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DEARTH WATCH

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Rimsza's mother died when he was 16, and he played parent to younger siblings, but it was "nothing--nothing even close" to what Brian's endured. "I must admit I'm hard on him. I push him," Rimsza says, proud of his son's scholastic achievements and that he recently bagged an elk with a bow and arrow.

There's an awkward pause, but Rimsza's softer, more open now. Unfortunately, it's time to go. As he rises from the table, pausing to wink and wave at a tableful of well-wishers, he turns to Merkel and asks, wryly, "Are more people going to ask me who my hero is? You're supposed to warn me."

In 1987, Linda Nadolski was Linda Sue Nadolski, a former PTA president from the Arcadia neighborhood. New Times called her maiden city council race against conservative, prodevelopment lawyer Mark Dioguardi "so crucial to the entire city that things are going to boil."

Neighborhood activism triumphed over big, bad development, and Nadolski's win was big news. In the two terms she served, Nadolski left her mark. Fans say she refused to play along with special interests, often finding herself the lone dissenter in an 8-1 council vote.

Rich Goldsmith, who served on the Phoenix Arts Commission during Nadolski's time on the council, says, "She refused to play all of their little games. I mean, they [fellow councilmembers and lobbyists] had this image of her that she wasn't particularly bright or that she was stubborn. I don't think either of those are necessarily correct, but she would question some of the things that they were doing, and she wasn't motivated by the same electoral and other concerns that all of them were."

Nadolski infuriated neighborhood supporters by voting in favor of expansion of the Camelback Esplanade in 1988 and antagonized then-police chief Ruben Ortega by publicly stating that he should be held accountable for his actions.

Although she outspent her challenger by more than four to one, in 1991, Nadolski lost her seat to another former PTA president, Kathy Dubs. Pundits attributed Nadolski's loss to redistricting and to her comments about Ortega. Her district was reconfigured that year to include portions of South Mountain and other communities she hadn't dealt with.

Nadolski's reputation as a naysayer drove even her natural allies away, Dubs says. "When I was on the council, I met with so many neighborhood associations that just loathed her," says Dubs, who lost her own council seat after just one term.

No surprise--Dubs is supporting Rimsza. "Skip is so friendly, and he's so personable that he does well with just about anyone. . . . We'll probably have a Skip Rimsza sign in our front yard," Dubs says.

And as for Nadolski? "She's just not a consensus builder. There's no way she could even try to portray herself that way. She loves controversy and she thrives on pitting people against each other."

For someone reputed to inspire such wrath, Linda Nadolski has a remarkably sweet, soothing voice. She dresses in plums and teals and kicks off sensibly low black patent leather pumps in the middle of a long day, pausing for a few moments to dump her overstuffed organizer and mobile phone on a desk and wriggle around.

Her face is all uneven angles, with bright olive eyes, but it's her wise smile that gives the signal that Nadolski knows. She knows she has an uphill battle against Rimsza. She knows what people like Dubs say about her. But she thinks she can win with grassroots support. After all, she never thought she'd win her first race.

Nadolski, 49, has lived in Phoenix almost all her life, and moved to Arcadia as a young bride after she and her husband won $12,500 playing keno in Las Vegas. Like Rimsza, Nadolski's known hardship; she was pregnant nine times and gave birth to five children. When her youngest was in kindergarten, she finished her degree in communications from Arizona State University.

In 1985, a neighbor read in the newspaper that a freeway was planned nearby, so Nadolski began her activist career as so many do--fighting freeways. From there it was on to a village planning committee, and by that time, there was a small group of activists in her neighborhood.

"After a couple years, it slowly dawned on us that a seat on the council would make a difference," she says. Nadolski says she was the only one with the time, so she did it. "We didn't really believe that I would win," she says, but she wanted to send a message: "You can't do these things to people. People don't feel that they have any control over their own future and the decisions that affect them."

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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.