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Hog Heavy
A plot to kill state Department of Corrections director Terry Stewart may have failed, but the prisons chief wound up in the hospital just the same.

Last week, charges were dismissed against supposed New Mexican Mafia members suspected of planning an assassination attempt against Stewart.

Based on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch facing long prison time, prosecutors claimed that Stewart, dining one night at a Mexican restaurant, was just minutes from being killed when the plot went awry. But the informant, testifying against three defendants, clammed up after claiming he'd committed unprosecuted murders. His testimony was thrown out, and the case was dismissed.

Some DOC insiders tell the Flash that they believe the restaurant food had a better chance of killing Stewart than the supposed plot. He suffers popularity problems with employees who believe that he's pulling an Arpaio and overdoing it with around-the-clock security details.

Meanwhile, Stewart had nothing to say about last week's dismissal. The local papers reported that he was unavailable for comment.

That's because Stewart was recuperating after breaking his leg while trying to park his Hog in Sonoita.

Stewart, whom DOC flack Mike Arra says is a "Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiast," was attempting to park his Harley February 13 on a gravelly surface when the bike slid and fell on his left leg, breaking it. Stewart underwent surgery last Tuesday, and is now recuperating.

Arra wouldn't confirm whether Stewart was resting at home, since that might cause a team of highly trained inmate-commandos to storm the place.

Sam: Goodie
Pity the fools who left Sunday's Blues Blast before Sam Myers toddled onstage.

The eighth annual Blast, staged by the Phoenix Blues Society, unfolded under benevolent skies at the Mesa Amphitheatre. But the seven-hour lineup of musicians apparently took its toll on some patrons, who were decidedly middle-aged. (The Flash saw exactly one rollerblader and exactly one girl whose hair was a hue not found in nature.)

A throng of thousands had dwindled considerably by the time the headline act--Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers--hit the stage. Funderburgh--a Dallas guitar virtuoso whose unadorned but infectious riffs remind the Flash of another Big D legend, Jimmie Vaughan--has been teamed with Myers since 1986. It is a true blue musical marriage.

No blues aficionado should miss the opportunity to see Myers, a 63-year-old Delta don. Clad in horn-rimmed spectacles thick enough for diamond-cutting and a wrinkled, bayou-green suit, Myers shuffled to the microphone on the arms of two escorts. If he looked like an invalid, he certainly didn't sound like one. He stood stock still for 90 minutes, belting out pristine ballads and honking lustily on his harps. His patter betrayed a keen, clear wit. "There's nothin' an older woman can do for me," he chuckled.

With each change of harmonica, Myers bent deliberately at the waist and felt his way through his harp case, which sat on a short table. He'd clutch one, caress it, give it a quick honk and, provided it was the key he desired, launch into the next number: "One, two, you know what to do . . ."

Astonishingly, people kept filing out during Myers' soulful set. By the end, only a few hundred hard-core fans remained. Most of them were dancing right in front of the stage. If Myers noticed the exodus, he didn't let on. Perhaps his eyesight is really that bad. Perhaps the blues just can't keep a good man down.

If You Can't Take the Heat ...
George, we hardly knew ye.
George is George Mahaffey who, after only four months on the job, has suddenly resigned as chef at the Phoenician's swanky Mary Elaine's, one of America's top gourmet restaurants. His last day is February 27.

His predecessor, Alessandro Stratta, brought the restaurant to national attention. But Stratta left the post last summer, not long after winning a James Beard award for Best Chef-Southwest, lured to Las Vegas by mogul Steve Wynn to head up Stratta's at the Mirage.

So Starwood Hotels, the Phoenician's new owner, launched an intensive worldwide search for a big name to take over the kitchen. Last October, management proudly announced that Mahaffey had won the job.

His credentials were impressive. Mahaffey won a James Beard award for Best Hotel Chef when he was at Los Angeles' ritzy Hotel Bel-Air. He also won a Best Chef-Southwest award in 1997, for his work at the acclaimed Little Nell, in Aspen, Colorado.

But Mahaffey really hasn't been happy at Mary Elaine's since day one. "I came with ideas," he says, but management never seemed particularly interested in implementing them. Instead, the bosses wanted him to continue presiding over Stratta's French-accented menu. Imagine asking George Gershwin to write music like Claude Debussy, or asking Jackson Pollock to paint like Paul Cezanne. That's why Mahaffey bristled. "I wanted to be an American chef cooking for Americans," says Mahaffey with a trace of bitterness. But he didn't get the chance.

Instead, Starwood executives permitted him to make only limited menu changes. Too bad--The Flash ate at Mary Elaine's last week, and thinks Starwood let a good one get away.

Mahaffey won't say a bad word about Starwood. "I guess I'm not a corporate person," is about as far as he'll go. But it's clear from his brief tenure that his successor will probably be at the end of a very short corporate leash. The new man, or woman, will have to be more accommodating than most creative, world-class chefs tend to be.

Mahaffey's departure couldn't have come at a worse moment for the restaurant. March is the Valley's busiest tourist month, and Mary Elaine's will be drifting along, rudderless. And it will probably be rudderless for a while. The Phoenician's executive chef--the one who oversees all the resort's restaurant operations--bolted a few months ago for Buffalo. (Buffalo? How bad are things at the Starwood Phoenician?) His replacement, who just arrived, will need time to get his bearings. And it will take management a while to get its ideas straight, think through the lessons of the Mahaffey fiasco and beat the bushes for a qualified replacement.

In fact, Starwood executives are so concerned about the situation that they've asked Alessandro Stratta to come back. No doubt, they had heard the widespread rumors that Stratta was very unhappy in Vegas. And Stratta doesn't deny the tales: His first two months there, he admits, were "incredibly depressing." At Mary Elaine's, he was one of the Valley's brightest stars. In Las Vegas, though, he's competing with some of the biggest restaurant names in the country, many right next door to him at Steve Wynn's ultraluxe Bellagio: Julian Serrano at Picasso; Sirio Maccioni at Le Cirque; Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Prime. No wonder Stratta says he initially had a tough time "professionally and emotionally."

Today, though, he's a happy man. His restaurant is being extensively remodeled, and Stratta reports that Wynn is giving him a free hand to make it the city's best. What about the Phoenician's job offer? Stratta's sigh says it all: You can't go home again.

All The News That's Unfit
Local media critic David Winkler complains to radio station owners about right-wing hosts, lobbies the Arizona Republic to add ideologically diverse columnists to its opinion pages and rides herd on KAET to air hard-hitting investigative shows.

He's almost always ignored.
Recently, however, Winkler and his organization, Arizona Media Action, scored a coup by convincing KAET to air Fear and Favor in the Newsroom, a controversial documentary narrated by Studs Terkel.

The hourlong show exposes censorship at some of the most hallowed halls of journalism, including the New York Times, NBC Nightly News and PBS' The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, showing how stories that went against powerful corporate interests were spiked.

Producers Beth Sanders and Randy Baker completed the film in 1996 despite getting no financial help from traditional sources of documentary funding at PBS. Since completing the film, the two have struggled to get PBS affiliates to air it.

Arizonans will get their chance to see the film, thanks in part to Winkler's efforts, on Monday, March 1, at 10 p.m.

Feed the Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]

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