New Group Starts King Day Drive

Two local attorneys--an Italian-American and a black--are launching a petition drive this morning (November 15) they hope will resolve the muddled King holiday controversy, New Times has learned.

Joe Martori and Cynthia McCoy, attorneys with Brown & Bain who call their effort the Holiday Unity Group, or HUG, say they will file papers today with the Secretary of State's Office for an initiative drive.

If the drive is successful, voters will be asked next November to make Arizona conform to federal law: separate holidays honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and Christopher Columbus and a combined Presidents' Day honoring Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Two other petition drives on the issue are currently under way and also could wind up on the ballot. One, originated by Tempe conservative Julian Sanders and joined in by the Arizona American-Italian Club, would basically repeal the Arizona State Legislature's recently enacted law that replaced Columbus Day with a new King Day. A second petition drive, conducted by the Knights of Columbus, would simply restore Columbus Day without eliminating the new King Day. Both are referendum petitions, seeking to change a legislative action.

But HUG's effort is an initiative drive, aimed at creating a new law. The HUG organizers say they will have to gather 86,700 signatures--twice as many as the number needed by the referendum petition drives--but HUG will have until July 5 to file its petitions. Referendum drives have only 45 days.

Martori says he expects strong support "in the professional community--lawyers, doctors, dentists and so on" for the HUG petition, which he says offers the only "realistic" option to voters.

All three petition drives were sparked by the legislature's approval last month of a King holiday in January and the elimination of a Columbus holiday in October, starting next year.

McCoy and Martori say their initiative offers "a far more palatable option" to voters than the two other drives.

Martori, who is the Italian government's consul in Phoenix, says the HUG initiative drive "has nothing to do" with his role in representing Italians' interests locally. But he says the legislature's action "pits one group against another, and that's troublesome to me."

The Italian-American community has been split by the controversy, especially after publicity about Sanders' virulent hatred of King, whom he likens to "Lucifer." The Italian groups have said they don't share Sanders' hatred of King but they're upset that Columbus Day was sacrificed.

"I think the whole thing was a faux pas," Martori says, adding that legislators like Senator Leo Corbet "thought no one would be offended in the Italian community" when Columbus Day was eliminated.

Martori says he's concerned that if the Sanders referendum petition winds up being the only one on the ballot, it could be approved by voters. "This state is in shambles if we revert to the old law," Martori says.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy