the economy was good, and his appealing desert preserve proposal was headed for the same September ballot on which his name would appear for re-election.
But on that summer day, the city council made a move that would change the shape of the mayoral race, voting to invoke an emergency clause to avert an election and subsidize the $112 million Marriott hotel at the downtown Collier Center.
Randy Pullen, who had once sought $5.5 million in incentives for another downtown hotel, announced his candidacy for mayor after that meeting.
Suddenly, there was a race of sorts. Mayor Rimsza, accustomed to trouncing his opponents in council and mayor races, had a viable challenger, albeit late in the game.
Rimsza and supporters dismiss Pullen as a disgruntled bidder who is motivated by sour grapes rather than civic responsibility. He is a one-issue latecomer whose chances of actually being elected mayor are exactly nil, they say.
But this is no oddball candidate. Pullen has been around a long time, has done a lot of work in the community and, backers say, has the qualifications to run the sixth-largest city in the United States.
He is not, he insists, a one-issue candidate. Nor was his entry into the race a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"I've always had an interest in politics," Pullen says. "I've worked on campaigns over the years, and I was looking at the mayor's race. I wanted to do it, but it didn't make sense to me. I didn't think he [Rimsza] could be beat."
When Rimsza and the council voted to fund the Marriott and eliminated the possibility of a referendum on the issue, Pullen thought the public trust had been broken. He thought it was an arrogant act, and decided the time was ripe for someone to challenge the incumbent.
"I knew that people weren't going to like this. I knew they were going to start listening to other people's points of view," Pullen says.
Since throwing his hat into the ring, Pullen has been working hard to get his viewpoints heard. While Rimsza's campaign has consisted largely of mailings and signs, Pullen has been knocking on doors, shaking hands, walking in anti-crime marches, passing out handbills at Diamondbacks games and visiting Block Watch meetings. He's taken a leave of absence from his position on the executive board of the Phoenix Community Alliance (where he and Rimsza supporter Jerry Colangelo are at odds over Pullen's objection to the Marriott and his work on the Rio Salado Crossing project), and he is leaving the business of Pullen & Company to his son, Travis.
The smallest group he addressed? Six people at a Republican district meeting in Maryvale. The largest were the Council of Women Realtors at the Moon Valley Country Club and the Kenilworth forum.
Rimsza has the endorsement of the Arizona Professional Police Officers Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona; Pullen has no such group backers. He is taking a different tack, focusing on neighborhood groups and regular folks. These are the ones who feel what he calls "a disconnect," a sense that the mayor has lost touch with them and their concerns.
The response, he says, has been gratifying. People are at first suspicious of him, another politician making promises. But after he talks with them, many come around.
"My pledge to them is I won't forget them when I'm mayor," he says one night after addressing about 40 members of the Rancho Ventura Neighborhood Association. "I won't come here every month, but I will come."
While Pullen has been out pounding the pavement, the mayor has been keeping a low profile as a candidate. His campaign Web site (www.MayorRimsza.com) contained only old news as late as two weeks before the election. A click on the heading "campaign news and events," for example, brought up a photocopied image of a newspaper article announcing Bob Dole's plan to attend the mayor's February fund-raiser. Only two other items were on that page -- a copy of the front and the inside of the invitation to the Arizona Biltmore event. Like other Phoenicians, Rimsza has been escaping the summer heat -- and forums that would enlighten the voters -- by taking his family to cooler climes.
Rimsza didn't make a candidates show taped by Channel 45, although Pullen, Dardis and even Abril showed up. He did participate in a Channel 8 Horizon segment, which featured Rimsza and Pullen in separate 10-minute question-and-answer sessions. (The station said it couldn't find Dardis; even the city clerk's office gets official election mail returned with no forwarding address.) Rimsza was slated to appear with Pullen at the Women Realtors luncheon, but had to cancel, reportedly to baby-sit. (A staffer told New Times on that day the mayor was in the mountains with his family.) Pullen's backers asked the League of Women Voters to sponsor a mayoral debate, but were told the League could get no response from Rimsza. The mayor says he never heard anything about it.