Goober works the room prior to making Chamber of Commerce chin-music.
Most mayors of great cities are not afraid of the press, even a hostile press. Indeed, as much as I despised Rudy Giuliani for various reasons when I was living in New York, I admired the way he'd regularly appear before crowds that wanted to rip him to shreds verbally. I'm not sure if Giuliani enjoyed performing this lion-tamer act, but he was certainly unflappable, no matter how harsh the questioning. The guy has a hide like a Gila monster, and though I was opposed to him politically, I had to respect the dood for facing the public the way he did, just as I respect him now for defying his own party on the issue of abortion -- something John McCain no longer has the stones to do, BTW.
So imagine how I felt as I watched Phil Gordon, the leader of the fifth largest city in America dodge me and hide behind his ancient mother so he didn't have to answer a couple of tough questions. OK, so maybe I call him Goober a lot in print, but still, if I were the mayor or any kind of pol for that matter, I'd love going toe-to-toe with a reporter. I certainly wouldn't fear it, like Goober apparently does.
Initially, I'd planned to show up at the PHX Chamber of Commerce's hoo-ha at the Convention Center today, sit through Goober's predictably Pollyannaish "State of the City" speech, and await the promised question and answer segment with the public to take place afterwards. Then, I'd ask Goober how he could in good conscience take over $7,000 from the execs at Red Development during the same period he and the city were negotiating with RD over their participation in the proposed Cityscape project to bulldoze Patriots Square Park and replace it with a development of condos, shops and restaurants. Red's receiving mega-millions in incentives and tax breaks, so for them to help finance the mayor's reelection bid, stinks worse than a stuffed PHX sewer in the summertime.
It's not like Phil needs the 7K. He's already raised a million bucks for his reelection bid. But I suspect returning scrilla to contributors who have business before the city would set a dangerous precedent. Big developers, law firms and real estate titans are the ones bankrolling Phil. Crikey, he might have to give it all back! The appearance of impropriety is but a small price to pay.
Prior to Phil's 20-minute address before assembled CoC members, I ran into Phil staffer Lisa Honebrink, a rather helpful lady who advised me that the Chamber was no longer going to do the Q&A thing with Hizzoner. She promised to ask Phil flack Scott Phelps if I could get a few minutes with Goober post-speech. The Oz-like Phelps was busy behind the curtains tending to the mayor's power-point presentation which flicked through pics of a smiling Goober and family, an airplane racing past the moon, and so on. This, as Goober read from a teleprompter and the attendees, who paid $60 a head to be there, gnawed on their rubber chicken and apple pie.
The speech itself was lightweight and ludicrous, as Phil got out his pom-poms, defining PHX as "On the rise, and about to soar." Like Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, Phil asserts that we're living in the best of all possible worlds, even when that ain't the case. Public safety, claims Phil, is his "top priority," which is why he's backing a public safety initiative to raise the sales tax and pay for 500 new cops. That's weird. Just a few months back, Goober Gordon was pooh-poohing Phoenix being listed as the 59th most dangerous city in America, worse than New York City in violent crimes per 100,000 persons. But now we need to increase taxes to hire 500 more cops. Anyone smell an election year fart floating in the air?
You’d think Goober was a friggin superhero to listen to his Chamber of Commerce chin music. According to him, he helped nab our three (alleged) serial killers! Yet the PHX PD's violent crime stats are actually up. The number of murders increased slightly in 2006 to 234, from 224 in '05; rapes are up too, 550 in 2006 compared to 533 the year before. Every time you turn on the TV news, there's more of the lawlessness and bloodshed that many PHX newbies left other places to escape. Do people find this acceptable? For Phil, 234 murders and 550 rapes mean life's just hunky-dory. But, er, maybe we do need those 500 extra cops, after all. So which is it, Philly cheesesteak? My guess is Phil's finally responding to criticism that he's no McGruff the Crime Dog. I'm glad he's come around, but why didn't he do something earlier on in his administration, when his primary public safety plan involved handing out free front porch benches as some sort of ass-backwards, Mayberry-esque crime watch?
Goober also took credit for doing all this stuff for downtown, although downtown's still pretty vacant after dark, save for on First Fridays, which last time I checked didn't require the kind of cash outlay Cityscape demands. He also claimed "Phoenix-metro" created 90,000 new jobs "about half in Phoenix itself." Huh? So now Goober's responsible for creating employment in other cities? I'm sure the mayors of Gilbert, Scottsdale, Tempe, et al., will love to hear it's all because of their pal Goober.
Anyway, after this load of horse-hockey was over with, I approached the stage, where Phil was mingling about, and his assistant Honebrink was trying to clear an interview via Gordon's eminence greasy Scott Phelps. Eventually, I got fed up with waiting and walked up to the Goob, introduced myself, and shook his hand, but Phil begged off because his antique mom's inching towards the elevator and he must accompany her, along with like, three or four other people. Of course, we could've talked as we were walking, but Gordon made sure his creaky mummy was between us the whole way.
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I followed his little coterie, thinking I'd lob over some Qs at some point. Goober kept looking over his shoulder at me, then he whispers to Phelps who runs over to a couple of plainclothes security guys, and gets them to accompany Goob's party to the elevator. Did Goober think I was gonna jump him or something? What a freakin' moron.
Phelps took my card, assured me he'd call. Of course he didn't. Why is Phil so pusillanimous? Is he petrified someone will finally ask him a tough question and his world will come tumbling down because of it? Sheesh. Phoenix may be on "the rise," America’s fifth largest city, yadda-yadda-yadda. But we're still saddled with Mayor McChickenshit, and probably will be for four years more.
(PS: In response to "Chickenman" below, I was sitting in the back with the other journos and didn't partake of the grub.)