When the final grain of sand ran out of the official timer, the forum in the Kenilworth Elementary School gymnasium was called to attention. Candidates climbed on stage, took their spots on blue plastic chairs and waited to address the audience.
Randy Pullen, a late entrant in the mayoral race, sat patiently on stage with two empty seats next to him. The forum, sponsored by the NAILEM alliance of neighborhood groups, had promised an event featuring all three mayoral as well as city council candidates. In a barely visible race for the top job in Phoenix, it was to be the first time the three candidates were to appear together.
But only Pullen had shown up.
The seats sat empty while the school principal led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Donna Neill of NAILEM explained the process. It would be precise. Each candidate would get three minutes to speak to the audience -- about 70 folks who had given up a Saturday afternoon to learn more about those seeking to lead Phoenix. When the timekeeper held up the red card, time was up. Period.
After that, the audience would split into groups, and candidates would rotate and speak to them, each spending 15 minutes with each group, no more, no less. People in the groups would select a number out of a manila envelope and query the candidates in order. Afterward, participants would grade and offer comments to each candidate.
Neill explained that she was a stand-in master of ceremonies and wasn't familiar with all the candidates. First, she introduced Pullen. But she had to check her notes to get his name right.
More than 20 minutes after the program began, the other mayoral challenger arrived. Patrick Dardis, his hair disheveled, took a back entrance to the stage and sat beside Pullen.
Ten minutes later, 35 minutes after the forum began, Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza made his entrance. He arrived with an entourage, including his 3-year-old triplets, and the whole crew headed for the stage. While District 7 council candidate Rosie Lopez was using her precious three minutes to address those gathered, Rimsza and crew were creating a commotion behind her. New chairs had to be brought in and set up and the toddlers had to be settled.
The final council candidate to speak mentioned that she had three kids, but that they were with a sitter.
Neill returned to the mayor's candidates. She introduced "the mayor," who spoke his piece with a triplet in each arm. When his time was up, Rimsza asked little Nicole, in his left arm, if there was anything she wanted to say. "No," she answered. After a prompt, she declared, "Vote for Daddy!" to ahhs and applause.
Dardis was introduced, and Neill again had to find her notes to check his name. "Someday, you're going to remember that name," Dardis told her, an apparently hopeful reference to his political future that some interpreted as more ominous than amusing.
Both Rimsza and Dardis left the forum early. The mayor claimed his kids were getting fidgety, and Dardis took off after a spat over his racial views. Only Pullen stayed to the end of the three-hour forum, quietly impressing others, earning "A"s on all but two of the report cards he received.
It was a telling snapshot of the three men who want to lead Phoenix into the next millennium. When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, September 7, they will choose among three candidates (all Republicans in a nonpartisan race) with sharply different styles and qualifications:
Skip Rimsza, 44, the personable incumbent who many believe is unbeatable. Praised by some as a good leader who has done great things for the city in five years at the helm, the former real estate agent is sometimes criticized as a more style than substance kind of guy. He's a mayor, they say, who loves the press conferences and the handshake photo opportunities, who schmoozes voters with flowers and birthday cards, who trots out the triplets every chance he gets to win over the aren't-they-cute, what-a-great-dad vote.
Randy Pullen, 50, the deliberate, largely unknown opponent who has lived in Phoenix for 45 years. A CPA who has worked as a hospitality and management consultant over the years, he is a bright, capable guy who would make a great mayor, supporters say. He may not have the pizzazz of someone like Rimsza, but those who know him admire his ideas and his style.
Patrick Dardis, 33, another unknown who owned a vending-machine company when he entered the race but now says that status is questionable because of a dispute with his brother. His credentials are rather bizarre. He believes he has a political destiny and finds spooky coincidences in his life that support this, beginning with the circumstances around his conception and continuing up to his arrival in Phoenix four years ago. Others, however, merely find him spooky.
