Furious George

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

"You can't hold George accountable for that," Bowers says. "It took a lot of people to make that not happen."

But Zraket has drawn the bulk of criticism.

Jim Wellington, chairman of the stadium district board, believes Zraket and O'Hearn, specifically, helped the arena fail because both said they would not support an arena at Scottsdale and McDowell roads.

"Both of them have flown in the face of what the city wanted," Wellington says. "I think [George] has intimidated the council and staff and therefore has become an informal leader. That's how he influenced the outcome of the Phoenix Coyote arena."

Richard Campana is even less diplomatic.

"These people have tarnished the image. Most businesses don't want to relocate to Scottsdale. You can't name me one thing they've done in the past two years that's positive," he says. "They've lost Los Arcos. Lost the sales-tax war. Everything they've done is negative. They've said no to everything."

Councilman Robert Pettycrew doesn't think Zraket is to blame, but he says that Zraket's refusal to compromise on the arena deal didn't help matters.

"I think a unanimous council moving forward on a project like this is critical for its success," Pettycrew says.

That's why, according to Pettycrew, he personally never made a motion for the council to vote on approving the project. He says he didn't believe enough support existed.

For his part, Zraket bristles when Los Arcos is mentioned. He objected to the arena, he says, because he saw it changing the character of a neighborhood with dramatically increased traffic, noise and pollution.

"All throughout this Los Arcos controversy, [there have] always been four votes on this council. Four votes that could have adopted this arena project at any given time," Zraket says. "They didn't."


Los Arcos was pivotal for two reasons.

First, it thrust Zraket into the spotlight even more than his prior escapades. Second, however, it gave his critics an alleged weakness to target.

The Bye George Committee was formed in October 2000 to oust Zraket after just two years in office. The group had four months and more than $11,000 at its disposal to get the 7,600 signatures necessary to force a special election.

The group actually got 12,500 signatures, but a majority of those were on petitions that didn't include specific wording, as required by law. The signatures were challenged in court and a Superior Court judge ruled that a bulk of the signatures were not valid. The recall effort never reached a public vote.

Michael Bentler, chairman of the committee, did not return two phone calls for comment. A man who answered the phone at Bentler's house said Bentler didn't want to be bothered.

Zraket says the recall effort didn't cause him to reconsider his controversial stance on issues. He says it didn't make him question the job he's doing.

And it didn't make him change his style, as evidenced by a recent council meeting on January 22.

What should have been a brief meeting, given the one agenda item, ended up lasting 90 minutes.

It was vintage Zraket. He asked question after question. He offered anecdotal gems.

When challenged about something he'd supposedly said at a past meeting, Zraket reminded everyone that he has 250 videotapes at home of past council meetings. He pledged to find the meeting in question and watch the tape, which caused a handful of city staffers to laugh.

"If I'm wrong," he told them, "I stand corrected."

The majority of the council sat quietly while Zraket spoke. They didn't appear amused by his questions. Ortega shifted in his seat and rolled his eyes. Mayor Mary Manross shook her head at various points and directly contradicted Zraket on several occasions. Pettycrew left.

Even after the rest of the council voted to approve the item, Zraket kept talking, spelling out why he refused to approve abandoning a portion of city right of way to allow a gated entrance for bicyclists and motorists going into the exclusive Hidden Hills neighborhood off North Canyon Road. The issue wasn't the right of way, Zraket said, it was the gate itself, which he deemed a possible liability magnet because of its untested design.

Unnecessary? Undermining? Intimidating?

Hardly.

Yet it sums up the myth of George. No one will remember that the neighborhood got its gate, only that Zraket voted against it.

And his legend will continue to grow.

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