By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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He tells New Times and others there have been signs in his life that have led him to this point. He and Bill Clinton have the same birthday. Also, both their mothers were named Virginia. And there's more: Dardis' parents got together when they were 18, then broke up. Years later, his dad noticed an obituary in the paper for Virginia's mother, realized she was still single and called her. They reunited and one result was Patrick Dardis.
"I'm here for a reason," he summarizes. Dardis says he realized he was meant to be in Phoenix when he was passing through on a trip from New Jersey and bumped into someone he knew.
Dardis' main campaign issues are cleaning up "the cesspool" that Phoenix has become and stemming the tide of illegal aliens. He often declares, "I'm not a racist." But he says the influx of Mexicans is threatening the culture and neighborhoods of Phoenix, and the city is wasting money on special programs for Irish-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Polynesian-Americans.
Both Dardis and Pullen pledge to rescind the Marriott financing deal (an $11 million investment and an $83 million loan guarantee) if elected. Rimsza stands behind his vote, saying it was a critical package that culminated 25 years of work to get some major hotels downtown to compete with the huge conventions other cities are hosting. Pullen says the construction plans put the cart before the horse: Shouldn't the city see whether voters want to expand the Phoenix Civic Plaza to accommodate larger conventions before helping build hotels to house attendees?
Rimsza says regardless, the number of downtown hotel rooms -- about 1,100 -- is woefully inadequate. Pullen responds that given current low occupancy rates at those facilities, where is the need for more rooms?
Supporters of Rimsza say Pullen's criticism is tainted by the fact that he and other partners submitted their own bid for a downtown hotel. Pullen explains that deal this way: He proposed the construction of a small, 140-room hotel, the Jacksonian, at Second Street and Jackson. City officials told him there was a need for a larger facility, asked him to submit a plan for something bigger, and offered financial incentives. What evolved was a proposal for a larger, more expensive hotel, a 262-room facility to be affiliated with a known name in the industry. Closer to Bank One Ballpark, it would have covered an entire block south of Jackson between Third and Fourth streets. Pullen and his partners garnered the support of the neighborhood, then submitted their plan, asking for a $5.5 million loan from the city. The city declined and instead decided to help finance a 350-room Embassy Suites at the Arizona Center, investing $7 million and guaranteeing a $35 million loan with bonds.
Pullen says if he was in the race merely as a disgruntled bidder, he would have announced his candidacy then, in March. But he says it took the Marriott deal and the city's shabby treatment of Crowne Plaza Hotel manager Steve Cohn and the voting public to spur him into action.
Phil Gordon, a councilman who in recent years has been either a critic of the mayor or good buddy, is wearing the good buddy hat these days. Gordon defends the Marriott vote as correct. The incentives and the emergency clause were needed to seal the deal, he says, and he believes a public vote was not really called for because the plan would involve no tax increase. (The $11 million investment and the $83 million in bonds do, however, involve public funds. If the hotel does not fly, the city -- and taxpayers -- will be left holding the bill.)
Still, while the debate was raging, Gordon was on the fence. It was only Cohn's recall threats that pushed him squarely into the pro-Marriott camp. Cohn, who is a part owner of the Crowne Plaza, is backing Pullen and is behind the "Got Milked?" billboards, and is pushing an initiative campaign to require that the council give voters a say in such projects in the future.
A July poll conducted for Cohn (who has hired Chuck Coughlin) revealed a strong majority of Phoenicians -- 81 percent -- would support such an initiative. And 56 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for Rimsza if they knew he led the effort to use emergency powers to bypass the public's right to vote on the Marriott deal. Pullen's camp hasn't commissioned any polls.
It's no surprise that Sal DiCiccio, the District 6 councilman who cast the lone "nay" vote in the Marriott dispute, is supporting Pullen for mayor. A noisy critic of Rimsza's, he bristles at campaign literature and rhetoric in which he says the mayor lays claim to every good thing that has happened under his watch.
"It's easy to take credit for what other people have done," DiCiccio says. He points to the slumlord laws, the after-school programs, the new domestic-violence center as specific programs sparked by individual council members, never mentioned as priorities in the mayor's "State of the City" addresses. DiCiccio says other accomplishments, like the addition of the new police officers, were supported by the whole council. What specific actions resulted from Rimsza's own ideas? DiCiccio asks, then answers. "I'll tell you: Sumitomo, Finova and Marriott."