City council member Sal DiCiccio pushed to appoint the polarizing activist Jarrett Maupin to a vacant city council seat last month, according to text messages obtained by Phoenix New Times.
The messages also suggest that council member Michael Nowakowski considered Maupin as a candidate, despite his own staffer, Felicita Mendoza, eventually taking the seat.
The District 8 seat opened up after former council member Kate Gallego resigned to run for mayor. Gallego was the second councilmember to step down this summer. Daniel Valenzuela also resigned to run for mayor.
In an August 4 message to his chief of staff, council member Sal DiCiccio indicated he did not have two critical votes that the council would need to appoint Maupin to the District 8 position.
“Thelda told Michael that there was no way in hell she would ever vote for Jarrett,” DiCiccio wrote. "I believe Jim is a no."
The message refers to interim Mayor Thelda Williams, council member Michael Nowakowski, and Vice Mayor Jim Waring, said Sam Stone, chief of staff for DiCiccio. Stone also confirmed that DiCiccio had supported Maupin’s bid for the seat.
Williams told New Times in an email she does not recall speaking with Nowakowski about Maupin. She added that she spoke with Maupin on the phone, but was considering two other candidates at the time.
Nowakowski and Waring failed to respond to New Times’ request for comment.
In a phone interview, Maupin said he felt like he had a “broad coalition” of councilmembers supporting his application and was “surprised” by Mendoza’s appointment.
"I felt we had the support of Sal and Nowakowski out of the gate. I consider them to be personal friends,” Maupin said.
Maupin courts controversy, including from within the Phoenix’s community of civil rights activists. He celebrated President Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, calling the former sheriff a “friend." After state Representative David Stringer made racist remarks about immigrants in Arizona schools, Maupin hosted a luncheon at Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles, where Stringer offered a half-hearted apology.
Maupin's notoriety dates way back. He plead guilty in 2009 for lying to the FBI in a bizarre case involving a false claim that Maupin had seen a video showing former mayor Phil Gordon having sex with a child. Maupin delivered his accusation to the FBI during his own run for mayor. He ultimately served a month in prison for the crime after failing to meet his probation requirements.
Maupin’s career as a consultant specializing in civil rights cases has also come under scrutiny. The Arizona Republic last year published an article detailing claims from clients of Maupin who felt burned by the activist, including the families of individuals fatally shot by police.
DiCiccio, the most conservative member of the council, clashed with Maupin over protests against fatal police shootings of black men organized by the activist in 2016. Several council members, including DiCiccio, accused Maupin of forcing police to squander "critical resources” away from a serial killer investigation to handle the protest.
The alliance of DiCiccio and Maupin, however improbable, makes sense. They both have reputations as political bomb-throwers, for example. DiCiccio, a fiscal conservative, regularly sounds off on Twitter with Trumpian tirades against government spending and the media. He recently subpoenaed his own city council colleagues.
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DiCiccio thought Maupin's outsider status would make him a good fit for the council, as opposed to insiders who applied for the position like former councilmember Michael Johnson or former Greg Stanton policy advisor Lawrence Robinson, Stone said. DiCiccio also felt the council wouldn't approve a Republican.
"We liked Jarrett as a moderate Democrat, a more reasonable Democrat," Stone said. "One of Jarrett’s biggest weaknesses in his public persona would serve him well as a council member. He gets in trouble because he tries to please everyone. It can make for a good council member if they’re always trying to seek consensus."
In the end, DiCiccio voted for Mendoza, a former Nowakowski staffer who changed her voter registration from Democrat to independent the day after Gallego announced her run for mayor.
As for Maupin's conviction? "He's grown up a bit since then," Stone said.