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Penzone Benefits from Arpaio's Latest Attack Ad

Paul Penzone scores positive media, thanks to the geniuses running Sheriff Joe's re-election campaign.
Matthew Hendley

You know it's bad when high-priced political pimp Chad Willems is taking a page from unhinged guttersnipe DeeDee Blase.

A gadfly who has about as much credibility as her pick for sheriff, Republican-turned-Independent loser Mike Stauffer, Blase has taken great glee in lying about a 2003 incident involving Penzone and his ex-wife that I first detailed in July.

It was Penzone who reported to the Glendale cops the he said/she said altercation, in which the then-Phoenix police sergeant alleged that his estranged spouse hit him with a hockey stick and she alleged that he pushed her, hitting her head against a door.

The Glendale police report noted a minor contusion on Penzone's cheek and one on Susan Penzone's forehead. No one was arrested. The city attorney declined prosecution.

Penzone filed an order of protection, and his wife replied in kind. Ultimately, the judge in their messy divorce dismissed the orders, granting both parents joint custody of their young son.

Blase blogs for free on the website of the Tucson Citizen, once a Tucson-based newspaper, which is a shell of its former self and relies on unpaid contributors for content.

Though owned by Gannett, the site allows Blase free rein to abuse the truth, refer to Penzone as an "alleged wife-beater," and illustrate her scurrilous blog items with stock images of women sporting shiners.

Recently, someone channeling Blase (ahem) seems to have crossed the line into actual libel with a smear site called www.therealpenzone.com. It drops the "alleged," calls Penzone a "wife-beater," and states the following bald-faced lie as fact:

"Paul Penzone formerly admitted to abusing his wife, really he did."

The anti-Penzone site is registered anonymously. But the images used — including one of a severely bruised woman, swiped from a London-based advocacy group's anti-domestic-violence campaign — seem plucked from Blase's previous posts.

When I raised the issues surrounding Blase's screeds and the anti-Penzone site with Tucson Citizen "editor" Mark Evans, he forwarded them to Blase, who is not answering my calls.

Blase replied to Evans, claiming she does not "own" the smear site. She also denied being associated with a pseudo-political action committee I had wondered about, one supposedly targeting Arpaio but currently showing no signs of life.

"I am not part of the [independent-expenditure committee] or PAC, either," she told Evans. "I know the public relations firm behind it, though."

I'll bet she does. She also denied working for anyone but herself.

"I am married to a lawyer who allows me to not have to work for anyone or any political candidate," the Scottsdale homemaker harrumphed to Evans.

Not that we'd be able to find out if she were working for Arpaio himself. Millions of dollars are getting funneled from Arpaio's re-election fund to Chad Willems' Summit Consulting firm, which is running Joe's campaign.

How do we know where most of this money goes after it flows through Summit Consulting?

We don't. And pretty much the only way to find out would be for someone like crusading elections-law attorney Tom Ryan to do what he did during the 2011 recall of two-time loser and ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce: sue the lot of 'em, drag them into court, and place them under oath.

The day this column went to press, the Penzone campaign filed a formal complaint with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, alleging that Willems' campaign-finance reports "are wholly inadequate because they fail to identify all of his campaign consultants, fundraisers, media specialists, and other campaign operatives."

The circumstances are not the same as 2011, though Willems was directly involved in Pearce's effort to beat back the recall. Another similarity to 2011 is the presence of a diversionary candidate: Stauffer, the Olivia Cortes of this election season.

Perhaps Stauffer is just another in a long line of useful idiots who've assisted Arpaio over the years. A querulous queue of nut-cakes that includes Blase. If they aren't getting paid for the menace they're causing, they should be.

Shortly after the Penzone camp released a poll showing that Arpaio's lead had shrunk to 4.7 points over Penzone, and that Stauffer's numbers were dwindling as well (in that slot he's carved out for himself behind "none of the above"), Willems launched the biggest missile in his arsenal: an attack ad targeting Penzone on the 2003 altercation with his ex.

The ad mirrors Blase's vile, dishonest attacks of the past few months.

It opens with a photo of Penzone made to look like a police mug shot, then a silhouette of a male holding something in his hand, standing before a woman with a black eye.

"For years, Paul Penzone was the face of Silent Witness," the ad tells us. "Now the only silent witness is his ex-wife."

Unlike in 2008, when Arpaio's command staff and the Arizona Republican Party conspired to run a sleazy attack ad against Democratic contender Dan Saban, Arpaio has plunked down six figures from his own war chest to blast the commercial across cable nonstop.

All that moolah and air time aside, the attack ad has done Penzone a huge favor so far, giving him an opportunity to fire directly back at Arpaio and score a tsunami of earned media, almost all of it overwhelmingly positive and critical of the sheriff.

Penzone called a press conference the day the ad was released, labeling it "100 percent false" and stating, "I will answer to anything and everything — and run from nothing."

Every local outlet covered the brouhaha, which also was picked up by the Associated Press and Salon.com.

The Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts wrote that the Arpaio ad "smacks of desperation."

Even the Rep's E.J. Montini, not the brightest bulb in the cellar, seemed to understand that Penzone had been "Saban-ed" by Arpaio.

The controversy over the ad dovetailed with interviews Penzone had planned with news shows, scheduled for the week early voting kicked off. This allowed Penzone to address the allegations at length and to pivot, attacking Arpaio on a variety of subjects.

On Fox 10's Newsmaker Sunday, host John Hook seemed to take special umbrage at the fact that Arpaio and his aides had rejected numerous requests for the embattled sheriff (who's a TV hog when it only suits his purposes) to appear on the show, refusing to debate Penzone, or even to appear in a 15-minute segment on the same program.

"I pointed out that even the president of the United States is compelled to debate his challenger," said Hook, giving the entire half-hour to Penzone.

As in his other appearances, Penzone came across as honest and straightforward. I suspect that every time he appears in front of a camera, he wins a vote away from Arpaio.

Penzone spokeswoman Stacy Pearson called the timing of the attack ad's release "fortuitous" and explained that Penzone had received an outpouring of support as a result, including an increase in donations that allowed the campaign to top $500,000 in contributions to date.

She even described how one Republican in a business suit walked into the campaign headquarters Friday afternoon after the ad's release and wrote a check for the maximum amount allowed.

"He said, 'I saw the ad, I'm disgusted, and I'm here to write a check,'" she told me. "It was crazy."

Pearson also said the campaign was pleased with the fairness of the press coverage of the 2003 incident, with many outlets referring and linking to the actual Glendale police report.

She compared Arpaio's campaign to the hapless North Korean military.

"It's like the North Korean nuclear explosive," she said, referring to that nation's failed rocket launches. "It just dudded off into the ocean."

Nice analogy. Now if the voters will just do what they must and remove Maricopa County's own unstable dictator from office, then Willems, Arpaio, Blase, and Stauffer can all go fight for space somewhere under the same freaking rock.


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