As far as whoppers go, Congressman Ed Pastor's explanation was right up there with "the check's in the mail" and "I'll call you tomorrow."
When asked earlier this month whether he was using his influence to raise money for his daughter's Phoenix City Council campaign, the congressman shrugged. "I don't know who's giving (to Laura)," the Arizona Republic quoted him as saying.
Yeah, right. And that really is chicken in your teriyaki bowl.
If you ask me, his attitude is positively insulting. Everyone knows that people are supporting Laura Pastor's City Council candidacy mainly because they like her dad, and/or want to stay on his good side. (Hey, the guy's a Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee!) And everyone knows that Laura Pastor is getting money solely from Texas oilmen and Washington, D.C. lobbyists because of her father. That's the game.
But if Ed Pastor is condescending enough to think we don't know what's going on, I'm going to have to call him on an inconvenient truth or two.
On June 21, seven weeks before the Republic's story, Congressman Pastor was the honorary host of a fundraiser for his daughter at the Democratic National Committee.
Pastor's cohosts included fellow congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson and no fewer than a dozen D.C. lobbyists. The lobbyists work for big-deal firms that represent Wal-Mart, Boeing, and Honeywell. These are people with every reason to curry favor with Ed Pastor and very little reason to care about the Phoenix City Council.
And if you don't believe Ed Pastor knew exactly who was coming to the party, get this:
Guests were asked to RSVP to the congressman's home phone number.
So Ed Pastor is trying to claim that he has no idea who's giving to his daughter's race, even though they called his house to RSVP for a fat-cat fundraiser.
He must think we're idiots.
Then again, Pastor's daughter, the aspiring councilwoman, actually stated at a public debate last week that the "most influential" book she'd ever read was a book for 3-year-olds called Brown Bear, Brown Bear. (Sample line: "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a redbird looking at me.")
I've given up hoping that local politicians will take inspiration from John Stuart Mill, but really, can't they at least stick to chapter books?
The fact is, three good candidates are running for the District Seven council seat. Michael Nowakowski was supposed to be the heir apparent, at least until Pastor threw in her hat. Endorsed by the firefighters and the cops, he's worked with Cesar Chavez, run the Santa Rosa neighborhood council in his district, and co-chaired the most recent bond committee for historic improvements. Ruth Ann Marston runs the Phoenix Elementary School Board. Art Harding is a deputy superintendent at the state department of education and, for a long shot, is surprisingly sharp on the issues.
And then there's the fourth candidate, Laura Pastor, who has the most money (thanks to Daddy) and the best name recognition (thanks to Daddy) . . . and just about no other reason to vote for her.
If she ends up winning this thing, she'll be proving her father right. We really may be idiots.
I wanted to talk to Laura Pastor long before I knew about the Washington fundraiser. I began trying nearly a month before last week's debate.
But even though I called and e-mailed and then e-mailed again, I never got a single person on her campaign to acknowledge my interest. Not even a low-level flack and this at an extremely well-financed organization. Word on the street is that there are four paid staffers at headquarters, and that's not even counting the three big-name consultants on the payroll.
Still, no love for New Times. Sigh.
Since they were blowing me off, I turned to the official record: personal disclosure forms that all candidates for city council must file showing their assets and debts. I didn't get any further on that front. And that's because Pastor claimed that she didn't really have any assets no business, no property, no service on any board of directors.
As it turns out, Pastor didn't fill out her forms properly. She actually does own a home on Thomas Road. (For all I know, she's on a few nonprofit boards, too. When you catch mistakes this obvious, you really start to wonder.)
Pastor's sloppiness on those official papers, combined with the blow-off on an interview, got me wondering what this campaign was about. Pastor has raised more than $200,000, and no one can return my call, even to explain she's too busy to talk? She's paying a campaign manager, two consultants, and a speech coach, but no one can figure out how to fill out the required paperwork?
The problem, I think, is that her campaign apparatus is rusty. It's basically her dad's people. And though Ed Pastor is a congressman, he hasn't had any real opposition since his first run for Congress, a heated special election to replace Mo Udall more than 16 years ago. Famously a nice guy, and famously good at constituent services, Ed Pastor simply isn't used to much scrutiny.
He's getting it this time around, and he's not even the guy on the ballot.
