Furious George

Is Scottsdale ready for four more years of political scrutiny from George Zraket? It all depends on who you ask.

At the same time he was busy fighting the rezoning case, he got into another public fight, this one with Mayor Sam Campana.

Zraket remembers the day clearly. A resident called him, saying the council was set to approve an ordinance that would limit who could circulate a petition in Scottsdale to place a referendum on a ballot.

"If they weren't breaking rules, they were making laws restricting the rights of citizens," he says.

Rick Kidder, a Scottsdale Area Chamber official, sees a need for change in city government.
Kevin Scanlon
Rick Kidder, a Scottsdale Area Chamber official, sees a need for change in city government.
George Zraket shows off one of the many items on display at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
Scott Weisman
George Zraket shows off one of the many items on display at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

By now a familiar face, Zraket showed up at the council meeting to speak against the measure during the public comment period. Campana, he says, refused to allow him to continue past the three-minute cutoff for comment.

She asked him to leave the podium. Zraket objected. And Campana ordered police officers to remove him.

Zraket says no one ever touched him. He sat back down, the ordinance was approved without public comment and he went home.

Sam Campana says it was the only time in her four years as mayor that she ever asked officers to intervene. She says she gave Zraket numerous opportunities to limit his remarks.

"If you don't do something about it, you end up looking foolish," she says. "There was really no other option. He'd still be talking if I had let him go on."

Richard Campana says that specific incident set Zraket off.

"I think something snapped at that point. From then on, he was hell on wheels," Richard Campana says. "His hatred of Sam Campana for publicly humiliating him . . . has poisoned everything from then on. He was on a vendetta against her and the city generally."

Zraket laughs when told of Richard Campana's observation. He says he wasn't embarrassed by Sam Campana's action and that he never thought about public office until September 1997, while attending a land planning conference in Cave Creek.

There, Zraket spoke to the group about his victory against the city in court. He says he told the group there were three ways to deal with city officials: sue them, get a referendum put on the ballot or run for office and beat them at their own game.

"I wasn't campaigning," he says, but a resident in the audience told him he should run for council. That resident was a member of the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak, a group formed to monitor government decisions that might affect their affluent neighborhood's quality of life.

Zraket has long been accused of being the mouthpiece for COPP, as the north Scottsdale group is known.

"They don't give a shit about south Scottsdale, downtown Scottsdale," Richard Campana says. "All they care about is open space, mountain preserve and their little place. They're organized, they're smart and they've got money."

COPP, he says, found its champion in Zraket and now "has literally taken charge of the city."

Zraket acknowledges that a good chunk of the $17,000 he raised for his first campaign came from Pinnacle Peak residents. But he denies being at the group's disposal.

"They didn't own me or buy me. They embraced me," he says. "We had very common bonds about our lifestyle, our quality of life, and we weren't going to allow government to take it away."

Zraket points out, and city documents support it, that he has voted against issues backed by the Pinnacle Peak coalition.

"I will listen to everybody. I will take all the input I can get. But ultimately, I'm going to make the decision."

On May 19, 1998, Zraket dominated a runoff election, gaining 9,812 votes -- 53 percent of the vote -- to win one of two open council seats.

A new chapter in city politics was about to be written.

Anyone who says he has been surprised by Zraket's stance on council issues never bothered to read Zraket's campaign literature in 1998.

He openly said he opposed growth, favored less traffic and fewer development deals and supported the city buying more open space to be preserved.

Those on the council who had dealt with him during his neighborhood rezoning fight knew what to expect. Yet everyone, he says, seemed surprised once he claimed his seat.

Not that the council made it easy.

"They didn't want me there," he says. "Anybody else probably wouldn't have made the first six months."

Though he often found himself a lone voice, Zraket championed following the rules. He read the fine print of city law and spoke out whenever he felt the council was deviating.

One of the first fights, and one that continues today, four years later, involved executive sessions. State law says public bodies can meet behind closed doors to discuss issues pertaining to legal advice or personnel matters. The law has been tweaked over the years, but it essentially limits what can be said and specifically states that no action can be taken in private, such as a vote.

Zraket made it a habit to point out the law. He often got up in the middle of executive sessions and walked out. Sometimes he refused to show altogether.

His actions have been criticized, both by fellow council members and the public. Most recently, in December 2001, Zraket and Councilman David Ortega exchanged electronic messages about Zraket's stance. Ortega had admonished Zraket for leaving council meetings early after Zraket, in an e-mail to the entire council, criticized an item that had been discussed behind closed doors.

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