Actually, there is another candidate, one with even less of a chance than Dardis because his name will not even appear on the ballot. Anthony A. Abril Jr., a part-time self-employed cosmetologist who previously has run unsuccessfully for local posts, filed a notice of candidacy in April, withdrew it on June 16, then declared himself a write-in candidate July 19.
Up until June 30, Skip Rimsza was a shoo-in. He had five years in the mayor's seat, a huge campaign war chest and the backing of a bipartisan group of movers, shakers and politicos. Crime was down, the economy was good, and his appealing desert preserve proposal was headed for the same September ballot on which his name would appear for re-election.
But on that summer day, the city council made a move that would change the shape of the mayoral race, voting to invoke an emergency clause to avert an election and subsidize the $112 million Marriott hotel at the downtown Collier Center.
Randy Pullen, who had once sought $5.5 million in incentives for another downtown hotel, announced his candidacy for mayor after that meeting.
Suddenly, there was a race of sorts. Mayor Rimsza, accustomed to trouncing his opponents in council and mayor races, had a viable challenger, albeit late in the game.
Rimsza and supporters dismiss Pullen as a disgruntled bidder who is motivated by sour grapes rather than civic responsibility. He is a one-issue latecomer whose chances of actually being elected mayor are exactly nil, they say.
But this is no oddball candidate. Pullen has been around a long time, has done a lot of work in the community and, backers say, has the qualifications to run the sixth-largest city in the United States.
He is not, he insists, a one-issue candidate. Nor was his entry into the race a spur-of-the-moment decision.
"I've always had an interest in politics," Pullen says. "I've worked on campaigns over the years, and I was looking at the mayor's race. I wanted to do it, but it didn't make sense to me. I didn't think he [Rimsza] could be beat."
When Rimsza and the council voted to fund the Marriott and eliminated the possibility of a referendum on the issue, Pullen thought the public trust had been broken. He thought it was an arrogant act, and decided the time was ripe for someone to challenge the incumbent.
"I knew that people weren't going to like this. I knew they were going to start listening to other people's points of view," Pullen says.
Since throwing his hat into the ring, Pullen has been working hard to get his viewpoints heard. While Rimsza's campaign has consisted largely of mailings and signs, Pullen has been knocking on doors, shaking hands, walking in anti-crime marches, passing out handbills at Diamondbacks games and visiting Block Watch meetings. He's taken a leave of absence from his position on the executive board of the Phoenix Community Alliance (where he and Rimsza supporter Jerry Colangelo are at odds over Pullen's objection to the Marriott and his work on the Rio Salado Crossing project), and he is leaving the business of Pullen & Company to his son, Travis.
The smallest group he addressed? Six people at a Republican district meeting in Maryvale. The largest were the Council of Women Realtors at the Moon Valley Country Club and the Kenilworth forum.
Rimsza has the endorsement of the Arizona Professional Police Officers Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona; Pullen has no such group backers. He is taking a different tack, focusing on neighborhood groups and regular folks. These are the ones who feel what he calls "a disconnect," a sense that the mayor has lost touch with them and their concerns.
The response, he says, has been gratifying. People are at first suspicious of him, another politician making promises. But after he talks with them, many come around.
"My pledge to them is I won't forget them when I'm mayor," he says one night after addressing about 40 members of the Rancho Ventura Neighborhood Association. "I won't come here every month, but I will come."
While Pullen has been out pounding the pavement, the mayor has been keeping a low profile as a candidate. His campaign Web site (www.MayorRimsza.com) contained only old news as late as two weeks before the election. A click on the heading "campaign news and events," for example, brought up a photocopied image of a newspaper article announcing Bob Dole's plan to attend the mayor's February fund-raiser. Only two other items were on that page -- a copy of the front and the inside of the invitation to the Arizona Biltmore event. Like other Phoenicians, Rimsza has been escaping the summer heat -- and forums that would enlighten the voters -- by taking his family to cooler climes.
