Best Local Lefty Icon 2011 | State Senator Kyrsten Sinema | People & Places | Phoenix
Kyrsten Sinema, a state senator from Legislative District 15 and formerly a state House Representative for the same liberal enclave, is perhaps best known for being the foil for state Senate President Russell Pearce, opposing him in committee and on the House and Senate floors on a host of issues, the most notable being Pearce's dreaded breathing-while-brown statute Senate Bill 1070.Though she sprang from conservative Mormon stock, she's a fierce defender of lefty causes in a state that's so far right it could tilt the Earth on its axis. A lawyer who is currently working on her doctorate at Arizona State University's School of Justice and Social Inquiry, she's been a valiant champion for the poor, the underprivileged, and the state's immigrant population.Time magazine chose her as one of its 40 under 40 political up-and-comers, and she's served the Obama administration on its White House Health Reform Task Force. But we like her for spearheading the Democratic effort in the Legislature to oppose Pearce's nefarious proposals at every turn, albeit from the outnumbered ranks of the Democratic minority. This, she does, while claiming to "love" the belligerent bigot in purely Christian terms. That's why we encourage Sinema to "love" Pearce a little harder every day the Legislature's in session.

Best Voice Against Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Hatred

Bill Straus

Bill Straus can talk. And what he says is worth listening to. As regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona, he's the media's go-to guy when it comes to discussing the ever-broiling ethnic strife here in Sand Land, hate crimes, Senate Bill 1070, neo-Nazis, or the latest anti-Latino antics of state Senate President Russell Pearce and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.In a state where some civil rights groups (and we won't name names) are virtually invisible, Straus is always there to draw the bright line of what should be unacceptable in civilized society. Prejudice and hatred, and those who preach them, are his enemies. His friends are Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Hindu, Native American, and every variation of humanity under the sun. The gift of gab? That comes naturally. As a young man, he parlayed his verbal dexterity into a job announcing horse races. Then into talk radio, long before all talk-radio hosts were right-wing muttonheads. Now he uses those same skills to decry discrimination, racism, and bigotry of all kinds. His detractors say that Straus never shuts up. We hope he never does.

The Book of Matthew tells us, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." Every time we hear that passage of scripture, we can't help but think of Pastor Warren H. Stewart Sr. of Phoenix's First International Baptist Church. A doctor of divinity, Stewart thirsts for righteousness like no one else we know, calling on the powerful tradition of spiritual leadership and social advocacy that's characteristic of African-American churches.

With impassioned sermons from the pulpit and speeches at civil rights demonstrations, Stewart led the fight two decades ago for an Arizona holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Now, he helps lead the fight against anti-immigrant sentiment in this state, joining forces with Latinos and people of all colors who demand righteousness when it comes to the treatment of the undocumented. In the case of the King holiday, Stewart's "thirst" was slaked in 1992 after years of struggle. Which gives promise that one day, his "hunger" for immigration reform will also be fulfilled.

