Raise a talon if any of you birds of paradise are even mildly surprised that Republican Representative Rick Renzi's name is smack dab in the middle of Gonzales-gate you know, the ethical firestorm over the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department? The embattled Gonzales may be gone by the time the ink on The Bird's column dries, but the sleaze trail left behind by Renzi's tenure in office always seems as freshly slick as the congressman's Pepsodent smile.
The current brouhaha involves the axing of Arizona's U.S. attorney, Paul Charlton, a respected prosecutor who toiled for the U.S. Attorney's office here 10 years before George W. Bush appointed him to run it in 2001. Charlton and seven other federal prosecutors resigned en masse December 7 as part of a purge by the Bush administration. Initially, the Bushies claimed performance issues led to the firings. But as more Justice Department documents have been released, it has become clear as a spring Phoenix day that the bloodletting was political, and that the aim of it may have been, in part, to shield Republican interests from inquiries executed by those same eight U.S. attorneys.
Just whom was Charlton investigating around the time internal Justice Department e-mails pinpointed the veteran prosecutor as someone "we should now consider pushing out"? None other than AZ First Congressional District scumboy Tricky Ricky Renzi.
Seems the Republican Charlton finds public corruption as loathsome as does this merciless magpie and had begun quietly looking into Renzi's efforts to aid a former business partner in a suspicious land-swap deal. Unaware of Charlton's inquiry, New Times reporter Sarah Fenske broke the news last October that Renzi had pushed legislation benefiting campaign contributor and palsy-walsy James Sandlin ("Deal Breaker," October 12, 2006).
A big-shot Texas developer with large land holdings in the Zona, Sandlin helped finance Tricky Ricky's first congressional campaign to the tune of $200,000 in cash by buying half-interest in Renzi's land-development firm. Renzi quickly plowed that money into his campaign coffers, a move the Federal Elections Commission later dubbed "impermissible."
But Tricky Ricky's not one to let a little FEC chastisement prevent him from greasing the skids for a bud. As Fenske said in her story, Renzi suggested to two different real estate investment groups that they check out a piece of land Sandlin was trying to sell along the San Pedro River. The investors wanted Renzi's assistance in a complicated land swap, in which they would buy environmentally sensitive acreage on behalf of the government in exchange for land rights the government owns. Renzi, of course, figured his crony Sandlin had land in which the real estate boys would be interested.
Now, this crafty carrier pigeon knows land swaps will make your noggin hurt trying to follow 'em, but the bottom line is that Renzi was allegedly putting together a deal, using his Congressional influence, that would ultimately benefit his chum. In 2005, Renzi publicly announced that he would be introducing legislation to include Sandlin's acreage in a land swap. Thereafter, the investors bought Sandlin's property, netting Sandlin a $3 million profit. Later, Tricky Ricky came down with a case of the scruples, he told Fenske, after he heard that a Washington lobbyist had complained of the Sandlin connection. So he pulled out of the transaction and never did introduce that land swap legislation.
Hey, it's all good. Long as Renzi's boy Sandlin made a buck, what difference does a lil' wheelin' and dealin' make, since Renzi's bill never reached the House floor? Well, 'cept for the suckers who took Renzi's tip and procured Sandlin's parcel. They tried to sell it back to Sandlin, but he wasn't buying. That Sandlin, he wasn't born in a pumpkin patch, ya know?
All this is what Dudley Do-Right Charlton was investigating when he was shitcanned by Gonzales. Coinkydink? Well, Dubya and the Republicans have spent a lot of time and effort keeping Renzi in office, through Presidential campaign stops, fundraisers and whatnot. Seems logical that they might wanna protect his mangy hide, but perhaps there were other reasons.
"Bush's brain," a.k.a. Karl Rove, has already gone on the record saying Charlton was whacked because he didn't aggressively push for the death penalty. And there were reportedly other complaints by GOPers on ideological grounds. U.S. attorneys do serve at the pleasure of the president. But if Charlton was fired to protect Renzi, that could constitute obstruction of justice.
The Bird rang former Attorney General Grant Woods, who was retained by Renzi after Fenske's New Times story hit. Woods is also pals with Charlton and is a fan of prosecutorial independence. He quacked that he doesn't know if the Renzi inquiry triggered Charlton's ouster. But, he says, "if that took place, it was wrong. And I'm sure Congressman Renzi would see it that way, too."
Riiiiiight. This hornbilled harpy doubts Tricky Ricky is bemoaning the loss of Charlton. As the Bird has pointed out, Renzi's hardly Mr. Clean Government. Back in 2003, New Times writer John Dougherty detailed the congressman's support of an amendment that just happened to benefit ManTech International, a Virginia-based defense contractor where Renzi's pop is an executive vice president ("River Gamble," September 18, 2003). Because of this and other alleged shenanigans involving Renzi's office, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) named Renzi one of the "20 most corrupt members of Congress" last year.
This winged wordsmith has taken a peek at Renzi's campaign records, and they may reveal that he is in more doo-doo than even this dodo can drop in a day. They show his campaign committee paid Woods $10K for services rendered. The Washington, D.C., firm of Nixon Peabody, whose partner Kelly Kramer is also representing Renzi, has netted $25K. And yet another D.C. firm, Patton Boggs, billed Renzi's campaign for a whopping $186,000, at least $100,159 of which is still on the books as campaign debt.
What has Renzi done to require all these pricy legal beagles? If The Bird could get Renzi on the horn, it would ask him. But, oddly, Tricky Ricky isn't returning this rabid rooster's calls.
Just when you thought the PHX's paper of record couldn't suck any harder, the geniuses at Gannett have begun implementing various "improvements" in their news product that are actually making journalism in this state dumber and blander than ever before. The innovations include the makeover of the Arizona Republic's Monday edition, now with less news for you people on the go. (Hey, you figure it out.) And the elimination of two columns by the best the Repugnant had to offer: business writer Jon Talton and veteran reporter Richard Ruelas.
