Best Public Information Officer 2021 | Jessica Fotinos | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Cruising Down Central Avenue

You’re cruising Central, headed south. Because you’ve lived in Phoenix longer than you care to remember, you’re seeing not just the buildings on either side of this wide expanse of road, but what used to stand in their places as well. You’ve been here so long, you remember when driving up and down this street, looking to hook up, was a weekend activity of every baby boomer in town.

Here on your right is Park Central Mall. Its recent facelift gives Phoenix’s first outdoor shopping mall a Midcentury Modern feel, but you’re not fooled. You recall when there were actual department stores there, where today there’s a collection of business offices, a handful of chain restaurants, and — huzzah! — a Starbucks. One thing they got right was returning the Walter Emory Sun Worshipper statue, a long-ago Park Central mainstay, to the property. Even if it is on the wrong side of the mall.

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Many government spokespeople are unresponsive, unhelpful, and bad at their job of communicating information. Some of them are downright rude. Jessica Fotinos, General Counsel and Public Information Officer for the Clerk of the Superior Court for Maricopa County, is not one of those people. When reporters are on deadline and need answers to basic questions regarding the status of a recently filed lawsuit or how to listen to court proceedings online, Fotinos has got them covered. She promptly responds to inquiries with more information than you asked for or quickly points you in the right direction. More of this from other government flacks in the Valley, please.

When Haley Holland made noise at a recent One Fair Wage rally, it was all in a day's work for the Phoenix-based activist. As a fair-wage organizer, Holland marched and protested and wrote speeches; in her spare time, she phone-banked seven hours a day, calling people to encourage them to tell their stories of being underpaid and to write letters to congresspeople demanding fair treatment. She knew where disgruntled minimum-wage service industry workers were coming from: Before the pandemic, she worked 65-hour weeks, bartending nights and weekends at a local restaurant. She sees her activism — which lately includes mutual-aid work for Feed Phoenix and labor movement work at Jobs With Justice Coalition — as an opportunity to empower others to stand up for themselves. Ultimately, as Holland keeps saying from various podiums and at public actions, raising lousy wages isn't about money — it's about dignity.

We thought we knew Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich a little, back in 2015. He's a Republican, but he told us that, as the son of an immigrant, he was sympathetic to the plight of those who come to America seeking a better life. "The day people stop trying to come to this country is the day we'll know something's wrong," he said. Now, he's doing everything he can to stop them from arriving. Desperate to win what will be a tough primary and general election for Mark Kelly's seat in November, it seems like Brnovich is on Fox News every week, railing about immigrants and how they're bringing in more COVID-19, attacking Biden's immigration policies, and blowing racist dog whistles. His rhetoric has become more like Russell Pearce 2.0: "This crisis will not end until Joe Biden and cartel [Mark] Kelly love American ... children more than they love the children of people that have entered the country illegally." So disappointing. So Arizona.

Police and prosecutors had a problem last spring. A small gaggle of young white liberals who support the Black community went on a minor rampage one night in October in downtown Phoenix, daring to knock over construction signs as they chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "All Cops Are Bastards" (ACAB). Dressed in black, they used umbrellas to shield themselves from rubber bullets and police cameras. The problem for police was that they couldn't think of enough to charge these folks with. So they came up with a brilliant plan: They gave them a name (the ACAB Gang) and hit them with enhanced charges for being a criminal street gang. The authorities were thrilled with themselves and levied the criminal charges against the "gang members." But when local activists, Democratic leaders, and the news media found out how they had concocted the case for the grand jury, outrage followed. The prosecutor's office soon moved to dismiss the charges "in the interest of justice." The blowback continues in the form of civil lawsuits by the protesters.

The race for Maricopa County Attorney in 2020 was a tough fight between two capable, smart women. In the wake of the George Floyd murder and its aftermath, Republican Allister Adel was running neck-and-neck with progressive Democrat Julie Gunnigle. Then came Election Night. Would Gunnigle overcome the county's advantage in Republican voters and be swept to victory by the defund-the-police crowd? Tensions were high. The first votes were counted. Gunnigle was ahead. But then the story of this election went from being damned interesting to something worthy of a Netflix movie: Adel was suddenly rushed to the hospital with bleeding in the brain. After that, more votes were counted and Adel took the lead. Days passed, and her lead increased. A week later, Gunnigle conceded. But there was still no word from Adel. Had she become the first female county attorney in the county's history, only to be unable to serve? Nope, she took office — although she recently stepped back for several weeks to address alcohol abuse and eating disorder issues.

Dressed like a schoolgirl, the senior U.S. senator from our state cast her vote on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15: NO. As she did, she dropped a quick curtsy and a dramatic thumbs down, like a Roman emperor calling for a gladiator to be executed. With that careless gesture and thumb, the lives of everyday Americans became harder, and millions of dreams deflated like popped balloons. The gesture marked the beginning of the end of Arizona's Sinema honeymoon. She has vexed her Senate colleagues and fallen far behind Mark Kelly in approval polls. Another term? Doubtful. 

On January 6, 2021, a day that will long live in infamy, an actual guillotine appeared outside the Arizona State Capitol, blade ready to slice. The guillotine sported a Donald Trump flag, and the group that lugged it out to the public lawn claimed to be protesting in support of the impeached president (who after his January 6 actions would soon be impeached again). These "protesters" refused to share their names with reporters. They made vague, belligerent statements, claiming to "not fear war." Who would have thought that in a year of abject plague and record heat that the most "yikes" moment would be this?  

Of the thousands of Trump supporters, Proud Boys, white supremacists, and hopeful insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the most singularly memorable one is from Arizona. Go figure. Jacob Chansley, a 2005 graduate of Moon Valley High School, was at the Capitol in his guise as QAnon shaman Jake Angeli, dressed spectacularly in a fur hat with horns, Fourth of July makeup on his face, and nothing but tattoos on his bare chest. Holding an American flag attached to a long spear, he was recorded walking through the Capitol with other rioters, clenching a fist behind the Speaker's desk, and sitting in Mike Pence's chair, where he wrote a note to the vice president that said, "ITS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME / JUSTICE IS COMING." Back in Phoenix three days later, Chansley turned himself in upon learning the FBI was looking for him in its hunt for other protester-insurgents. Phoenix reporters already knew him from local right-wing protests: He was a 33-year-old wanna-be actor who lived with his mom in Glendale after falling behind on rent at his own apartment (the same mom who complained on his behalf when he wasn't getting enough organic food in jail). In early September, Chansley pleaded guilty to obstructing a civil proceeding, and his sentencing is tentatively scheduled for November. Maybe federal prison will be able to keep up with his dietary requirements.

Best Shitshow That Could End Democracy As We Know It

Maricopa County Ballot Audit

This year, Republican cynicism or outright delusion about Trump's failure to win the presidential election centered on Arizona, to a large extent, in one of the strangest ballot audits ever seen in modern politics. The Arizona Senate, led by Karen Fann and egged on by powerful state Republicans including the party's state chair, Kelli Ward, ordered the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to turn over all 2.1 million ballots cast in the county for the November 2020 election. The senate then hired an unknown Florida company, Cyber Ninjas, run by a Trump supporter, to conduct the audit. Earnest volunteers allegedly audited the ballots as they were placed on spinning lazy Susans, looking for irregularities including whether traces of bamboo might be present in the ballots, in case fake ballots were smuggled in from Asia. As of press time, the results of the count still haven't been released. But experts point out that for the audit to continue for so long without actual proof of fraud, combined with efforts by Republicans in other states to undermine the 2020 election, could destroy trust in elections. As disinformation spreads and voters can't agree on basic facts, some fret that American democracy is in decline. When it all falls apart, you can thank Arizona.

Arizona was one of the most important states in the 2020 presidential election, with its 11 electoral college votes hanging in the balance. Trump was counting on another Electoral College victory and needed most of his key states — including Arizona — to come through for him. Then came an election call that no one, least of all President Trump, had expected. Arizona was going Biden. For Biden supporters, especially those in Arizona, this was a magical and unexpected event. Even faithful Democrats found it slightly unbelievable, given that hundreds of thousands of votes remained to be counted. But in the end, Fox News was right. So, naturally, it fired its political editor, Chris Stirewalt, who correctly projected Arizona's win.

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