Elections

Battle Royale: Controversial Mary Rose Wilcox Is in the Political Fight of Her Life

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Wilcox has dozens of volunteers who disperse from the restaurant to distribute literature highly critical of Gallego.

Prominent among the onslaught of pamphlets was a set reminding people about Gallego's casting votes on gun-related bills that made the NRA proud. The gun lobbyists told him so by giving the former state representative a B+ approval rating that many right-wingers would be proud to have.

The rating doesn't score political points in Arizona's hard-left-leaning 7th Congressional District.

During her closing remarks after a political debate on PBS' Horizon with Ted Simon, Wilcox said Gallego may as well be a Republican since his NRA approval rating was the same as U.S. Senator John McCain's.

In 2011, Gallego voted to allow mentally ill individuals who've been barred from owning weapons to petition the court to have their rights restored and to broaden instances in which people can use deadly force when defending themselves or their families against attackers.

In 2012, he voted to ensure that no limits were placed on how many bullets could be packed into hunting-rifle magazines and to allow hunters to use sound suppressors on guns. That same year, he voted to allow law enforcement to sell guns seized from criminals to licensed gun dealers.

Gallego says Wilcox is distorting the truth by omitting in her campaign literature that the votes for larger magazines and silencers on rifles were for hunters. Gallego's critics point out that criminals -- not just hunters -- have access to these rifles. Gallego compares these gun-related attacks to her supporters' backfired attempt to remove him from the race by questioning his 2008 name change.

The flurry came up when Wilcox's people discovered that Gallego had changed his last name from Marinelarena (his father's last name) to Gallego (his mother's surname). Gallego proudly responded that he had done this to disassociate from his father and to honor his mother, who had suffered years of abuse at the hands of "that man."

Wilcox's supporters filed a complaint about Gallego's name incarnations because they didn't find the court paperwork documenting the official change. Once that document was discovered, the complaint was dropped.

"But that's Mary Rose for you," Gallego says. "She's taking something that was very deeply personal and a scary time in my life and using that opportunity to distract from her weaknesses. She's trying to hide from the record that she mostly used her office to enrich herself and her family."

Gallego and his wife, Phoenix Councilwoman Kate Gallego, are doing well for themselves. They own three rental houses in Phoenix and live in a $300,000-plus home in a gated community at the foot of South Mountain.

Not a bad accession for Gallego, who grew up sleeping on the floor of a tiny apartment with his mother and sisters and paid his way through Harvard University with scholarships and student loans and by cleaning toilets in student dorms.

Although he'd been looking at signing up for a community college or a trade school, a leadership program during his sophomore year in high school widened his horizons.

"I was with these young men and women from rich schools, and they were talking about going to these schools like Harvard and Yale and Princeton," he says. "I thought, 'Why can't I go to these schools?'"

He took advanced-placement classes and applied to study in Greece for a summer. He couldn't afford to buy study guides for college-entrance exams so he went to the library and photocopied them, taking as many pages as he could afford.

"I just sat home and studied for two years," he says. "You grow up really poor in that environment of domestic violence. I was sleeping on the floor. See, I didn't know I was going to make it into Harvard. Part of it was pure obsession because I needed to have hope for something because every day sucked. Every day."

He says that same drive got him through heavy combat as a Marine serving in the Middle East. And it's earned him a reputation of being tough and temperamental.

Gallego described himself as such during a 2008 interview with the Arizona Republic.

He told a reporter that he loves political dogfights.

"I want to be angry. I'm always angry," Gallego was quoted as saying. "I want to throw down some hail and brimstone, and this guy [Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski] is like, 'It's not how I operate.'"

In 2009, while working as chief of staff for Nowakowski, Gallego got into a spat with an intern, and she accused him of verbal harassment.

At the time, the Republic reported that the 20-year-old college student filed a complaint against Gallego claiming he berated and intimidated her in front of co-workers. 

Gallego became upset with the intern and began yelling and pounding his desk so hard that it caught the attention of aides working in other offices. The intern also said Gallego was aggressive toward her, according to a 2009 article.

The young woman's complaints filed with the city were dismissed.

Gallego said at the time that he raised his voice at her because she was interrupting him and not listening.

"I was a young manager [29 years old] and really do regret raising my voice," he recalls now. "It wasn't my finest moment, but I've learned from that."

Whatever he may have learned, he hasn't shaken his aggressive side.

"Look, I am aggressive, and I am because I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done," he says. "I think the history of Arizona, as of late, has seen just a lot of Democrats willing to accept the status quo. Not just from Republicans but even from themselves. I don't think the Democratic progressive community wins by having people rest on their laurels."

People don't always take well to getting moved or pushed, he says.

"At the end of the day, we're here for the working poor, the working class, and the gay community," he says. "And if you're not there to help, then really, why are you in politics?"

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo