Party Crasher

How many Democrats named Stuart does it take to challenge Congressman John Shadegg?

Just one.
And that makes Stuart Starky mad.
Starky--a shoe salesman originally from Long Island--says Arizona Democratic party officials did everything they could to nudge him out of the primary race in Congressional District 4 and clear the way for the party favorite, a personal friend of Arizona Democratic chairman Sam Coppersmith, a physician named Stuart Turnansky.

When Starky refused to drop out of the race, party operatives challenged his qualifying petition signatures and won. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell tossed Starky off the ballot earlier this month.

Starky insists he had the 619 valid signatures necessary to qualify; he says voter-registration records reflected old addresses for many people. He can't afford to post the $5,000 bond necessary to challenge the decision.

The worst part, he charges, is that the challenge was orchestrated by state and county Democratic party players--including the plaintiff, Joe Della Rocca, who was the Maricopa County Democratic party's office manager until July 3. The suit was brought July 8. Della Rocca is also vice chairman of legislative District 25.

Della Rocca, who answered the phone at Maricopa County Democratic headquarters last Friday, says, "Well, unfortunately, I have been told not to say anything at all about this."

Starky has volunteered for the Democratic party in Chicago and New York, but, he says, "I've never faced anything like this within the party ever in my entire life."

His biggest supporter, union leader Ron Edwin, agrees.
"It just torches my butt that they are going to go out there and do that," says Edwin, who organizes the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Local 631. His union endorsed Starky months ago. Edwin says he received a call from party leadership (he won't say who called) weeks ago, telling him Turnansky was the party's candidate.

The Stuart stand-off isn't over yet. Last week, Starky decided to run as a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary.

"I'm not going away," Starky says. "I'm going to spend 90 days yelling and screaming and trying to win."

Edwin will be by Starky's side.
He says, "I am with Starky, I don't care what it costs me. I don't care what it is--to me, it's principle. . . . If Starky loses in the primary, I'll donate $50,000 [in Political Action Committee money] to Shadegg and let everybody know that I did it."

Starky says the Democrats don't agree with his platform--which includes a call for a balanced budget, a flat tax and the eventual phasing out of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

"I'm clearly not the Sam Coppersmith ideal," Starky says. "In fact, we know flat out he's done all he can to possibly back Turnansky. He's supposed to be impartial in a contested primary, but he's not."

Coppersmith tells New Times he doesn't know anything about Starky's policy positions.

He says, "Starky's seeing this as ideological. I'm seeing it more of we want the candidate to challenge John Shadegg, and want to make sure our focus is on the general election."

While insisting he had no direct involvement with the challenge, Coppersmith admits Turnansky is a friend. As a former U.S. Senate candidate in a crowded field of Democrats, Coppersmith says he recognized the need to narrow the field this time.

He says he spoke to Turnansky--strictly as a friend--telling him, "Look, don't blow it in the heats. They don't give the gold medal until the finals."

Turnansky admits he knew of the challenge to Starky's petitions. But, he says, "I didn't instigate it, I didn't do it and I was only distantly part of it. But I probably could have stopped it had I tried. Certainly had I threatened to withdraw I could have stopped it, and I did not do that."

The glut of candidates in CD 4 is an aberration in a political season that--despite the relative popularity of President Bill Clinton, who is up for reelection in November--has seen few strong Democratic candidates in Arizona.

Many state legislative races will go uncontested by Democrats. No Democrat has stepped forward to challenge U.S. Representative Matt Salmon.

Congressional District 4 has never been held by a Democrat. In 1994, Turnansky--who had considered making a run--stepped aside when fellow Democrat Carol Cure announced her intentions to run. This year, it was Turnansky's turn to run. But Starky did him no such favor.

Starky says he visited state Democratic party headquarters in November, and learned that only Turnansky was considering a run in CD 4. Starky didn't consider Turnansky a strong candidate. (Neither man has ever held office.)

Starky says he was given a cold reception by Arizona Democratic party executive director Melodee Jackson. Jackson insists Starky was given the same information as every other candidate, although she does admit his views don't fit in with many of the party's positions.

Starky admits he's not the typical Democratic candidate. In past presidential elections, he volunteered for Republican George Bush and Independent John Anderson, but he's also volunteered for Democrats Ted Kennedy and George McGovern, and says he's a Democrat now because of his strong pro-choice stand. Starky's wife had a late-term abortion for medical reasons, he says, and that cemented his pro-choice position and his determination to serve in Congress.

In campaign literature, Starky claims that Turnansky is "vehemently opposed to abortion"--a charge Turnansky vehemently denies.

"I think that abortion is not a good choice," Turnansky tells New Times. "I think that there are other birth-control methods that are far superior, and I certainly don't see abortion as a positive birth-control choice. But I certainly strongly and unequivocally support a woman's right to choose."

To the end, Coppersmith insists the challenge to Starky's candidacy was nothing personal. He says, "This isn't sort of how you feel about somebody's personal charm or opinions. I mean, the statute's pretty clear. You either have valid signatures or you don't.

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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