Feathered Bastard

New Yorker Magazine Profiles Joe Arpaio, and New York Times Blasts Janet Napolitano's 287(g) Changes

Loads of reporters have parachuted into Phoenix over the years to write up our power-mad top constable Sheriff Joe, and often they've told the easy story of the flamboyant law man who talks like a mafioso and treats county inmates worse than the hounds in his kennels. Thankfully, the New Yorker's Bill Finnegan didn't come into town a few months back to regurgitate the obvious. His profile of our "shurf" -- which hits stands today -- is a stinging portrait of a petty, vindictive, media-obsessed villain who cares more about getting on TV than the terror he's sown in Phoenix's immigrant communities.

Finnegan's piece isn't heavy-handed. It doesn't need to be. Finnegan was granted extraordinary access to Arpaio's regime, and he pretty much lets the main players dig their own holes. The whole crew, from Joe to PR queen Lisa Allen to Chief Deputy David Hendershott, come across as a vulgar, self-serving bunch who get away with murder mainly because the electorate keeps putting Joe back in power.

Some of my fave passages include Hendershott commenting on a group of Justice Department lawyers coming to investigate the MCSO, saying he's "going to shove it up their ass." There's also colorful language from Arpaio about Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, and the salty Lisa Allen noting of Finnegan that, "You'll probably tear us a new one, but come on in." 

Arpaio's co-author of his two books, the ever-unctuous Len Sherman, refers to Arpaio as an "idiot savant," which I would agree with minus the "savant" part. We learn that Arpaio's called "Hitler" in the Tents, and that the egomaniacal Arpaio believes that he beat out Pat Tillman in a "Who's your hero?" poll done by the Arizona Republic, when the reality is -- as you might expect -- Tillman came out on top.

Actually, frighteningly enough, Arpaio did beat out Pat Tillman in 2009, which can only mean that those responding to the poll were serious wackjobs. However, sanity reigned in 2008, when Arpaio was runner-up to Tillman in the same poll. My prediction: This is an E.J. Montini column in the making. Just you watch. 

(Added comment: Arpaio bragged to the New Yorker reporter about beating out the war hero in April of this year, though the results of the poll were published in May, according to the Republic's archives. Did Joe have advance knowledge of the results from his buddies at Phoenix's paper of record? Or was he bloviating about 2008, and mis-remembering the outcome? Hmmm.)

There's more, including a hilarious, head-thumping passage where the Arpaio brain trust rushes to get a press release out on the swine flu epidemic, but I don't want to ruin it all for you. Arpaio comes across as what he is: a cruel, obnoxious buffoon. Finnegan also talks to some of Arpaio's Hispanic victims, and contrasts them with Arpaio's indifference for their suffering.

Those beyond Maricopa County's borders will receive a primer in all things Arpaio, and those of us who have to live under the scoundrel's boot heel will get the pleasure of knowing that those who read the New Yorker are benefiting from a fair assessment of the man. Hopefully some of the yuppies in the Obama administration will be perusing Finnegan's profile as well.

Speaking of the Obama administration, I was happy to see another Yankee institution, the New York Times blast Obamarama, et al., for attempting to reform the notorious 287(g) program, rather than scrapping it, as should be done. Changes to the 287(g) program were announced Friday, and if Arpaio accepts them, he will get to keep his federally trained 160-man unit, which is empowered to enforce and abuse immigration law willy-nilly.

The editorial chastises Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, arguing that she "should be deep-sixing this program, not tweaking or widening it." But it's obvious that the Obama administration is playing immigration right down the American middle, positioning itself as tough on interior enforcement and the border, while teasing the pro-immigrant crowd with the far away hope of comprehensive immigration reform.

It should now be evident that Obama is not the savior on this issue that many hoped he would be.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons