In the Crosshairs

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The bottom line is, Arpaio has little to gain from allowing his Republican rivals to take shots at him on the campaign trial. His advisers feel it could only erode a 71 percent approval rating from Republicans in a countywide poll conducted in February of 600 registered voters in the county. Done by the Behavior Research Center of Arizona, the poll showed Arpaio's approval rating was 54 percent among Democrats and Independents.

But the poll was taken four months ago, well before the GOP vote against backing him and the commencement of the party's vendetta against his re-nomination.

And it was before the Mothers Against Arpaio, the police organizations and County Attorney Rick Romley began unleashing salvos about his treachery, ineptitude or thuggery.

The GOP leadership is not only angry about his support of Napolitano, it is annoyed by intimidation tactics he's used against political opponents in the party.

"I'm one of the ones who is running as fast as I can away from him," says Fred Taylor, a law enforcement liaison for former Republican governor Fife Symington and current chairman of the African American Republicans Committee.

Taylor says Arpaio's reliance on fear tactics and blatant attempts to intimidate political rivals has reached a dangerous threshold.

"You'd think you were watching something going on in the times of Mussolini," Taylor says. "It's scary stuff!"

Taylor says he was telephoned by an Arpaio aide, who gave him the third-degree about supporting Saban. The call from former Phoenix mayor Thelda Williams infuriated Taylor, who equated it to Mob strong-arm tactics.

"I was shocked that somebody would do that," he says.

African-Americans, Taylor says, are particularly sensitive to questioning about their voting preferences, since that tactic was used by segregationists to intimidate black voters.

Arpaio personally called District 22 chairman Norton after the Gilbert district voted 121-1 not to endorse the incumbent in the primary. The district vote came three weeks before the Republican Executive Guidance Committee adopted the same measure to withdraw support for Arpaio.

Norton says Arpaio told him he was angry over the district's vote and that Arpaio leveled a veiled threat.

"He certainly came across that he wanted me to know that he knew who I was and where I worked," says Norton, who's employed by Sharper Image. "He made me feel like it was something out of The Sopranos."

Says Pickard, "Anyone who has openly opposed the sheriff I think has had their personal past scrutinized very heavily. If you come out against the sheriff, you get a big bull's eye."

Just ask Dan Saban.

The retired Mesa police commander is Arpaio' strongest Republican rival for sheriff. He quickly found himself the target of a criminal investigation by the sheriff's office.

The probe was triggered in May after Saban's foster mother alleged that he had raped her more than 30 years ago when he was in his late teens. The woman had never filed a complaint, and Saban has denied the allegation, which appears dubious at best.

But rather than turning the case over to another police agency since it involved a political rival, Arpaio's detectives rushed out to interview the woman.

It was only after the detectives' report landed on his desk, according to Arpaio, that he realized there was a conflict of interest. He says he then forwarded the case to the Pima County Sheriff's Office for an independent investigation. (Pima County dropped the probe recently, citing lack of evidence.)

Whatever Arpaio's involvement, the sheriff's office criminal report somehow found its way to a Phoenix television news station in short order. Armed with a copy, Channel 15 ambushed Saban after a campaign appearance. He vehemently denied the woman's claim.

But the damage was done. It was a direct hit on his campaign, forcing him to issue a statement on his Web site denying the allegation. Even more damaging is that the claim has increased scrutiny of Saban's personal life, which includes four divorces.

Arpaio denies that his office leaked the police report to Channel 15, saying the station learned about the case from the East Valley Tribune, which had been in contact with the woman for several months.

Tribune reporter Bryon Wells, who is covering the sheriff's race, says he believes the criminal report must have been leaked by the sheriff's people to a friendly Channel 15 reporter. The Tribune never reported the allegations in the report until after the Channel 15 broadcast because they appeared to be unfounded.

"It didn't come from us," Wells says of the report.

In an interview with New Times, Saban says he was sexually and physically abused by his foster mother when he was a minor. Saban declined to provide details of what occurred more than 30 years ago, but he says it was he, not his foster mother, who was the victim.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty

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