Arizona liquor czar Howard Adams is under attack from his own people.
They are concerned that the kind of politicking and deal cutting that led the Arizona Republic to dub Adams the "Mr. Inside" of Phoenix City Council in the late Eighties does not translate well to the field of liquor-law enforcement.

Adams took over the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control (DLLC) from Mark Mazzie earlier this year. The result, critics say, is that liquor laws are not being enforced, political favors are being handed out like so many glasses of champagne and investigators are being told to look the other way.

Disgruntled employees? Perhaps. But even from this forgiving viewpoint, it is hard to explain Adams' behavior in the case of a nightclub called Ziegfield's that wants to set up shop in east Phoenix.

A bar that intends to feature nearly naked women, Ziegfield's has aroused suspicions of hidden ownership involving a family whose members are already facing allegations of prostitution, drug charges and six-figure law enforcement fines in another state.

Short of doing absolutely nothing at all, it is difficult to imagine Adams doing less than he has in the Ziegfield's matter.

One former DLLC employee, who was fired by Adams last spring, says, "Howard Adams is refusing to be an enforcement-oriented director. The consequence of that is not going to be a kinder, gentler director. The consequence is going to be, people are going to die. Underage persons are going to be served that shouldn't be, drunks are going to drive cars and there are going to be dead bodies."

@body:Howard Adams is at the zenith of his political career.
The power he held for years as a state legislator and Phoenix city councilmember was significant, but shared. As regulator of an industry that generates $140 million for the state in tax revenues each year, Adams has the authority to make or break businesses and to set policy.

The agency is run almost exclusively by Adams, not by its board, and it is largely ignored by the Arizona State Legislature and Governor Fife Symington, who appointed Adams to the post last January.

Adams says he became liquor czar because of his experience in law enforcement. He cites his longtime support of emergency medical technology, in particular, and his stint as head of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

Perhaps a more important qualification was his experience as a deal maker. In his days on the city council, Adams' foes referred to him as "High-rise Howard." His support was almost always available for large-scale developments. One of those projects was Symington's ill-fated Camelback Esplanade.

Now employees at the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control--who are furious, they say, because Adams has called a stop to his predecessors' hard-nosed stance on enforcement--call their new boss "Howard the Coward." They insist that he's politicizing the department. Many say they are looking for new jobs.

After being told of recent DLLC cases outlined in this story, state Senator Chuck Blanchard, a member of the Commerce and Economic Committee, which oversees the state agency, says, "It appears there's this pendulum swing in the liquor department going from very zealous--some would say overzealous--regulation to very lax regulation, and the problem is we need to find the right place in the middle."

In the meantime, Howard Adams is running the show.
@body:It's been a while since he's had a show to run. In early 1990, it appeared the top job in the city was Adams' for the taking, as Terry Goddard prepared to step down as Phoenix mayor to run for governor. But relative novice Paul Johnson beat Adams at the older man's favorite game: Johnson lined up votes on the sly and, in the end, Adams--realizing he wasn't assured of the win--was the one who nominated Johnson for mayor.

Adams resigned from the city council shortly thereafter. He tried to nab an appointment to a vacant justice of the peace seat, then spent his city council war chest to run for the seat when he didn't get the appointment. Adams lost the Republican primary to Stephen Smith, a longtime constable who criticized his opponent for seeking the justice seat because of its $56,000 annual salary.

Rose Mofford eventually offered Adams the job of director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety--an inauspicious post.

Then, in December 1992, Adams received a call from Fife Symington.
Now Adams is sitting in his office, beneath a portrait of his boss, talking about his new job at the state liquor department.

Adams is a genteel man with a thick, salt-and-pepper mustache, so soft-spoken that one finds it useful to lean forward to catch the end of his sentences.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.