As first reported last week in the blog of this flycatcher's doppelganger, the Feathered Bastard, both columns were cut as part of the Rep's mutation into an Orwellian Information Center devoid of personality, wherein the newsroom and the online departments are merged into one entity. Both Talton and Ruelas were proffered other positions at the paper (read: "demotions"). Instead, Talton decided to scram. His last column will appear in Sunday's paper. Ruelas, however, will stay on as a "people/profiles reporter" for the "Lifestyle Team." (Ouch!) Let's hope the guy doesn't have to interview Mayor Phil Gordon's wife, or something else retarded like that.
"My column is being eliminated as part of the reorganization from a print and online newspaper to an Information Center." Talton tweeted to this pecker via e-mail. "I chose not to accept other opportunities that the company offered. As a result, [wife] Susan and I will be leaving Phoenix soon to chase our next adventures."
Ruelas seemed to take it a little better and was overly modest in reply to this rascally raven.
"The column job was great and fun," Ruelas peeped in an e-mail. "But it was never really my column. It was the newspaper's. I was only borrowing it. Obviously, I was hoping to keep the job. But I understand the selections. Coming in behind Montini, Roberts and Clay isn't a big blow to the ego."
Are you kiddin', Rich? Both you and Talton can write rings around snooze-inducing E.J. Montini and soccer-momish Laurie Roberts. (Don't even get us started on the pompous and dull-as-drywall Robert Robb.) As for Clay Thompson, who does the Rep's rib-ticklin' "Valley 101" column, this beaker's glad he made the cut. But, sorry, Montini and Roberts ain't fit to carry your notepad, Ricardo. Nor Talton's.
The Bird can't help but conclude that the Repugnant's starch-shirted execs used the Information Center transition to effectively silence two writers who regularly took on uncomfortable issues and often espoused to use the Al Gore cliché inconvenient truths about, say, growth in Phoenix, or illegal immigration. You'd think this would be part of what a newspaper is all about. But remember, the Republic's no longer a newspaper. It's a freakin' Information Center, which sounds as vapid and banal as some phone company's customer service department.
Why should this beetle-cruncher care, you ask? After all, the Repugnant is the competition, and the more repugnant it becomes, the better for New Times. Au contraire, comrades. As part of our duties, this daffy duck and his colleagues must read the Repugnant to see what the enemy's up to. At least with Ruelas and Talton, there were two things that didn't stink in that fishwrap. Sigh . . . now, all The Bird has to look forward to is the comic strip Get Fuzzy.
This perverted penguin loves being ringside at a catfight, 'specially when it involves two of the loveliest lasses in P-town: Pyra Sutra, queen bee of local burlesque troupe Scandalesque, and her highness Cookie, leader of that infamous performance art ensemble the Pussy Posse.
These newly buxom rivals (both have gotten bolt-ons in recent months) from opposite ends of the PHX's alt-culcha spectrum, have been involved in a word war over Sutra's decision to pull her girls out of an upcoming "Battle of the Burlesque" event, scheduled to go down in May at Tempe's The Sets.
The dirty danceathon would've featured the professionally trained dancers of Scandalesque with their glammy, Vaudeville-style striptease acts (á la Gypsy Rose Lee) working the same stage as the debauched dames of the Pussy Posse, who unleash raunchy fetish-laden routines and simulated sex acts to an industrial rock soundtrack.
But Sutra nixed the idea mid-March, citing a changeover in management and a higher-profile engagement the same evening. The Scandalesque siren told The Bird that former manager Andrea Beesley-Brown (a.k.a. the Midnight Movie Mamacita) booked the event in mid-February without her knowledge after the Pussy Posse proposed the pants-off dance-off.
"There was no contract. There were no flyers, [and] no press. So I felt like it was no big deal," squawks Sutra, who insists eight weeks notice is good enough for anyone. "And now all of a sudden, Cookie starts name-calling and slandering me and it's turning into this big fiasco."
Truly, the Pussy Posse's prima donna is p.o.'d at Pyra and her fellow femmebots for flaking. The comely Cookie blasted Scandalesque on MySpace in a scathing message entitled, "I may be a Pussy but at least I'm not a CHICKEN!!!" She ripped her rivals' "bad business ethics" and belittled their monthly gigs at the Paper Heart arts venue downtown.
"Are we that intimidating or is our choreography that much better that they are afraid to meet us toe to toe?" cried Cookie. "I'm sorry, who was booked at the Stardust Hotel and Casino last October for the casino's last show and who is still performing in art galleries monthly?"
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Yeah, the Pussy Posse played the Stardust. But to be fair, Scandalesque's also performed at the New York Burlesque Festival and the Miss Exotic World Pageant in Las Vegas, as well as various local fetish events.
Cookie says her vitriol is justified by Scandalesque's "unprofessionalism," and the fact she spent weeks planning the gig. In its place, she has decided to hold a "Heaven & Hell" fetish event in conjunction with AZ Fetish Ball producers Horns N Halos, run by her life partner, body-mod guru Steve Haworth.
Sutra asserts that she was under the impression the event was competitive, while Cookie claims the salacious showdown would've been more exhibition than competition. Sutra suggested booking the PHX's Voodoo Betties Burlesque & Variety troupe instead, but Cookie says it wouldn't be the same, that "booking another burlesque group that doesn't hold the weight of Scandalesque is pointless."
Despite all this invective being flung around like a discarded g-string, The Bird thinks these battling beauties should French kiss until their toes curl and make up, particularly on stage. Heck, this worm-wrangler would proudly purchase a front-row seat for that.