Rimsza didn't make a candidates show taped by Channel 45, although Pullen, Dardis and even Abril showed up. He did participate in a Channel 8 Horizon segment, which featured Rimsza and Pullen in separate 10-minute question-and-answer sessions. (The station said it couldn't find Dardis; even the city clerk's office gets official election mail returned with no forwarding address.) Rimsza was slated to appear with Pullen at the Women Realtors luncheon, but had to cancel, reportedly to baby-sit. (A staffer told New Times on that day the mayor was in the mountains with his family.) Pullen's backers asked the League of Women Voters to sponsor a mayoral debate, but were told the League could get no response from Rimsza. The mayor says he never heard anything about it.
The Kenilworth forum received two tiny advance notices in the Arizona Republic, one of which left out the date. After that event, the mayor headed back to the mountains and was a no-show at a Sunnyslope forum a few days later.
Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University professor, pollster and expert on Arizona politics, says it should come as no shock when an incumbent avoids debating his challengers.
"Whether it's Skip or any other candidate, it's to their advantage not to have debates," he says. And even if he did make an effort to air his differences with Pullen and Dardis, most folks simply wouldn't care, Merrill says. City elections have a typically low turnout (in the teens, percentagewise), he says, for a number of reasons.
One, he says, there is a leftover element of the old city charter system in which high-powered members of the community simply anointed the person for the top job. That means many voters don't bother to get involved. Another factor is the changing population. New city residents are worried about finding a good school, doctor, etc., rather than delving into city political races. Also, the timing of the election -- the day after Labor Day -- means the crux of the campaign will occur when the most likely voters who are better educated and earn higher incomes are vacationing out of town.
Paul Johnson, the former Phoenix mayor who twice ran unsuccessfully for governor, deplores the lack of attention to the mayor's race. He claims the Arizona Republic has declared that Rimsza should and will be the next mayor and hasn't put any focus on the issues. "It goes beyond Skip and Randy," he says. "The public should have a choice."
He says it's not just the Republic's fault. The broadcast media also haven't paid enough attention to city races or even statewide ones in recent years, Johnson says.
"I got more coverage when I ran for city council than I got in my race for governor," he says. "I can show you the articles. I've got scrapbooks."
Johnson, a close friend of Rimsza's who served as best man at his second wedding, has endorsed Pullen for mayor.
"It's not an anti-Skip thing . . ." he explains. "I just think that right now, it would be a good time for somebody who is willing to step in and provide the leadership on some issues that I think Randy would provide leadership on."
Johnson, who had to have been hurt when Rimsza backed Jane Hull for governor instead of him, says the Marriott issue was not the factor in his joining Pullen's camp. It was Pullen's promise to focus on crime.
While Rimsza points out that crime rates have decreased during his years as mayor, Pullen notes that the rates have not dropped as quickly as in cities like New York or San Diego. And he claims that based on the latest FBI statistics showing reported crimes per capita, it's safer to walk the streets of New York than it is Phoenix.
Politicians know that numbers can be spun to support various claims. Johnson goes by personal observation.
"The problem isn't getting fixed, it's getting worse," he says. "I see it every single day. I saw it as mayor. I see it with my kids, I see it with other kids in the neighborhood where I grew up."
If there were public debates in the mayor's race, crime would likely be a main topic of discussion. Rimsza claims he has made great strides during his administration, moving toward community-based policing, cracking down on gangs and graffiti, beginning an anti-truancy program and pumping millions of new dollars into after-school programs to try to keep kids out of trouble. (Despite those efforts, authorities say, some 300 known gangs are operating in Phoenix.) He says 500 new police officers have been added under his watch, creating the highest police-per-capita rate in city history, a result of some careful planning and earmarking of federal grants and city revenues.
Rimsza's plans for the future include purchasing (through bonds which will be put before voters next year) new technology to help officers better fight crime while protecting their safety. The equipment, an 800 megahertz radio system, would allow patrol officers to access a database providing the history of incidents at an address they are approaching.
