MARY ROSE WILCOX AND THE FLORIDA MONEY TREE
Perhaps we're too quick to criticize political figures.
Take the case of Mary Rose Wilcox, for example. She is now seeking a fifth term on the Phoenix City Council. As she embarks on her campaign, some express cynicism over her role in the Indian School dispute:
During the city council battles over the valuable piece of property located at Central and Indian School Road, Wilcox revealed herself as a staunch supporter of the Barron Collier Corporation.
No doubt you recall that it was the avowed plan of this politically connected Naples, Florida, group to turn the old property into a concrete jungle of high-rise buildings.
The other day I walked over to City Hall to glance through the list of campaign contributions accepted by our councilmembers in the last election.
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What struck my eye were four contributions Wilcox accepted in November 1989 from four residents of Naples, Florida.
Each contribution was for the then legal maximum of $220. All came days before the election.
The contributors' names were:
Baron Collier III
All are connected to the Barron Collier Corporation either because they own it, work for it, or are related to the owners.
The contributions were dated for November 4, 5 and 6. The election that year was held Tuesday, November 7.
I telephoned Councilmember Wilcox to see how she might explain these donations in light of things that have occurred since.
"Do you think these donations look suspicious?" I asked.
"What's suspicious?" she said.
"Well," I answered, "there are these donations from the Barron Collier people, on the one hand, and there is your standing up for them in council sessions, on the other hand." "Harrumph!" she said. "I was just trying to make sure the Native American Indians were taken care of," Wilcox said.
"I wanted to make sure the Indians got their money because we were taking their school away from them." "What about a park for the citizens of Phoenix?" "My belief has always been that Encanto Park was our city park," she said. "We don't need another park." "Have you ever met any of the Collier family?" "Yes," she said. "I always like to meet my contributors.
"I met the Colliers when they threw those cocktail parties for members of the city council." "Do you have any further explanation?" "I'm glad that after meeting me the Colliers approved of my candidacy." During Wilcox's campaign, she raised a total of $74,072 with a large amount of the money coming from out of state.
It seemed strange to me that a person elected to represent a small area of central Phoenix would attract such widespread national backing.
"Why is it that you have donations not only from Florida but from New York, Connecticut, California, and Regina, Saskatchewan, as well?"
Wilcox had a ready answer.
"I sit on a lot of boards and I travel a lot," she said. "I'm glad that I have a diverse group of people all over the country who approve of my candidacy." Burton Barr, a well-known Republican, was also among those who made a maximum contribution to Wilcox's campaign.
Barr, former Republican speaker of the Arizona House, was also chairman of a citizens' committee that tried to go over the city council's head to make a settlement extremely favorable to the Barron Collier Corporation.
"How do you view Barr's contribution?" I asked.
"We are old friends," she said. "We are interested in the same charities." I did not pursue the subject of charities or what the term actually referred to in this context.
Wilcox described another factor that weighed in her decision.
"I was about to run a tough race. I needed to raise all the money I could," she said. Ironically, no one ever filed to oppose Wilcox for the seat. She ran unopposed.
After the campaign ended, she reported that she still had $38,035 left from the $74,042 originally raised.
Still, she apparently perceived her position with the voters to be precarious. She changed one of her campaign promises in the final month to avoid alienating a segment of her supporters.
Wilcox had brandished an AK-47 assault rifle for the television cameras on the opening day of her campaign, and announced she wanted the weapon's sale banned in the City of Phoenix.
"An AK-47 has no place in our community," she said. "It is a killer of people." Shortly before the election, however, Wilcox changed her mind.
She had apparently learned that some of her constituents use the AK-47 for target shooting and sport.
Wilcox did not want to appear to be opposed to sports of any kind.
"We've got to be tough," she said in explaining her change of heart about the guns, "but it's a fine line." It's easy to understand why contributors as far away as Naples, Florida, regard Wilcox as an ideal city councilmember.
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