Numerous questions have been raised about the congressman's attempts to help his daughter: It's not just that he's raised money for her campaign, but that he earmarked extra money for the program that ended up hiring her, at above the usual pay scale, at South Mountain Community College.
Still, Laura Pastor makes little attempt to downplay the fact that she's riding Dad's coattails. Witness her signs, which, in their green-and-white scheme, clearly echo the iconic "Pastor for Congress" signs her father has erected roadside for more than a decade. Or the fact that, at last week's debate, Ed Pastor actually sat quietly in the audience. (He was in town for a photo op at the veterans hospital, but still.)
In her opening speech at last week's debate, Laura Pastor made a not-so-veiled reference to her father's clout. "I have relationships that would allow me to hit the ground running and make a difference in District Seven," she explained. When asked, later in the debate, which two people she'd consult before making important decisions, Pastor replied without hesitation: "Depending on the issue, the expert on that issue and my father."
But compared with the other three candidates, who came off as knowledgeable and forceful, Laura Pastor seemed like an earnest Valley Girl.
She made a silly gaffe when asked what city is Phoenix's biggest competition. I'd been expecting to hear Denver, maybe, or Dallas, but then Marston volunteered Scottsdale and Nowakowski said Tempe. Not great answers, although, sadly, probably realistic but then Pastor, for some bizarre reason, piped up with "Goodyear!"
Maybe she was joking. But there was, in general, an alarming lack of substance to her answers. Her big solution was usually something like: "We need to work together," and "What we need to do is invest in our community together."
And when she announced to the audience in her opening statement, "Tonight, I'm here to talk about me, Laura Pastor," I knew I wasn't the only one who cringed. Aren't politicians at least supposed to pretend that it isn't about them?
Although, I suppose in this case, it's preferable to admitting that it's really about her dad.
As much as Pastor clearly is dependent on her dad's fundraising machine, not to mention his hallowed name, the congressman isn't the man in Laura Pastor's life I'm worried about.
It's Mario Diaz.
Diaz, as you may recall, was a longtime operative of Janet Napolitano's. After she was elected governor, he became her deputy chief of staff just in time to strong-arm the renaming of Squaw Peak, which caused a near-endless amount of flack for the newly elected governor. Diaz eventually left the governor's staff to run John Kerry's organization in Arizona and, for a time, Jim Pedersen's equally unsuccessful Senate campaign.
As it turns out, years ago, before either Pastor or Diaz was married, the two were an item. And when Pastor announced she was running for Council, Mario Diaz and his wife were among the very first to give her money even before her dad. (Each kicked in the $390 maximum allowed by law.) Pastor also hired Diaz to raise money for her. Through May, when the election was just beginning to heat up, her campaign paid him $5,000 for his efforts.
Not a problem except for an episode that raises real questions about what Mario Diaz is up to these days, and whether Laura Pastor is experienced enough, and independent enough, to represent the people and not just her ally the political consultant.
Laura Pastor's sole experience as a public official is her two-year tenure on the Encanto Village Planning Commission. In that capacity, she was asked to vote on code changes, being pushed by the city of Phoenix's planning department, to keep payday lenders from overwhelming residential neighborhoods.
Every planning commission in the city supported the code changes, and so, eventually, did the City Council.
But not Laura Pastor. She voted no and, in two different meetings, she made a point of defending the usurious payday lenders from municipal intervention.
You know who else was at one of the planning commission meetings where Pastor piped up? Mario Diaz. Records show he was being paid to lobby for the local association of payday lenders.
In this case, I'm betting Laura Pastor never got around to calling her dad. Instead, she listened to the "expert on the issue" a paid lobbyist. Her ex-boyfriend. And future fundraising consultant.
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It doesn't say much for her judgment. She was planning a run for the City Council, but she was still oblivious enough to speak up at a planning commission meeting in favor of the Public Enemy Number One du jour.
And if she's this easily swayed by a bunch of loan sharks with a friendly lobbyist, what do you think Laura Pastor will say when some Wal-Mart big shot calls up wanting to build a store in Laveen, reminding her that they met at her fundraiser at the Democratic National Committee?
Laura Pastor has been claiming in her campaign mailers that she's the only candidate with "city government experience." But if you ask me, that experience may be one of the biggest arguments against electing her to Phoenix City Council.
I know her dad's a congressman and all, but her voting record should still count for something. Right?