Black Leaders in Phoenix Struggle to Retain Power in a District They've Historically Controlled

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"The city council finally relented on July 16, 1964, enacting a public-accommodation ordinance," Whitaker wrote. "The law made it illegal to 'discriminate in places of public accommodation against any persons because of race, creed, national origin, or ancestry.'"

In 1965, after years of protests by blacks and browns — plus forged alliances with sympathetic white leaders — an African-American made history when he was elected to the Phoenix City Council.

He was Morrison Warren, a black teacher who, Whitaker said, "broke the stranglehold affluent white men had on the council."

Warren paved the way for the next generation of city leaders, including Goode, Williams, and Johnson. Democrat Art Hamilton was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1972, when he was just 25 years old, and he served as House minority leader eight years later.

Warren Stewart, a transplant from New York, came to Arizona in 1977. He led an expansion of his church's campus, its social-service programs, and its outreach to the homeless, ailing families, and teen mothers.

In the 1980s, he joined his political and pastoral colleagues who, since 1972, had called for a day to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s accomplishments.

It was in '72 that late Senator Cloves Campbell Sr. introduced a resolution for a statewide holiday, but it never made it out of a Senate committee. Three years later, a Latino senator introduced another failed MLK measure. And so it went: Lawmakers shot down similar bills in '76, '81, '82, and '86.

After Congress adopted a national holiday honoring King in 1986, Governor Bruce Babbitt signed an executive order establishing the state holiday because the national holiday only was observed by federal employees. Less than a year later, Babbitt's successor, Evan Mecham, repealed it.

In 1986, Mecham told Stewart that blacks didn't need another holiday. "What you folks need are jobs," the Arizona governor told Stewart, according to a 1989 New Times interview with the minister.

Stewart and local civil rights leaders led mass protests and put political pressure on Arizona lawmakers. The fight wouldn't end until voters statewide reinstated the symbolic honor in 1992.

The debacle cost the state the Super Bowl in 1993 and millions of dollars in tourism revenue, and it gave the nation an early glimpse of Arizona intolerance.

State officials' refusal to formally acknowledge King was an attack on its black population — just as the series of laws that unfairly target Hispanic-Americans and undocumented immigrants are attacks on its Latino population.

Will Latinos, through their larger segment of the population, gain the political clout that has eluded the smaller African-American population in Arizona? It's already happening, though Latinos have more work to do before their representation matches their numbers.

Yet the immediate question in District 8 is which candidate Latinos will support in the absence of one of their own — the white woman who's married to a big-name Mexican-American lawmaker or the young, gay African-American who's garnered an impressive amount of brown support already?

Because it's looking as though the old-guard civil rights leader and black preacher won't make the cut — making politicos wonder if Robinson should end his candidacy and throw his support to the upstart.

But do the black elders really want a black leader to win the seat if he's not their black leader?

For the better part of the past decade, Arizona politicians like Governor Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ousted state Senate President Russell Pearce, and County Attorney Bill Montgomery have shifted discrimination to the state's Latinos.

And Warren Stewart has been right there opposing such policies.

Which is why it was strange when New Times discovered that Stewart's campaign had landed the support of Montgomery, known for doling out to undocumented immigrants heavy-handed punishments that all but ensure their deportation ("Same as the Old Boss," February 7).

Despite several cleverly couched statements, the Stewart campaign finally denounced the endorsement.

"The Warren Stewart campaign appreciates Bill Montgomery's endorsement, but we are not accepting [it]," campaign consultant Mario Diaz said. "We are not accepting it because his philosophy of enforcing the law and his priorities are not parallel with those of Pastor Stewart."

A few hours later, Montgomery claimed there never was a formal endorsement, just discussions initiated by Stewart's camp.

But why was Stewart's campaign in a dialogue with his apparent political enemy?

Scott Phelps, once press secretary to former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, commented on Stewart's behalf: "No campaign, in the history of campaigns, has ever relied only on the support of people who agree with the candidate 100 percent of the time. This one is no different . . . Warren stands where Warren stands, his integrity always intact."

But critics contend that Stewart also has consorted with the dark side in other ways.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo