Money, Yes. Influence, No.
To me, Craig Tribken was the white knight in the battle against the forces of darkness. When it was still politically dangerous, Tribken led the way in the battle to create a public park on the site of the old Phoenix Indian School property.
The Barron Collier family of Florida wanted to transform the land into one gigantic blob of concrete featuring high-rise buildings and still another sprawling shopping center.
The ally of the Colliers was Burton Barr, once again the glib spokesman, bought and paid for. Also on the side of the Colliers were the members of Arizona's congressional delegation, as ever eager to fall all over themselves to please any developer with deep pockets.
Tribken was running in a difficult battle to retain his spot on the Phoenix City Council. His stand against the Colliers was considered politically foolhardy and outrageous.
The heavy-handed Barr warned Tribken he would be punished at the polls. Barr was speaking from his vantage point as the man hired to win the Colliers' right to pour tons of concrete onto the site at Indian School Road and Central Avenue.
Until Mayor Paul Johnson jumped in on Tribken's side, there seemed little chance of Tribken's winning anything but a quick ticket to political oblivion.
Retiring Congressman Mo Udall had warned that the train was leaving the station, and Phoenix had better get on board."
The train was moving, all right. Tribken was like the hapless Gary Cooper trying to round up a posse at High Noon.
Tribken's only allies at the time were unlikely. There was Don Dedera, a freelance writer and former Arizona Republic columnist, who wrote a series of powerful articles and letters. There was also Joel Nilsson, a Republic editorial writer who stuck his neck way out by devoting a series of columns to the subject.
Everyone else conceded the battle was over without its ever being fought.
Voters have short memories. They don't remember that in the dark days no help was offered by our two beloved senators: Dennis DeConcini, and the senator Dedera so tellingly refers to as "Citizen McCain."
The only thing John McCain ever did- and this is typical of him-was to attempt to claim credit for winning concessions for the park at the moment of victory.
Let's clear the record. Citizen McCain deserves not one ounce of credit for anything to do with this Indian School park. All we should remember about him is that he vacationed at Charlie Keating's mansion every year free and did cartwheels every time good-time Charlie beckoned.
One more outrageous thing should be remembered.
Not one ounce of help for Phoenix and its voters ever came from any member of the Arizona congressional delegation. These fellows worked very smoothly up there in Washington, D.C., as a team to give themselves a pay raise. That collaboration apparently exhausted them. They might as well have been representing Serbia or Croatia during this entire Indian School battle.
Congressman John J. Rhodes III even maintains a condo in the district around the Indian School property. But he showed no inclination to help the city. For a long time, Rhodes was actually unaware that the property even was in his district.
John Kyl, the congressman who thinks he was sent to the nation's capital only to raise enough money to run for DeConcini's Senate seat, looked at Tribken's fight with disdain. No doubt, Kyl saw the possibility of a rich vein of political donations about to flow his way from the Colliers.
Tribken and Mayor Johnson saw the battle through. Against the odds, they won significant concessions from the Colliers. Phoenix will get its parkland.
And both Tribken and Johnson won re-election.
That should end the story on a happy note. However, last week both the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette ran stories reporting that Tribken had accepted $2,500 in donations from the law firm that represented the Colliers.
He also took money, they reported, from Jay Thorne, a lobbyist for the Colliers.
The implication of the stories was that Tribken had done something wrong, that he had sold out.
It is easy to be cynical about this and assume that every politician who takes a donation figures to do favors for the people who give him the money.
I asked Tribken about this.
"I feel like I've been beat up," he said. "The truth of the matter is that I was in a tough election, and I don't have any money of my own to just write a check.
"I had to go around and raise money. I made the call to Bill Maledon asking for help."
Maledon is one of the partners at the firm of Meyer, Hendricks, Victor, Osborn and Maledon.
"I think maybe as many as 20 of the lawyers donated money to my campaign. I know that it never changed my way of dealing with the Colliers and the Indian School deal. I was just as tough on them at the end as I ever was."
Tribken also got $100 from Jay Thorne and another $240 from Thorne's wife.
"They are close friends," he said. "I hang out over at Jay's house. There is no way the money was given to me to win me over. We're just good friends. Besides, if people think I can be bought out for a $100 donation, then they shouldn't vote for me. At some point, people have to realize that I am not going to vote for projects just because people have put money into my campaign. I find myself voting against contributors all the time. That's the nature of things."
There is some point where we have to make our choice as to whether we want to trust our political representatives.
What is wrong here is the system. The money comes from somebody with an ax to grind and so we assume automatically that the money has influence. Most often it does. But sometimes it doesn't.
And how is a good person ever to get elected unless he first raises the money he needs to campaign for the necessary votes? Perhaps we've all become too cynical. Maybe it's time to lighten up.
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