The People's Champ fights back today in court...
With the political clock ticking, Phoenix mayoral hopeful Jarrett Maupin filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court late Monday to have his name restored to the September 11 ballot. Maupin is repped by Republican attorney John Acer, perhaps most famous locally for keeping Prop 200 on the ballot during its legal challenges in 2004. A hearing is set for 10 a.m. this morning.
Maupin's suit is a response to the recent actions of Phoenix City Clerk Mario Paniagua, who on July 23 found Maupin 91 signatures short of the 1,500 required to be certified for the Phoenix ballot. This, despite Maupin having submitted 3,920 signatures to the City Clerk on Friday, July 13. Mayor Phil Gordon's reelection campaign challenged the legitimacy of many of Maupin's signatures, alleging that some of those who obtained signatures for Maupin were felons who had not had their rights restored, a big no-no.
Maupin's petitions were challenged for other stuff as well, including missing zip codes and/or cities, illegible signatures, etc. Ultimately, the City Clerk validated only 1,401 signatures, keeping Maupin off the ballot for the time being. Maupin's complaint against the city claims there are more than enough sigs to put Maupin on the ballot; and that,
"...a thus far cursory view of the City Clerk's analysis demonstrates that the city clerk improperly excluded at least five petition signature sheets in their entirety, based on the allegation that those petitions were allegedly circulated by `circulators with felony convictions and no restoration of civil rights,' when those circulators were, in fact, eligible circulators. Additionally, numerous signatures were improperly excluded by the City Clerk for a variety of reasons."
The complaint goes into detail on how Maupin turned in his signatures to the City Clerk on 4:55 p.m. (according to the timestamp), Friday, July 13, just under the deadline. Yet Gordon's campaign was able to get a copy of Maupin's signatures that day (the office closes at 5 p.m.), analyze them in detail, and turn in an anonymous "petition analysis" on Monday, July 16, timestamped 12:24 p.m. City Clerk Paniagua informed me that someone from Mayor Gordon's campaign was in the office the same time Maupin was filing his signatures; that this person requested copies of Maupin's signatures; and that Paniagua's employees had to stay past 5 p.m. to comply with the request. Still, Paniagua doesn't know who this person was, and he states that there's no name on the receipt for said docs.
Paniagua claims this individual did not ask for the sigs via phone, but in person, while Maupin was in the room. Yet Maupin told me he saw no one else in the office waiting for help while he was there. The complaint against Gordon and the City of Phoenix also offers as an exhibit a fax to Paniagua from Gordon campaign flack Tony Motola, with a list of Maupin petition circulators. The hand-written note reads,
"Here are the list of felonies we have. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks Mario."
The chumminess of this fax sent on Gordon campaign letterhead is certainly an eyebrow-raiser. Of the 32 petition circulators flagged by Gordon's campaign, only nine are now alleged by the City Clerk's office to be "circulators with felony convictions and no restoration of civil rights." Because of these disputed nine, "a total of thirty-nine (39) of Maupin's otherwise valid petition sheets" with numerous sigs on each, were disqualified by the City Clerk.
Some observers have pointed out that this is how the game is played, what Gordon's camp is doing here is fairly common, and anyway, everyone knows Phil's gonna win, so what's the big deal? Thing is, neither Steve Lory's nor Gordon's signatures were similarly scrutinized or challenged. And I would argue that what's going on here is, in fact, unprecedented; i.e., an incumbent mayor with a million-dollar war chest is doing everything in his power to make sure a 20-year-old challenger, whom many dismiss, is not on the ballot. If Maupin was the callow, inexperienced candidate folks say he is, why would Phil's people go to such extraordinary lengths to turn Maupin into a write-in candidate?
Because they're scared. Because Gordon's support of Sen. John McCain's presidential ambitions pissed off many in the local Democratic party. Because Maupin is a better speaker on the stump. And because if Maupin is able to get back on the ballot and snag double digits at the polls, he will have humiliated Phil, fatally wounding him as a possible candidate for any statewide office.
In fact, Gordon risks a backlash with his effort. He has already given Maupin free press in the process (a mention a week, sometimes two, in the Repugnant). And even if Gordon succeeds in keeping Maupin off the ballot, it'll end up making Gordon look like an asshole afraid of a little competition. Which, of course, he really is...
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