Valley of the Drolls
It's that time of year, the season for journalistic sharing, when all good reporters feel compelled to pontificate on the previous year and tell you, the reading public, what we think you should have paid attention to. Top 10 story lists, dubious achievement awards, even cleverly thought out "gifts" to newsmakers fill the media at the end of every year.
This year, New Times introduces the Doofus and Darling Awards. For the moment, we've set aside our trademark snarkiness to recognize a few people or institutions who we believe are genuinely trying to make this Valley a better place. On the other hand, there is still no shortage of those who should know better, and we've taken this opportunity to mention a few who are not the usual suspects.
In truth, when we made our list -- after hearty staff debate -- we came up with many in this community who have been more darlings than doofuses over the past year. A few worthy of honorable mention who nearly made the final cut: Jerry Colangelo, of course, but everybody already loves him. Legislative up-and-comers John Loredo and Henry Camarot, on the Democrats' side, and, yes, we even like a couple of Republicans, Deb Gullett and Ken Bennett.
U.S. Senator John McCain will surely gasp at the thought of New Times finding something to like about him, but we did take note of his continued aggressiveness on certain issues we like, especially tightening up gun sales.
In that same vein, we like former Phoenix mayor John Driggs, who single-handedly saved Tovrea Castle and its surrounding land, and County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox for providing kick-ass Mexican food and primo people-watching at her new El Portal restaurant downtown. And we have to tip our pica pole to Jon Talton, the savvy business columnist at the Arizona Republic who has spent much of the past year laying out a solid public-policy framework to get our collective economic shit together.
Doofuses, we have a few. And, in fact, too many to mention them all. The parking-garage boondogglers, the Bob Burns-wanna-be land scammers, the family killers, the pork-barrelers, the carpetbaggers -- all third verse same as the first.
For individual stupidity, we have to go with former Diamondbacks back-up catcher Mike DiFelice, whose barroom antics involving a couple of women cost him a World Series ring.
Still, we have singled out those who had some lingering impact on this community, beyond a 30-second blast on the 10 o'clock news.
Other runner-up doofuses: Outspoken abortion doctor Brian Finkel, once the darling of the pro-choice crowd, now in one of Joe Arpaio's jail cells on charges he sexually assaulted numerous women. Former Valley restaurateur Norman Fierros, who drove one of the city's best restaurants straight into the ground. Again. Freshman congressman Jeff Flake, whose Don Quixote act is making him look like the ass.
So, without further ado, we present the top chumps and champs of 2001.
Trickster Tempe: Until September 11, the proposed Arizona Cardinals stadium -- and where it should go -- was the biggest local news story of 2001. (How pathetic is that?) The sorry saga continues. And doofuses abound.
The City of Tempe's backroom dealings and shady maneuvers cost the city the new stadium and with it the Arizona Cardinals, the Fiesta Bowl and future Super Bowls. Mayor Neil Giuliano's greasy plan to trade development rights to the Cardinals to cover the city's up-front costs to build on land owned by Salt River Project smacked of self-interest. Rather than hold public discussions over the proposed site (a mile due east of Sky Harbor's longest runway), Tempe lied to the Tourism and Sports Authority, claiming to have preliminary FAA approval for the stadium.
Whoops. The FAA wasn't about to rubber-stamp Giuliano's latest development fiasco.
Still, there is an upside to this dismal story for Tempe. The city won't have to deal any more with TSA and its chief, Ted Ferris, who are lying to the public about the ultimate cost of the stadium. There's no way it will ever come in at the $331 million TSA promised prior to the November 2000 election in which voters approved construction of the stadium. Try $431 million.
Absolutely Flabulous: It isn't often that an Arizonan makes it on to the pages of People magazine, so folks were understandably excited in 1998 when the national media celebrated our own Fab Five -- five women elected to the state's five highest offices, all at once.
But fab has turned to flab over the past few years, as these five have proven that women can be just as mediocre as men when it comes to governing. Governor Jane Dee Hull's most lasting accomplishment has been her own face-lift. Attorney General Janet Napolitano and Secretary of State Betsey Bayless have spent most of their time in office eyeing Hull's spot. Treasurer Carol Springer -- along with Hull -- failed to notice that Arizona's alternative fuel tax credit was about to bankrupt the state. And schools chief Lisa Graham Keegan gave us unregulated charter schools and onerous standardized testing -- then split early for a lucrative private-sector job.
Lesson learned. The best man for the job is not necessarily a woman. You go, girls. Just go. We'll take our chances with the next administration.
The Horrid Zone: Nearly 10 years after signing onto Phoenix airwaves, KZON-FM has self-destructed and sold out.
We knew it was coming two years ago when The Zone -- once the only intelligent, progressive and independent rock station in town -- fired DJ Mary McCann. But we had hope that despite the loss of the Bone Mama, who symbolized those amazing early days when DJs knew their music and actually selected what songs to play, KZON would continue in some semblance of an alternative rock station.
Instead, The Zone has dissolved into total doofusism with puzzling attempts to solve its identity crisis. It continues to play emerging artists, but it's also added lame teenaged music to its playlists and overplays many songs to death. Worse, it recently hired potty-mouthed DJs who spend most of their time giggling uproariously at each other's nasty tales rather than playing tunes. Even our kids don't like them. In November, when Dave Smiley and Greg Simms got the ax to make way for the music-free King of Junior High Humor, Howard Stern, we knew the Zone was dead.
Unfortunately, ratings will probably rise because there is that huge segment of the Valley that adores Stern and Dave Pratt, the gimmicky King of Red Underwear (ha ha), who joined the staff January 2. But we won't be tuning in.
Chief of Chaff: If you don't like something the governor's done, don't look at the redhead. Chances are, the blame rests at the feet of Rick Collins, Governor Jane Dee Hull's chief of staff.
Collins is the most powerful guy you've never heard of. Even the most in-the-know capitol insiders can't tell you much about him (or maybe they're afraid to), except to say that he calls all the shots on the Ninth Floor. If he calls you back at all.
In their tenure, Hull and Collins have made predecessor J. Fife Symington and his henchmen -- Wes Gullett and Chuck Coughlin -- look downright statesmanlike. At least Fife and company stood up for what was right -- or, rather, what they thought was right. During the brouhaha over the proposed Cardinals stadium, with the mayors of Tempe and Phoenix at each other's throats, the insiders begged Hull and Collins to intervene. No go. The governor was noticeably absent. That's because Collins, who's doing Hull's job, governs via poll numbers. That clearly hasn't served him well since her numbers are in the tank. Why worry about what folks think when you're a lame duck?
Who knows? Makes us wonder about Collins' aspirations -- except lobbyists and legislators say Collins has pissed off so many people he'll never eat lunch in this town again.
Kidd Gloves: He wasn't just the Phoenix Suns' best player. Jason Kidd was the public image the team wanted to present: a dominant point guard who also happened to be a good guy, loving husband and doting father. Even if the team was at least a big man away from true championship contention, Kidd's brilliant presence offered the promise of titles and trophies in the future.
But on January 18, when Kidd was arrested for allegedly striking his wife Joumana -- herself a local sports-media fixture -- you could feel a total eclipse of the Suns coming on. Kidd publicly apologized, took four games off, and reached a plea agreement that included six months of counseling. But the incident was a black eye for the Suns, and Kidd's days with the franchise were numbered.
Kidd himself instantly realized that Suns owner Jerry Colangelo would not tolerate this behavior from his star attraction. Kidd was dealt to New Jersey in the off-season, and he's turned that perpetual loser into a first-tier team. But while he's rebounded, the Suns are left to pick up the pieces, and their current mediocrity looks like an ongoing proposition.
Amazing Grace: How could we not love the Arizona Diamondbacks' Mark Grace? The bucket of cigarette butts in the clubhouse. The invitations to all Arizonans to party at his house. The stripper analogies. The accidental f-bombs. The playboy past. The Bambino idolization of beer and marginalized health.
And how about that bizarre and hopefully alcohol-impaired speech at the post-World Series celebration? "Two words: Trophy! . . . Ring!"
Of course, none of this works without what appears to be his heart of brilliantly tarnished gold.
Or his competence. Beyond dead-ball-era charm, he's automatic with short-hoppers, a solid .300 batter and an inspiring clubhouse leader. His addition to the team this year, in tandem with Bob Brenly, gave the clubhouse a sustainably invigorating air of focus and levity impossible under the boot-camp stricture of Buck Showalter.