Best Street Chalker with a Social Conscience

Peggy Plews

Margaret "Peggy" Plews has devoted her life to advocating for the plight of Arizona's incarcerated. By her lonesome, she maintains the Prison Abolitionist website, dedicated to the eradication of the "prison industrial complex." To this end, she maintains correspondence with prisoners in the Arizona Department of Corrections, who tip her off to untimely deaths, abuse from guards, systemic neglect, and poor living conditions. She reports it all on her website, much to the chagrin of ADC satraps.But that's not all Plews is up to. She also writes chalk graffiti on sidewalks and walls all over Phoenix, conveying anti-establishment messages of love. Plews is a dreamer, to be sure. She dreams of a day when there are no prisons. A pipe dream, sure. But Plews has no problem playing Don Quixote. She revels in the role.
Who's watching the detectives? And the patrol cops, and the highway patrol, and the sheriff's deputies? Phoenix Copwatch, natch. Started in 1998 by ostensible anarchists, Copwatch trains observers to monitor the po-po and videotape them as they pull over cars or stop folks on foot. The Copwatchers are there to "stop police brutality," and it's notable that Officer Friendly tends to be a lot friendlier when he's being videotaped. (Well, who isn't?) Copwatchers have been especially effective in monitoring Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps of Latino neighborhoods in the Valley. Under the collective gaze of Copwatch, the sweeps became a game of cat and mouse, with MCSO deputies as the mice. Video of possible civil rights violations was turned over to the ACLU, and if Arpaio's boys in beige were never waylaid, at least they were met toe-to-toe by the activists' critical eyes.
Sergeant Al Ramirez is the coolest kind of cop: He prevents bad stuff from happening, all while protecting your First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. A good day for him is not arresting anybody. His mission is making sure people on opposing sides of an issue holler and fuss at each other, but never come to blows and end up going home without incident.That's a tall order when you're assigned, as Ramirez has been for many years, to the Phoenix Police Department's Community Response Squad, which is charged with keeping the peace at demonstrations and protests of all kinds, from rallies by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement to marches by those opposed to Senate Bill 1070. Often, Ramirez is in the middle, making sure people can express themselves, whatever their political affiliations, without violence ensuing. He's been a cop for decades and has the wisdom to know that it's better to talk people down than threaten arrest. Though in case you get any ideas, those handcuffs on his belt still work, bro, and he's got forearms as big as Popeye's, in case you choose to tango instead of talk.
Talk about an easy act to follow! Andy Thomas quit his gig as Maricopa County Attorney to run for higher office (and lose) after laying waste to the concept of dispensing justice equally during his six years at the helm. Hell, the demagogic Harvard law school grad is probably going to lose his ticket to practice law, at the very least. Montgomery, who assumed office in January after working a few years for Thomas as a prosecutor, has every bit the hang-'em-high bent of his notorious predecessor. But that's where the resemblance ends. Montgomery took pains from the start of his tenure to bridge the chasm between his office and the two other county government branches — judicial and legislative. He is not going to have a pliant Barnett Lotstein, Phil McDonnell, Lisa Aubuchon, or Sally Wells-type (Andy Thomas lieutenants) do his bidding. We will continue to disagree with him about a lot of stuff. But a breath of fresh air is what Bill Montgomery certainly has been.
Jack Harris was a Phoenix cop for nearly 40 years who rose through the ranks to take the helm for six years. He spent a few decades in "motors," patrolling the mean streets on his trusty motorcycle before landing as a top administrator for his agency. A likable and straight-talking fellow, Harris retired as "police chief" for about a minute, and then was rehired as "public safety director." That enabled him to collect hefty pension benefits and a substantial salary. But things went south after Harris got crossways with the increasingly politicized police union, which successfully demonized him as "pro"-illegal immigration and other such nonsense. The union and other Harris haters won the day after a bizarre flap over kidnapping statistics, and the chief got the boot just one day after publicly telling his enemies, "Anyone who wants these stars can come and get them!" They did. But they didn't get his pension — actually, quite lucrative pensions. Harris is in line in about a year to start getting a second check for his long tenure. We should be so lucky to get canned.

Best Underground Escape Route for the Mayor of Phoenix

Tunnel under City Hall

Get this. An underground tunnel runs beneath Phoenix City Hall, connecting City Hall with other city buildings, including the Calvin Goode Building on the south side of Washington Street. Accessed by a freight elevator, the passage is used by city workers tending to underground equipment. But in a pinch, it's also regarded as an emergency escape for the mayor during a security threat — or to evade pesky reporters camped outside the Mayor's Office, waiting to ask questions after a particularly contentious city council meeting. While we're at it, we'll tell you about another nifty escape route for the mayor: a set of interior stairs that connects the 11th and the 12th floors of City Hall. To get away from someone on the 11th floor, easily slip upstairs, effectively avoiding the public elevators on the 11th floor, and hop into the 12th-floor elevators. Don't worry, the elevators won't make a stop on the 11th floor. Once inside, a special pass waved in front of the elevator panel engages a nonstop ride straight to a secured parking garage beneath City Hall reserved for top city officials.To see an illustrated map of the mayor's escape route, visit of2011.
Even when it's not 115 degrees out, we like to head underground to our favorite secret subversive hideaway, where we can relish the big-city vibe of an underground tunnel while also enjoying live music and public art, besides. And even though the Camelback Pedestrian Underpass isn't exactly a secret (it would be hard to hide a much-publicized passageway that runs under Camelback Road and connects two of the city's most popular dining and shopping destinations), we can't help feeling kind of like we're in on a special alternative-universe version of Phoenix, where we're watching a free performance in an underground subway station.Completed in 2007, this glorious, 86-foot-long pedestrian underpass just east of 24th Street on Camelback provides safe passage for people moving from, say, the condominiums and office park at Esplanade Center to the shops and restaurants at Biltmore Fashion Park. Seen from the street, the underpass looks like a bump in the road with nice xeriscaping on either side. Down below you'll find decorative pavement, lush landscaping, and rubberized asphalt to minimize noise and increase proper air circulation. But the real secret to the well-lit tunnel's success is its otherness: We feel as if we've wandered onto the platform of an especially glamorous subway stop, where we always linger to read the pamphlets being passed out by a city-wise political activist or enjoy the music of one of the several musicians who perform there from time to time. We gaze at the lovely terrazzo mosaic and pretend we're in the big city, where one can go briefly underground, only to emerge at the other end having enjoyed getting to where we're going.

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