Former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon Wants to Replace Joe Arpaio, and It's a Dumb Idea

Even if Gordon had spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle, he'd have no chance of becoming sheriff.
Even if Gordon had spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle, he'd have no chance of becoming sheriff.
New Times Photo Illustration. Source photos, Gage Skidmore/CC and Flickr user Micadew/CC.

If former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is the Democratic alternative to Sheriff Joe in 2016, I will vote for Arpaio.

Laughable? Of course, I would never do that. But any vote for "Sheriff Phil" also would be ridiculous.  

A "Gordon for sheriff" campaign very likely ain't gonna happen, regardless of the trial balloon recently set aloft by Gordon, with some help from an uncritical local media and the online hurrahs of some delusional Arizona Democrats.

Even if a serious Gordon candidacy emerged, Arpaio would eat him alive. Despite growing dissatisfaction with Joe's rule, the sheriff generally remains popular with Republicans, and he will have a massive war chest generated by his campaign guru Chad Willems' constant e-mail appeals for cash. 

Phoenix proper may run Democrat blue, but Republicans maintain a significant registration advantage in Maricopa County over Democrats. According to the Arizona Secretary of State's stats for October, the Rs boast 702,116 voters in the county to the Dems' 520,859.

County Ds are so weak that they didn't even bother to field a candidate to challenge Republican County Attorney Bill Montgomery's re-election in 2012. 

Arpaio would eat Gordon alive, using legitimate issues surrounding Gordon's ex-gal pal Elissa Mullany against the former mayor.
Arpaio would eat Gordon alive, using legitimate issues surrounding Gordon's ex-gal pal Elissa Mullany against the former mayor.
Stephen Lemons

Which is significant because Montgomery arguably is the most powerful politico in the county, more powerful even than the sheriff, who can arrest people but cannot prosecute them, like Montgomery.

All countywide offices in Maricopa County are held by Republicans, and like Montgomery, they were unchallenged in 2012, save for Arpaio, who won by a 6-point margin over his closest competitor, Democrat Paul Penzone.

Penzone ran a tough race, but it was a David vs. Goliath battle without the Old Testament ending. Arpaio spent his entire $8 million war chest to crush Penzone, who at least had law enforcement experience, unlike Gordon. 

There was a third wheel in the 2012 race for sheriff, former Scottsdale cop Mike Stauffer, who ran as an Independent. No doubt the race would have been different if it had been a two-man contest.

But if Penzone had scored each and every one of the 61,973 votes for Stauffer, and added them to the 599,328 Penzone pulled, that still would not have gotten Penzone over the hump, as Arpaio earned 679,967 votes, a bare 50.66 percent majority, but a majority nonetheless.

Hobbled by his contempt trial in federal court and facing the very real possibility of a criminal referral, Arpaio is seriously wounded. If challenged by a strong consensus candidate with serious law enforcement chops, Arpaio could be beaten.

It would have to be a candidate that could draw the anti-Arpaio vote, as well as peel off a slice of his Republican support in the county. 

So why are we even having this discussion about a Gordon candidacy?

According to Gordon, whom I spoke to earlier this week, it's because "individuals and representatives" of two national groups proposed the idea to him.

Who were these people and what organizations did they represent?

U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales has yet to say if he'll challenge Arpaio, though there's a Draft Gonzales website at rundavidrun.com.
U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales has yet to say if he'll challenge Arpaio, though there's a Draft Gonzales website at rundavidrun.com.
Stephen Lemons

Gordon declined to say.

"They don't want to be targeted [by Arpaio]," he explained. "You can probably understand."

The ex-mayor said he was skeptical about the proposal for many of the same reasons I am, but whomever he's been talking with had a counter-argument for every argument.

When he noted that he was a Dem in a red county, these folks supposedly pointed to Republican state School Superintendent Diane Douglas, who won statewide in 2014, but lost in Maricopa County to her better qualified Democratic opponent. 

Thing is, there were a significant number of moderate GOPers who voted against Douglas, seeing her as an extremist nut.

Are Rs tired of Arpaio's antics going to vote for Gordon as an alternative? Don't think so.

Gordon said he told those suggesting a run against Arpaio that he would think about it and make a decision around the first of next year.

I asked about the recent Channel 12 exposé by reporter Wendy Halloran, concerning false accusations, peddled in 2008 by local civil rights advocate Jarrett Maupin, about Gordon's supposedly having sex with an underage male.

Maupin went to this newspaper and others with the untrue allegations, but the preacher couldn't back up his scurrilous claims, and nothing was published. Maupin also went to the MCSO. He actually wore a wire for the MCSO during part of the investigation.

He later admitted to a federal judge that he had lied to the MCSO and to the FBI about Gordon and about there having been a videotape of Gordon's having sex with a minor. 

Most of this previously had been covered in news stories about Maupin's conviction, specifically one done by New Times back then. The thing that made Halloran's excellent piece newsworthy was Gordon's willingness to discuss the matter on the record and at length. 

I had to wonder: Was Gordon's gut-spill to Halloran timed for a trial balloon about a sheriff's candidacy?

The Mr. Bean look-alike said it was the other way around, that Halloran had been working on the story for "six months, five maybe, somewhere in there," and when the piece ran, the unnamed individuals approached, asking him, "Why don't you run against [Arpaio]?"

There's no doubt that the MCSO was after Gordon because of his outspoken opposition to the MCSO's sweeps of Mexican communities, hunting for illegal immigrants. Gordon's stand was laudable, and Maupin's lies about the mayor handed Arpaio a potential weapon to use against Gordon.

But I reminded Gordon that he had some baggage Arpaio could legitimately exploit in a campaign against him: specifically, Gordon's romance with his former fundraiser Elissa Mullany.

My ex-colleague Monica Alonzo covered the Gordon-Mullany relationship extensively, detailing in one article how Gordon had paid Mullany's company "more than $300,000 . . . over four years for managing and raising money for his political funds."

Alonzo wrote that Gordon had appointed his then-girlfriend "to city commissions and boards," had "taken [her] overseas on economic-development trips," raising serious conflict-of-interest issues.

All of that will be back out in the open again, should he run against Arpaio.

"No question," Gordon said. "That's a big issue. I understand."

The ex-mayor claimed that Alonzo "had not been honest in her reporting," which, sadly for Gordon, is wishful thinking. Those articles were heavily vetted by Alonzo's editors at New Times, and New Times was not the only news outlet to report on Gordon's former mistress. 

Gordon, who currently works for a cancer research foundation, concedes that there are better potential candidates out there who have yet to announce, one of them being Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales, a Republican.

"I think he would be phenomenal," Gordon said of Gonzales, who has not said for sure he will run, despite a "Draft Gonzales" movement's setting up a website and Facebook page pimping the possibility.

"Him or someone who had a proven track record," Gordon said. "To me, it's critical that somebody come forward who can beat [Arpaio]."

I couldn't agree more with Gordon on that point. It's just that he ain't the guy.


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