Paul Penzone Will Try Again to Unseat Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Joe foe and wannabe Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone during a campaign event in Phoenix in 2012.
Joe foe and wannabe Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone during a campaign event in Phoenix in 2012.
Stephen Lemons

Paul Penzone, a former cop who came closer to dethroning Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio than any candidate before him, will take on the sheriff again this year, he announced today.

Penzone announced his fresh bid for the sheriff's spot in an e-mail to the news media today headed, "It's time."

And it may be — Arpaio has never looked more vulnerable. At 84 and nearly done with his sixth term in office, he's not as sharp as he once was, and he's been de-fanged by a federal judge and appointed federal monitor who've been overseeing the office for more than a year. Battered by negative court rulings, including findings that the office discriminated against Latinos, the tide finally may have turned against the popular and infamous sheriff.

"After mounting the toughest challenge of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign in 2012, Paul Penzone is ready to finish what he started," says a release announcing a 4 p.m. news conference with the candidate.

Penzone was a Phoenix police officer for 21 years, receiving some time in the public eye while he worked for the crime-tip program Silent Witness.

In 2012, his race against Arpaio brought him to within six points of the sheriff by the time it was all over. He would have done slightly better if not for a third, spoiler candidate, Mike Stauffer.

Hampering his reputation during the race were details from a 2003 domestic squabble with his now-ex-wife. Each was left with a facial bruise after the brief altercation, but Penzone maintained he never hit his ex-wife.

Overall, Penzone has a solid reputation, but Arpaio's supporters will no doubt want to bring up the incident again. Penzone since has remarried.

Nothing about this will be easy for Penzone, starting with his relatively impoverished campaign.

Penzone raised and spent about $600,000 in the 2012 race while Arpaio had command of a $7 million war chest. Penzone is starting his fundraising from scratch. Arpaio spent a few million in the last few years, raised about $3 million more, and now sits on just under $8 million in funds he could use to battle Penzone and anybody else who announces and stays in the race.

The biggest problem, perhaps, is that Penzone is repeating his run as a Democrat, which automatically puts him at a disadvantage in the Republican-leaning county. To win, he's going to have to do much better than before — a smaller landslide for Arpaio simply won't do.

Arpaio's already seen two potential competitors gamely raise their heads for a minute.

In November, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon tried to raise sympathy for himself in the media by granting interviews about a past false accusation against him by civil-rights leader Jarrett Maupin. A month later, he announced he was running against Arpaio for sheriff. He's since dropped the bid.

And early last month, the state Democratic Party announced that former prison guard Joe Rodriguez would challenge Arpaio. The media soon asked Rodriguez about his questionable personnel record, which showed he'd once had an inappropriate affair with a subordinate, then lied about it in an investigation.


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