The race to replace retiring Maricopa County Supervisor Ed Pastor has taken an unexpected right turn with the emergence of three Republicans among five finalists recommended for appointment by a citizens panel.
The advance of so many Republican candidates fires speculation--already smoldering--that the Board of Supervisors' Republican majority will jump on the opportunity to replace a Democrat--Pastor--with a Republican. Not only is Pastor a Democrat, the southwest Valley district he--and supposedly the panel--represent is 80 percent Democrat.
That's no guarantee of anything. "There is no legal necessity to appoint a Democrat," notes Supervisor Carole Carpenter, the board's sole Democrat since Pastor resigned recently to run for Congress.
The citizens panel had been appointed in order to remove the stigma of politics from screening applicants. But the outcome suggests that politics has crept back in. Six of eight members of the panel, headed by Republican Margaret Trujillo of Tempe, were chosen by Republican supervisors, heightening perceptions that the candidates' ranking reflects, at least in part, the likelihood they will support the board's Republican leadership.
"Now it gets down to politics, that is true," board chair Tom Freestone says. "The question is who's electable and who's reasonable. Do you put in a Democrat or, if the best qualified is a Republican, what are the chances they could survive election in a year?"
Some insiders say it's a question of personality more than politics. Carpenter predicts the outcome will be based on "who Jim Bruner thinks he can work with." The powerful Bruner is supervisor for the northeast Valley, and immediate past chair of the board. "Decorum at meetings is very important to Bruner," Carpenter says. "He doesn't like to see dissent expressed too openly."
Since winning the District 2 seat in 1988, Bruner, a former Scottsdale city councilmember, has become the board's most influential member. Called an "autocrat" by some, Bruner espouses a moderate conservatism tinged with the same patrician leanings as his friend Fife Symington.
Bruner is widely expected to play a pivotal role in selecting the new supervisor but says he has "no strong knowledge" of any of the five finalists. Pastor, another key player, has not mounted a strong effort on behalf of any of the finalists, the supervisors say. Pastor was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
"The agenda has not been crystal clear up to now," Carpenter says. "They'd like to appoint a Republican, but the question is how much political fallout there'll be. They need to be persuaded it would be someone who could be re-elected or it's not worth it."
Phoenix City Councilmember Mary Rose Wilcox is the best known of the candidates. She is co-chairing the Ed Pastor for Congress committee and has the most-active lobby of supporters. Despite Pastor's support and other apparent advantages, Wilcox has been plagued by a series of bad breaks since announcing her interest in the post.
The citizens panel's recommendations dealt her a blow by giving her the second-lowest score among the five finalists. This surprised observers because Wilcox is a seasoned politician with a strong record on constituent services.
The Arizona Republic printed a story saying she had moved out of her home and into an apartment in order to reside in the district. The suggestion of carpetbagging hung in the air like smog, obscuring the fact that Wilcox had lived and worked in Pastor's district for nearly two decades until district lines changed two years ago.
Wilcox also suffered some damage in Phoenix's recent redistricting battle, in which she was criticized for not supporting the so-called "neighborhood plan" over the plan chosen, which enhances the political strength of city council incumbents. Rumor had it that Wilcox traded her vote for a promise from Phoenix City Councilmember Skip Rimsza, a rising Republican star, to lobby Bruner and other Republican supervisors on her behalf.
Wilcox denies there was a deal. Supervisors Freestone and Betsey Bayless and an aide to Bruner say that, although some Republicans are lobbying on Wilcox's behalf, Rimsza is not among them.
The only other Democrat in the group is Mario Herrera, a barber and member of the Tolleson City Council. Herrera, like Wilcox, claims Ed Pastor as a friend. Herrera recently sought appointment as justice of the peace to replace Donald Stump, indicted in AzScam. Herrera received the highest rating of the five candidates.
Carpenter, who says Herrera was disappointed when she chose someone over him for the JP spot, describes him as "personable and pro-development."
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The Republican finalists are:
* Ben Arredondo, administrator and former coach at Mesa High School. "He's very well-liked and he's been a terrific leader in youth activities, but he's not well-known outside of Mesa," Freestone says.
* John Reyna Jr., president of Raycorp Financial Group of Scottsdale. Reyna heads the Republican Hispanics and worked actively in Symington's campaign for governor. Reyna, despite his Scottsdale and party connections, is not particularly close to Bruner, insiders say.
* Frank Plencner, Tempe city councilmember. "I know Frank and I've worked with him on a lot of things, but he's at a disadvantage because he's a Republican, he's not Hispanic and he's not from South Phoenix," Freestone says. The outcome will be based on "who Jim Bruner thinks he can work with." The suggestion of carpetbagging hung in the air like smog.