"Today, you can call Pizza Hut, 220-4444, and tell them what you want and they can tell you what you ordered the last time you were there," he explains. "But when we send police officers to a call at a specific address, they have no idea what they're walking into."
Pullen has unveiled a $135 million plan to fight crime -- not coincidentally the low end of the range of incentives the city has extended to two new downtown hotels. The money would be apportioned this way over four years:
$65 million to pay for 400 new police officers (as well as the 100 already coming courtesy of federal matching funds).
$30 million to go toward neighborhood programs, including more inspectors to enforce zoning and code violations, police substations and park patrols in certain areas, and giving Block Watch groups more tools to fight crime, like walkie-talkies.
$30 million for crime prevention through more after- and before-school programs.
$10 million to buy top-of-the-line protective police vests, an $800 item versus the $500 ones now in use, and to increase police survivor benefits.
Rimsza supporters scoff at Pullen's pledge. It's easy to offer to spend millions to fight crime; it's another to show where the money will come from, they say. But Pullen, who as accountant and consultant helped set up financial systems for Micronesia, Maricopa County, the City of Tempe and the Arizona Lottery, is no stranger to public-finance issues. He holds an undergraduate degree in math and an MBA in finance. He's reviewed every Phoenix budget since 1992, he says, and the money is there. The city has enjoyed surpluses and expects revenue increases that will easily finance his crime package without any new taxes or cuts in existing services, he claims.
In the June campaign-finance reports filed with the city, Rimsza's campaign, which kicked off with the high-profile banquet featuring former senator Bob Dole, documented more than $312,000 in receipts and expenses of nearly $170,000. A thick stack of pages of donors reads like a Who's Who of important people and businesses in the Valley.
A former real estate agent who sits on the board of Stewart Title and Trust and the Gill Group, a food service equipment business run by his wife, Rimsza is asking voters to give him four more years to finish and expand on programs he has begun. He points to the city's christening as "The Best Run City in the World" (an accolade Phoenix earned in 1993, before Rimsza was mayor).
He boasts of great efficiency and good satisfaction ratings among residents, whom he likes to call customers. He spends his own money sending out 30,000 comment cards a year to residents, asking for feedback on city services. His staff follows up on each one, he says, and he personally calls a random number of those citizens each day. Rimsza says showing up to pre-election events isn't as important as maintaining the kind of contact he has with residents.
He's proud of the downtown revitalization and is leading the charge to preserve 15,000 acres of desert north of Phoenix and improve the city's parks. His accomplishments have included backing the slumlord task force which led to a crackdown on blight, supporting the opening of a new domestic-violence center, encouraging infill as a way to stem sprawl and overseeing a work force that involves fewer employees per capita than when he took office.
Plans for the future include putting a transit package to the voters in a special election, possibly in March, which will seek a new tax to pay for better bus service as well as a light rail system. Rimsza has appointed a citizen's committee to craft the proposal, which involves using federal matching funds to finance a 25-mile rail system from the East Valley to Phoenix.
Pullen, who entered the race after the end of the finance reporting period, says he expects to raise in excess of $100,000 and has already put in more than half that sum himself. He doesn't seem threatened by the deep coffers in the Rimsza camp. "We've raised enough money to do whatever we need to do," he says.
He lists himself as treasurer and chairman of his campaign committee and calls "baloney" suggestions that U.S. Senator John McCain and former governor J. Fife Symington III are pulling strings behind his campaign.
"They haven't endorsed me or given me any money," he says. He explains Cindy McCain did say she was glad he would be running at one gathering and that Symington did give him the floor at another get-together at the home of consultant Chuck Coughlin. Despite reports that Coughlin -- an ally of both McCain's and Symington's -- is working on Pullen's race, both Pullen's campaign manager and Coughlin say that isn't the case. He is supporting Pullen, but isn't on the payroll.
Pullen, who has served on boards of three homeowners' associations, promises a more open style if he were elected, a return to the hours-long public debates on issues that Rimsza has moved away from. "I don't have a problem listening to people who disagree with me," he says. "Eventually, we'll come to an agreement."
He says there is a need for better transit, but he says improving bus service, perhaps by contracting out shorter routes and using smaller buses, should be the first concern before approaching the light rail option. (Rimsza says federal rail money could be lost if quick action is not taken.) Pullen supports better growth management, but he's not thrilled with Rimsza's Desert Preserve Initiative. First, he says, it will not raise nearly enough money to save all 15,000 acres. Secondly, he believes the added money to improve parks should have been a separate issue.
Dardis' campaign-finance filing is kind of confusing. He places question marks after every notation. He claimed to have raised around $1,900, loans from himself and two out-of-state relatives. Disbursements totaled $3,000, and expenditures, which must detail to whom and for what the money was spent, include $1,100 to "Karen, Phoenix, Arizona" and a Tempe man who was paid $250 in June 1996, with no explanation as to what the money purchased.
He tells New Times and others there have been signs in his life that have led him to this point. He and Bill Clinton have the same birthday. Also, both their mothers were named Virginia. And there's more: Dardis' parents got together when they were 18, then broke up. Years later, his dad noticed an obituary in the paper for Virginia's mother, realized she was still single and called her. They reunited and one result was Patrick Dardis.
"I'm here for a reason," he summarizes. Dardis says he realized he was meant to be in Phoenix when he was passing through on a trip from New Jersey and bumped into someone he knew.
Dardis' main campaign issues are cleaning up "the cesspool" that Phoenix has become and stemming the tide of illegal aliens. He often declares, "I'm not a racist." But he says the influx of Mexicans is threatening the culture and neighborhoods of Phoenix, and the city is wasting money on special programs for Irish-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Polynesian-Americans.
Both Dardis and Pullen pledge to rescind the Marriott financing deal (an $11 million investment and an $83 million loan guarantee) if elected. Rimsza stands behind his vote, saying it was a critical package that culminated 25 years of work to get some major hotels downtown to compete with the huge conventions other cities are hosting. Pullen says the construction plans put the cart before the horse: Shouldn't the city see whether voters want to expand the Phoenix Civic Plaza to accommodate larger conventions before helping build hotels to house attendees?
Rimsza says regardless, the number of downtown hotel rooms -- about 1,100 -- is woefully inadequate. Pullen responds that given current low occupancy rates at those facilities, where is the need for more rooms?
Supporters of Rimsza say Pullen's criticism is tainted by the fact that he and other partners submitted their own bid for a downtown hotel. Pullen explains that deal this way: He proposed the construction of a small, 140-room hotel, the Jacksonian, at Second Street and Jackson. City officials told him there was a need for a larger facility, asked him to submit a plan for something bigger, and offered financial incentives. What evolved was a proposal for a larger, more expensive hotel, a 262-room facility to be affiliated with a known name in the industry. Closer to Bank One Ballpark, it would have covered an entire block south of Jackson between Third and Fourth streets. Pullen and his partners garnered the support of the neighborhood, then submitted their plan, asking for a $5.5 million loan from the city. The city declined and instead decided to help finance a 350-room Embassy Suites at the Arizona Center, investing $7 million and guaranteeing a $35 million loan with bonds.
Pullen says if he was in the race merely as a disgruntled bidder, he would have announced his candidacy then, in March. But he says it took the Marriott deal and the city's shabby treatment of Crowne Plaza Hotel manager Steve Cohn and the voting public to spur him into action.
Phil Gordon, a councilman who in recent years has been either a critic of the mayor or good buddy, is wearing the good buddy hat these days. Gordon defends the Marriott vote as correct. The incentives and the emergency clause were needed to seal the deal, he says, and he believes a public vote was not really called for because the plan would involve no tax increase. (The $11 million investment and the $83 million in bonds do, however, involve public funds. If the hotel does not fly, the city -- and taxpayers -- will be left holding the bill.)
Still, while the debate was raging, Gordon was on the fence. It was only Cohn's recall threats that pushed him squarely into the pro-Marriott camp. Cohn, who is a part owner of the Crowne Plaza, is backing Pullen and is behind the "Got Milked?" billboards, and is pushing an initiative campaign to require that the council give voters a say in such projects in the future.
A July poll conducted for Cohn (who has hired Chuck Coughlin) revealed a strong majority of Phoenicians -- 81 percent -- would support such an initiative. And 56 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for Rimsza if they knew he led the effort to use emergency powers to bypass the public's right to vote on the Marriott deal. Pullen's camp hasn't commissioned any polls.
It's no surprise that Sal DiCiccio, the District 6 councilman who cast the lone "nay" vote in the Marriott dispute, is supporting Pullen for mayor. A noisy critic of Rimsza's, he bristles at campaign literature and rhetoric in which he says the mayor lays claim to every good thing that has happened under his watch.
"It's easy to take credit for what other people have done," DiCiccio says. He points to the slumlord laws, the after-school programs, the new domestic-violence center as specific programs sparked by individual council members, never mentioned as priorities in the mayor's "State of the City" addresses. DiCiccio says other accomplishments, like the addition of the new police officers, were supported by the whole council. What specific actions resulted from Rimsza's own ideas? DiCiccio asks, then answers. "I'll tell you: Sumitomo, Finova and Marriott."
Sumitomo, a $400 million silicon wafer plant in north Phoenix, was backed by Rimsza, but was criticized as a hasty, back-room, incentive-laden deal. The city paid more than $10 million for infrastructure improvements, and guided the project through a maze of zoning changes without ever disclosing what would be built on the site. The council invoked the emergency clause in adopting the zoning, preventing area residents from referring the question to the ballot. Sumitomo gathered intelligence on its neighborhood opponents and shared it with the city. Its public relations people scripted "talking points" for Rimsza. Since opening in 1996, Sumitomo has been under fire by residents and environmentalists who claim it is a public health threat and is operating illegally according to zoning laws. (Interestingly, the city's response in a pending lawsuit contends the plant is in compliance with zoning laws, because the zoning ordinance was crafted specifically for Sumitomo.)
Finova, the Phoenix-based company that was an offshoot of the Dial Corporation, had in 1997 sought and obtained a height variance for an office tower at the Camelback Esplanade. After neighbors and others protested loudly about the council's breach of trust and threatened a referendum, Finova backed out and the variance was rescinded. The company is in the process of relocating to Scottsdale.
Many Phoenicians are still smarting over the $40 million parking garage built across from Bank One Ballpark. The council action in 1996 approving that project violated Proposition 200, foes claimed, which prohibits spending public money on sports-related projects without a vote. But Rimsza argued the garage is not for baseball fans: It's to handle parking for the city's science museum and other cultural events. The city ordered a consultant to rewrite reports that concluded the garage was only necessary if it were being built for the baseball stadium.
Critics of Rimsza would add a few more dubious achievements to the mayor's list: the doomed idea to rename Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after Barry Goldwater, and the party he threw at his home for citizens' committees, letting a zoning attorney pick up the tab. Rimsza later paid the money back.
Another group disgruntled with the mayor is the gay community, according to Bruce Christian of Echo Magazine. Rimsza was one of only three sitting council members to vote against the non-discrimination ordinance in 1992, saying voters should have a say in the issue. With little known about Pullen, Christian says his publication is endorsing nobody in the mayor's race.
DiCiccio, who is considering a run for Congress, says Rimsza lacks leadership and vision. He would like to see a mayor who prioritizes issues and programs, then works on tackling them. He says it's too easy during good times to rest on the status quo, avoiding tough issues and questions of reallocation of resources.
"It's easy to sit back during a good economy. That is exactly the time when you should be planning for the future. . . . This prosperity won't last forever," he says.
