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DEARTH WATCH

Page 4 of 6

The Rimsza family relocated to Phoenix from Illinois 39 years ago, when Skip was just a few months old. His father, who ran a grocery store in Chicago, was held up by two "thugs" who were ready to shoot him until some fast thinking prompted the senior Rimsza to dig up some hidden cash.

"There really are, for people, defining moments in history where they step up or cower back, and my dad stepped up," Skip says. His father "got creamed" in business early on in Phoenix, then opened a real estate company, which was ultimately successful.

Rimsza joined the family business. He didn't consider politics until 1989, when a group of friends cajoled him into running for city council against six-year incumbent Bill Parks. Disgusted with politics in the Mecham era, Rimsza ran and won. He won again in '91, and served on the council until last March, when he quit to run for mayor.

He's divorced and remarried, with two children, Jenny, 12, and Brian, 13, from the first marriage.

In late May, he thought he'd hurt his arm while out campaigning. It was much more serious than that. A month later, doctors performed open-heart surgery to bypass clogged arteries. Rimsza says his recovery is complete; he mountain-bikes 11 miles to work every Monday.

Rimsza welcomes comparisons with Paul Johnson, noting that both come from large, Catholic families. Johnson stood up for Rimsza at Rimsza's second wedding.

Like Johnson, Rimsza has had little difficulty filling his campaign coffers. Rimsza's 1991 campaign-contribution report consists almost exclusively of developers and attorneys who regularly do business with the city, and his fellow realtors. He spent $80,000 in the 1991 race, against challenger Janet Hemmerle, who spent $3,000, and Elise Roginiel, who reported no expenditures.

And like Johnson, Rimsza has been criticized for possible conflicts of interest. Just weeks after Rimsza's 1989 election, the new councilmember took credit in the daily press for a rezoning case sought by Howard Covey, a car dealer who owned property on Bell Road that had not been zoned for his business. Covey and his employees had made a $400 donation to Rimsza's campaign and, after the case was resolved, dropped another $720 into a fund to retire Rimsza's campaign debt.

Schwartz later responds: "You know what? They've been friends long, long, long before he [Rimsza] even ran or thought about running for city council."

Then did the friendship have anything to do with Rimsza's actions on behalf of Covey? "That's totally unrelated," Schwartz says.

Covey didn't return a call from New Times.
When the hot-button topic of public art is pushed, Rimsza tries to distance himself from Johnson--even though he looked on in amusement when Johnson took a hammer to a pot in symbolic disapproval of the controversial Squaw Peak pots. "I think you'd find that myself and maybe my family are much more interested in the arts than maybe Paul was," Rimsza says, but he then goes on to share a favorite Johnson sentiment--that public dollars are better spent on the performing arts than fine art.

Rimsza would rather incorporate physical art into permanent structures than erect individual pieces. "Even in my own house, individual pieces of art, I get bored with," Rimsza says.

When questioned about his favorite artists, though, Rimsza gets defensive. "I'm not so much into specific artists. I'm not quite that affluent to be able to afford that, but I like watercolors."

With the half-hour ticking to a close, there's just one question left on the list. It's a throwaway, a time waster--and, given the candidate's stiffness, sure to be a dud: Who's your hero?

The Eggery is crowded and noisy, so at first it seems as though Rimsza has missed the question. He's staring straight ahead. Then, softly, from between pursed lips, he says, "I know who it is." Seconds pass, then a minute, and he's still sitting there, motionless. Finally, he pushes away the uneaten bagel and tries to speak, his eyes brimming.

"It's my son."
Slowly, through tears, he explains that 13-year-old Brian has had 13 or 14 operations throughout his life to correct facial birth defects. The candidate sobs, wiping his face with a paper napkin.

"I'm sorry. I got emotional. . . . I just see from him how hard it is to be different. And people are trying to be nice. I can remember taking him to a Suns game. He didn't have any eyelid muscles, so he always looked through slits, and people would lean over and say, 'Why don't you take him home, he looks so tired.' It just made me realize how tough life can be."

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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.