Posse Galore

Staking out Maricopa County's wildest political race -- to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio

The whole Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker episode really screwed things up for charismatic couples who run their own kitschily decorated, vaguely Baptist, nondenominational churches.

On a recent weekday, Tom Bearup stands in the quaint little chapel of his Family Bible Fellowship & Academy, gently talking about how he found God and how God guided him toward a life mission of helping people.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.
courtesy of KTVK-TV
Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.

The church chapel is separated from his home and real-estate business and campaign headquarters by a six-foot-wide breezeway. They are insured differently, he says, and they run on different utility accounts and off of separate bank accounts. So, he says, contrary to what his opponents say, he is not running a political campaign, nor is he holding campaign fund raisers, under the guise of a nonprofit tax-exempt organization.

Bobby Ayala's campaign chairman, Jim Cozzolino, who used to be Bearup's assistant, recently sent to the IRS and the Maricopa County Elections Department documents he says will prove Bearup has violated numerous election laws and pocketed campaign contributions. Bearup says he's "absolutely confident" he'll be vindicated. Both the Elections Department and the IRS were investigating the charges as of press time. Steve Gallardo, campaign finance administrator for the department, says his office should have a report this week.

"He's done," Cozzolino says. "And I can promise you, if the election people let him get away with this stuff, I'm gonna raise hell."

"It's a political witch hunt," Bearup says. "They're just trying to get me out of the race."

Ayala, Cozzolino and Dan Wooten all worked for Bearup's campaign, which has been quietly chugging along since not long after Bearup was run out of Arpaio's administration. The three say they left Bearup because of the way Bearup was handling campaign money, which, over the last year and a half, adds up to about $14,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Bearup says Wooten and Cozzolino were domineering wanna-be powerbrokers who barged into his campaign and tried to take control. Also, Bearup says, Ayala, Wooten and Cozzolino had a habit of getting drunk at fund raisers and then driving home. (The three deny they were ever legally drunk at the fund raisers.) When Bearup stood up to them, he says, Cozzolino and Wooten talked Ayala into leaving Bearup and running himself.

This is the nicest stuff the two camps say about each other.

The sad truth of this campaign, outside observers say, is that even if the cloud around Bearup is all innuendo and happenstance and misinterpretations, it still creates a crippling perception of a man whose only hope of winning is to create a powerful anti-Joe image. In the November general election, not only will Ayala and Bearup split the anti-Arpaio vote (if they're still in the race), they will have so thoroughly disparaged each other that neither will offer voters a credible alternative.

If Bearup's campaign can thoroughly clear itself of wrongdoing, though, and the two camps can somehow agree to a gentleman's race, and if for some bizarre reason Joe Arpaio doesn't jump all over his opponents before November, then, perhaps, the issue will be that Tom Bearup has fairly strong law enforcement and administrative experience.

Bearup was chief executive under Arpaio, and he was mayor for two years of a small Alaska town. He was the Phoenix advance man during the Reagan presidency and was a serious contender for the ambassadorship of South Korea, according to letters he still has that were written on his behalf by congressmen and others.

Bearup graduated from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy in 1971 and is currently certified in Arizona as a peace officer. He served in the army in South Korea during the Vietnam War.

His campaign manager, Phil Pollack, is a soft-spoken, dignified, issues-oriented retired lawman from Los Angeles.

And once Bearup is allowed to talk about the issues of the race, he quickly becomes the most polished of all four candidates.

If elected, he says he would immediately fire David Hendershott and begin a comprehensive audit of the sheriff's office. The bloated executive staff would be trimmed, he says.

He would put advanced communications technology, called mobile data terminals, in every cruiser. He would work to integrate the sheriff's department into all aspects of the county and state criminal justice systems. This would greatly speed comprehensive information about suspects to all law enforcement personnel, he says.

"Arpaio has been a giant barrier to integrating the county criminal justice system," Bearup says. "Joe likes having the power of controlling information. But we could be so much more efficient."

Bearup says he would work to rebuild ties between the sheriff's office and other county agencies such as the county attorney's office. And he would create a work environment in which "employees aren't scared to death to talk."

Bearup's motto is "Tough but Fair," a dig at Arpaio's reputation for violating people's human and civil rights. Like Robertson, he says he hopes to restore "professionalism" to the department.

"It's unfortunate that the focus has gotten turned away from the real issues of the campaign," Bearup says. "The real issue is Joe Arpaio's misuse of this office. The real issue is that Joe has to go."

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