Rimsza, who usually brushes off DiCiccio as a grandstander more interested in higher office than city problems, says Phoenix is only in its solid position today because of hard work and careful planning. He openly credits the council members who have taken on certain issues. And he says it was the combination of his management style and their abilities that produced good results. The key, he says, is to get good people to take the lead in important projects, then to support them every step of the way.
Phil Gordon, the District 4 councilman who claims friendship with Rimsza and Johnson and says he knows Pullen fairly well, says overall, Rimsza has been a good mayor who has backed council members' efforts. Gordon, who is credited with helping bring the slumlord problems to the fore, says what some view as a lack of leadership in Rimsza is really just a question of style.
"The mayor's style is to build consensus out at the community level and the subcommittee level of the council, as opposed to on the floor of the council chambers, where you have a two- to three-hour agenda packed full of different issues," he says.
Gordon, who reportedly toyed with the idea of running for mayor this year himself, says such analyses about Rimsza's record, his strengths and foibles, are moot.
"The race is over now," he declared one evening more than two weeks before the election date. "The race for mayor is over."
He says the economy is good, most voters are content, and there is no big scandal to push them into demanding a changing of the guard. Gordon criticizes Pullen's campaign -- and the companion one for Cohn's "Right to Vote" initiative -- as weak, but allowed there is not a campaign strategist around who could devise a winning race against Rimsza.
At the Kenilworth Elementary School forum, Skip Rimsza's kids climbed all over him while he met with individual groups for some up-close dialogue.
Two and sometimes three of the triplets would sit on his lap, drink from sippie cups and eat snacks while dad opined. Rimsza speaks with an animated, authoritative style, but he was often distracted, interrupting discussions to attend to the little ones and look around for help. Adorable the triplets were, in their plaid outfits that matched their dad's. But being 3 years old, they were also antsy in such a setting, whimpering and squirming, even pinching and punching each other while on the mayor's lap. After Rimsza was asked about the likelihood of bringing a major employer to Maryvale, Nicole announced she wanted to "go bye bye." And in the middle of answering a question about the likelihood of Phoenix's airport ever moving, Rimsza called out for his teenage daughter to retrieve "those fish, the little fishie cookies" from the Suburban. He did answer both questions.
Some were happy for the opportunity to interact with the mayor in such a personal way. But others resented his late arrival, early departure and limited attention to participants. One woman said she voted for Rimsza last election, but won't again.
"He lost my vote. He was playing with his kids the whole time he was here," she said.
Rimsza explains later that he was asked to bring his kids with him. Told that many found them distracting, he responds: "It wasn't ideal, but that's what happens when you have an event on a Saturday afternoon and invite a guy with triplets."
Patrick Dardis, also an energetic, animated sort, delivered his responses in rapid-fire sentences. Obviously up on many issues, he listened to folks, shook his head, lamented the sad state of affairs in Phoenix. And he promised to do his best for the citizens "regardless of race." He pledged to work with neighborhood associations and use more of a hands-on approach to governance. There will be no more "non-response, feel-goodness and oh, loveliness," he said, wiggling his fingers in the air as if tinkling tiny piano keys near his ears. "We need people who do solid things, no more of this papier-mâché type of mayor, mayorhood, mayoralty and papier-mâché council."
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When Randy Pullen held court in his groups, he drew people around him. Because he speaks quietly and looks directly into people's eyes when he addresses them, members of each circle would instinctively lean forward to hear him. It gave each group a conspiratorial look. One woman who lives not too far from the mayor was eager to welcome Pullen into her circle for his designated 15 minutes. He was calm, he was collected and he was kidless (even though he does have two at home).
"I'll tell you what," the woman told Pullen by way of introduction. "Skip has lost our vote here, and that other guy is scary."
And then she sat back to listen to what Pullen had to say.
Contact Laura Laughlin at her online address: email@example.com