For the most part, it looks like the upcoming Phoenix City Council election in August should be pretty boring. Three of the council members looking to keep their seats — Kate Gallego, Jim Waring, and Laura Pastor — are running unopposed.
But over in District 6, things have gotten nasty — to the point where incumbent Sal DiCiccio is now attacking Arizona Republic reporter Dustin Gardiner for, basically, doing his job.
DiCiccio, who represents the affluent east side of Phoenix, including Arcadia and Ahwatukee, is an outspoken conservative who works as a real estate developer. He's being challenged by Kevin Patterson, a progressive Democrat who works as the executive development director for Banner Health.
Patterson touts endorsements from groups like Equality Arizona and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. DiCiccio tweets about "making America great again" and recently argued that the family of an unarmed black man fatally shot by police officers shouldn't be awarded a settlement from the city, because it would set a bad precedent. You get the picture.
As Gardiner described last week in an article titled "DiCiccio v. Patterson: Phoenix City Council race turns into slug fest," both candidates have now stooped to leveling accusations at one another. First, Patterson accused DiCiccio of attempting to intimidate him by calling his employer, which the Republic was unable to prove. Then, DiCiccio's campaign claimed that Patterson had never voted in a city election, which turned out to be false.
DiCiccio declined to answer Gardiner's questions, and instead posted a bizarre rant to his Facebook page, accusing the Republic of "media bias" and Gardiner in particular of "acting as the spokesperson for the opposing campaign."
As "proof," he included the full text of the email that Gardiner had sent him to get his response to claims made by Patterson's campaign. You can read it by clicking "See More" on the post embedded below.
There's nothing unusual or accusatory about this email whatsoever: Telling a candidate what their opponent has been saying about them and asking them if they want to respond is simply standard journalistic practice.
Reporters send emails like this to politicians all the time, as DiCiccio, who's been on the City Council for 13 years now, almost certainly knows.
Gardiner even handed DiCiccio a couple of softballs, giving him the opportunity to talk about his policy positions. And far from being "anonymous" or "second-hand," the criticisms that Gardiner references in his email are clearly attributed either to Patterson himself or to his campaign manager.
But accusing the mainstream media of bias is an easy way to appeal to conservative voters (see: Donald Trump) and it certainly seem to have riled up DiCiccio's base. There are now nearly 300 comments on the post, most of them criticizing the Republic for being a "propaganda arm of the Democratic party" and a "leftist rag."
WOW. Check out my Facebook/"Banner Day": 24hrs over 237 likes-EXPOSED: AZ Republic reporter Dustin Gardiner bias https://t.co/kpFElSdeQ0— Sal DiCiccio (@Sal_DiCiccio) July 7, 2017
DiCiccio clearly seems determined to ride this wave. He appears to have paid to promote the post on Facebook — it now shows up as sponsored content — and has been promoting it in various right-wing Facebook groups like the Arizona Tea Party Alliance.
It isn't the first time that he's publicly attacked Gardiner, either. After a June article in the Republic reported that Patterson was accusing DiCiccio of intimidation, DiCiccio shared it to his Facebook page and labeled it "FAKE NEWS."
He also added this Trumpian (and potentially libelous) aside: "Other than being known for burning his sources, [Gardiner] has also been accused of plagiarizing others work."
We reached out to Gardiner, who deferred to higher-ups. News editor Josh Susong declined comment, adding, "For now, I think you’ll see our stories on the council race speak for themselves."
Meanwhile, a quick Google search for "Dustin Gardiner plagiarism" reveals that the person accusing Gardner of plagiarism appears to have been....Sal DiCiccio.
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In a March 2015 post on the Intellectual Conservative Arizona blog, DiCiccio claims that Gardiner "took work I produced from the Top 50/100 Phoenix Pensioners and then called it his own under a different title."
Gardiner did, in fact, publish a story about which retired city employees have the highest pensions. But that's widely available information that anyone can get by filing a public records request. Not exactly proprietary knowledge.
Phoenix New Times attempted to get in touch with DiCiccio for this story. We look forward to seeing if the email ends up on his Facebook page.