The citizens' committee to recall Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano collected almost 5,000 signatures to put Giuliano's name on a September recall ballot. But with three months left to qualify, not a single serious candidate has emerged to challenge the mayor.
The most viable potential candidate, activist and two-time (unsuccessful) city council candidate Rich Bank, terminated his exploratory committee last Friday -- just two days after New Times first inquired about a presentation on cross-dressing he made to an Arizona State University psychology class several years ago.
Bank admits that he told the class -- a public setting, given that ASU is a state school -- he has a cross-dressing fetish. But now he says he dressed up the truth, that he was really borrowing on experiences from friends in the cross-dressing community.
"I overexaggerated my involvement and I find now that I shouldn't have done that," Bank told New Times last week, "because I figure that somehow or another people are going to connect the dots and go, if Rich Bank gets elected -- which now I'm telling you I'm not going to run, and I will terminate tomorrow -- somehow or another . . . it would come out like, all the guys are going to have to wear dresses on Thursdays if Rich wins. And it would be not an accurate statement."
Bank says he had already been planning to end his candidacy because of lack of public interest and the difficulty of raising the $65,000 he estimated he'd need. But he stepped up the decision after the cross-dressing issue arose.
His hasty departure from the race raises questions about just how much a candidate's personal life has to do with decisions made at Tempe's polls. Neil Giuliano, who is openly gay, was reelected Tempe mayor in March 2000 with more than 70 percent of the vote. The recall movement began shortly after Giuliano suggested the City of Tempe stop sending employees' United Way donations to the Boy Scouts following a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the scouts to ban gay men and boys from participating in the organization. The idea was ultimately rejected, but not before a huge uproar.
Giuliano declined comment on either the Bank situation or his own.
A.J. LaFaro, chairperson of Citizens to Recall Neil Giuliano, says the Boy Scout debacle was "the straw that broke the camel's back," but that the recall movement is not about the fact that Giuliano is gay.
LaFaro says he and his group were also upset over a public vote that boosted the mayoral term from two years to four years (a question now before the Arizona Court of Appeals) and concerns related to transit.
"If an individual is going to run for public office, they need to protect and maintain the trust of the citizens. When they betray that trust, when they abuse that power, when they have disdain for the democratic process, I don't care who they are -- they need to be held accountable," LaFaro says.
LaFaro adds that his group is not recruiting candidates for the recall election, and has not endorsed a candidate. He says he had not endorsed Bank, and had no comment regarding the cross-dressing speech.
Bank, 55, is probably best known in Tempe as the founder of the popular bar Casey Moore's. He moved to town about 20 years ago from California for a job in the semiconductor industry, and opened the bar on Mill Avenue. Casey Moore's relocated to its present location on Ash Street in the early 1980s, and Bank sold it to his ex-wife in 1987.
Bank says he has seen Tempe change dramatically, mainly with regard to what he sees as overdevelopment. He blames Giuliano. He says others agree -- and that growth, not Giuliano's homosexuality, is why they want the mayor recalled.
"Yeah, there are bigots and homophobes that live in Tempe, and some of them have signed the recall petition," Bank says. "Maybe all of them have. But that's not everybody that signed it. There are other people for other reasons that decided they wanted to recall Neil."
Bank says he had hoped that Tempeans would rally behind his candidacy, perhaps increasing the low voter turnout that has become the norm in Tempe and other cities.
"Quite frankly, I'm not seeing that," he says. "It's pretty much Sleepy Hollow out there."
LaFaro agrees. Giuliano is only part of the problem, he says. "The apathetic, complacent, lazy citizens in Tempe are the other part."
Two others, Charles Goodson and Jim Hayes, have taken information packets on the position for the recall election but have not formed campaign committees.
Bank says his interest in cross-dressing is academic and began in college when he studied biochemistry and medical technology -- and learned about hermaphrodites.
"There was somewhat of a curiosity, if you will, for people who are dressing in a presentation that is in a gender that is different than their biologically assigned gender."
Bank lived in San Francisco, where he had friends in the "gender community" and fought for their political rights. He says he frequented the 307 -- a now-defunct Phoenix bar infamous for cross-dressing performances -- and made friends in the local community here.
Some of those friends asked him to speak to the ASU class, Bank says.
"It was basically a request or a cajoling on the part of some friends of mine, all right, that thought that I should go and somehow help them relieve some of the discrimination that they feel is on them," he says, explaining there were concerns about hate crimes as well as the way cross-dressers were evaluated psychologically.
"I did something out of a courtesy," he adds, just like he's stood up at meetings on behalf of neighborhoods he doesn't live in, or on behalf of battered women.
But he hasn't pretended to be a battered woman.
"Well, I guess, in the help of my friends I attributed a lot of attributes that I knew from them. . . . I stretched the point, let's put it that way," Bank says.
He adds, "I'm not part of that community. They got me dressed one night and took me out on Halloween. And let me tell you something, I was totally frightened."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As for a strong recall candidate, LaFaro says one may still emerge. "We're looking at this very closely. We didn't do this as an exercise in futility," he says.
And if one doesn't?
"Don't go there yet."