Skipping to Re-election

Three men and some babies, or how Phoenix is choosing its next mayor

Sumitomo, a $400 million silicon wafer plant in north Phoenix, was backed by Rimsza, but was criticized as a hasty, back-room, incentive-laden deal. The city paid more than $10 million for infrastructure improvements, and guided the project through a maze of zoning changes without ever disclosing what would be built on the site. The council invoked the emergency clause in adopting the zoning, preventing area residents from referring the question to the ballot. Sumitomo gathered intelligence on its neighborhood opponents and shared it with the city. Its public relations people scripted "talking points" for Rimsza. Since opening in 1996, Sumitomo has been under fire by residents and environmentalists who claim it is a public health threat and is operating illegally according to zoning laws. (Interestingly, the city's response in a pending lawsuit contends the plant is in compliance with zoning laws, because the zoning ordinance was crafted specifically for Sumitomo.)

Finova, the Phoenix-based company that was an offshoot of the Dial Corporation, had in 1997 sought and obtained a height variance for an office tower at the Camelback Esplanade. After neighbors and others protested loudly about the council's breach of trust and threatened a referendum, Finova backed out and the variance was rescinded. The company is in the process of relocating to Scottsdale.

Many Phoenicians are still smarting over the $40 million parking garage built across from Bank One Ballpark. The council action in 1996 approving that project violated Proposition 200, foes claimed, which prohibits spending public money on sports-related projects without a vote. But Rimsza argued the garage is not for baseball fans: It's to handle parking for the city's science museum and other cultural events. The city ordered a consultant to rewrite reports that concluded the garage was only necessary if it were being built for the baseball stadium.

Randy Pullen gestures while explaining his views at the Kenilworth forum.
Randy Pullen gestures while explaining his views at the Kenilworth forum.
Randy Pullen gestures while explaining his views at the Kenilworth forum.
Paolo Vescia
Randy Pullen gestures while explaining his views at the Kenilworth forum.

Critics of Rimsza would add a few more dubious achievements to the mayor's list: the doomed idea to rename Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after Barry Goldwater, and the party he threw at his home for citizens' committees, letting a zoning attorney pick up the tab. Rimsza later paid the money back.

Another group disgruntled with the mayor is the gay community, according to Bruce Christian of Echo Magazine. Rimsza was one of only three sitting council members to vote against the non-discrimination ordinance in 1992, saying voters should have a say in the issue. With little known about Pullen, Christian says his publication is endorsing nobody in the mayor's race.

DiCiccio, who is considering a run for Congress, says Rimsza lacks leadership and vision. He would like to see a mayor who prioritizes issues and programs, then works on tackling them. He says it's too easy during good times to rest on the status quo, avoiding tough issues and questions of reallocation of resources.

"It's easy to sit back during a good economy. That is exactly the time when you should be planning for the future. . . . This prosperity won't last forever," he says.

Rimsza, who usually brushes off DiCiccio as a grandstander more interested in higher office than city problems, says Phoenix is only in its solid position today because of hard work and careful planning. He openly credits the council members who have taken on certain issues. And he says it was the combination of his management style and their abilities that produced good results. The key, he says, is to get good people to take the lead in important projects, then to support them every step of the way.

Phil Gordon, the District 4 councilman who claims friendship with Rimsza and Johnson and says he knows Pullen fairly well, says overall, Rimsza has been a good mayor who has backed council members' efforts. Gordon, who is credited with helping bring the slumlord problems to the fore, says what some view as a lack of leadership in Rimsza is really just a question of style.

"The mayor's style is to build consensus out at the community level and the subcommittee level of the council, as opposed to on the floor of the council chambers, where you have a two- to three-hour agenda packed full of different issues," he says.

Gordon, who reportedly toyed with the idea of running for mayor this year himself, says such analyses about Rimsza's record, his strengths and foibles, are moot.

"The race is over now," he declared one evening more than two weeks before the election date. "The race for mayor is over."

He says the economy is good, most voters are content, and there is no big scandal to push them into demanding a changing of the guard. Gordon criticizes Pullen's campaign -- and the companion one for Cohn's "Right to Vote" initiative -- as weak, but allowed there is not a campaign strategist around who could devise a winning race against Rimsza.

At the Kenilworth Elementary School forum, Skip Rimsza's kids climbed all over him while he met with individual groups for some up-close dialogue.

Two and sometimes three of the triplets would sit on his lap, drink from sippie cups and eat snacks while dad opined. Rimsza speaks with an animated, authoritative style, but he was often distracted, interrupting discussions to attend to the little ones and look around for help. Adorable the triplets were, in their plaid outfits that matched their dad's. But being 3 years old, they were also antsy in such a setting, whimpering and squirming, even pinching and punching each other while on the mayor's lap. After Rimsza was asked about the likelihood of bringing a major employer to Maryvale, Nicole announced she wanted to "go bye bye." And in the middle of answering a question about the likelihood of Phoenix's airport ever moving, Rimsza called out for his teenage daughter to retrieve "those fish, the little fishie cookies" from the Suburban. He did answer both questions.

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