The Diamondbacks may have Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson and Luis Gonzalez. But they wouldn't be World Champions without Mark Grace.
The Art of Coordination: You could say that Kimber Lanning tends to spread herself a bit thin. As a record-store owner, a volunteer social worker, a college student majoring in psychology, and the driving force behind downtown's best art space/music venue, Modified Arts, she rarely has a moment of leisure.
But Lanning can't stand to see the local underground arts scene go ignored, and she hates the thought of important musical groups bypassing the Valley because there's nowhere suitable for them to play. That's why she long ago started booking shows at her store, Stinkweeds Records, giving the touring bands 100 percent of the receipts, and keeping nothing for herself. The idea grew into Modified Arts, a haven for local artists (with new exhibits at the beginning of every month), indie rockers and avant-garde jazz musicians.
This year, Lanning reclaimed Modified when former Stinkweeds employee Scott Tennant (who managed the venue for the last two years) decided to move to New York, and with the help of booking agent Leslie Barton, she's re-emphasized its commitment to local arts, even contemplating the creation of a night for filmmakers to show their work. And true to her nature, although it's her money that keeps Modified running, she doesn't see herself as the owner of the volunteer-driven venture. She prefers to think of herself as its "coordinator."
One Smart Sue: She made the switch this year from the House to the Senate, but Sue Gerard continues to top the IQ chart at the Arizona Legislature.
The central Phoenix Republican is astonished at how much her fellow senators rely on staff to do their work; that's simply not Gerard's way. But don't get us wrong -- she's no wonkish wimp with her head in a book. She's got a long history as a charismatic wheeler-dealer; Gerard is the last surviving member of the so-called Sue Nation -- a group of centrist female legislators who bucked the Symington trend. She also has a reputation at the statehouse for making her opinions known, and even making them multiply -- her colleagues often vote Gerard's way simply because she tells them to. And while her area of expertise is health care, when it came time last year to negotiate changes in education law, legislators turned to Gerard to lead the way.
Our only regret is that Sue Gerard is probably too smart to run for higher office.
On a Higher Plane: Not even a terrorist attack could keep Southwest Airlines grounded for long.
While most of the nation's airlines posted gargantuan losses in the weeks after the attack, Southwest Airlines turned a profit.
Its secret? Cheap fares, on-time flights, friendly service and a snappy Web site. The Dallas-based airline boasts Sky Harbor Airport as its largest hub, with 184 daily departures to 38 nonstop cities.
Southwest now books 30 percent of its reservations -- worth $1.7 billion -- online. It costs the airline only $1 to book a flight through its Web site. SWA passes along savings to customers with lower fares and double flight-mile credits for using iflyswa.com. It's this philosophy of smart business and customer satisfaction that is propelling SWA to the top.
While America West, Phoenix's hometown airline, grovels for a federal handout while teetering on the edge of financial collapse (again), SWA continues to expand its routes.
Southwest has led the nation in each of the last 10 years with fewest customer complaints. Meanwhile, in 2001, Fortune magazine ranked the airline the fourth-best company to work for in America.
What's the best thing about Southwest Airlines? The $99 nonstop flights to the East Coast. What a deal!
Hogan's a Hero: As the Center for Law in the Public Interest's only attorney in Phoenix, it's Tim Hogan's job to sue Arizona governments when they're not acting in the public interest.
In his 11 years in the position, he has become extremely good at what he does. That's why Hogan is probably the best friend you never realized you had.
In 2001, Hogan racked up a series of monumental court victories: In November, the state Supreme Court agreed with Hogan that grazing leases should go to the highest bidder, not just ranchers. More money for public schools is sure to follow. In December, Hogan successfully defended for the fourth time the challenges against Arizona's Clean Election laws that provide for publicly funded campaigns. Two weeks ago, the Legislature was forced to pony up money for classes for English-learners, again compliments of Tim Hogan.
This list goes on. Effectively stopping the state from giving river-bottom land away free to sand and gravel companies. Forcing state officials to prove that Arizonans need more electricity before approving any of the dozen or so gas-fired power plants companies hope to build in the state to profit from California's energy needs.
Hogan has several more lawsuits to be settled in 2002. Chances are, he'll once again prove himself to be the state's most effective public servant.
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