Longform

THE COUNCIL'S BROKEN PLAYWHEN THELDA WILLIAMS GOT THE TEAM TO PUNT ON GAY RIGHTS, CITY HALL KICKED OFF A WHOE NEW BALL GAME

Page 7 of 7

Crozier points out that Johnson was the architect of the December delay.
"I think the mayor realizes now what we told him a long time ago, back in November and December, that we needed this issue to be resolved," he says. "It's the old story of appeasement politics. You try and keep both sides happy and it never works. It's just like pouring gasoline on the fire. We're now all victims of this situation."
Johnson admits the gay-rights amendment was the most difficult issue the council has faced during his tenure.

"What happened with those councilmembers, it was tough in two ways," he says. "One was externally. We've never been beat up on an issue as bad as we were on this one. We've never had people as angry. We've never had as many people lobby us and yell and scream and talk about how we'd be the devil incarnate if we voted for it or voted against it. And the second part of it is internal pressure. You know that you're going to be defined by your negative--you're either going to be defined as someone who is against family values or someone that's for discrimination. That's the bottom line: You've got the negative going to define you, not the positive."
Before Nelson made his substitute motion last week, Mayor Johnson was downplaying his chances of convincing councilmembers the interests of the city--as well as their own political careers--would be better served by an up or down vote on the issue.

"It's a lot like the right-to-life/right-to-choice issue," he said. "If you believe in it, you can't talk people out of it, you can't talk people into it. What we were trying to do was to find something we thought reasonable, but I think that in hindsight, on this type of issue a compromise is extremely difficult and maybe ill-advised."
But the mayor's penchant for compromise won out over his tactical pessimism.
On July 8, Nelson, the longest-tenured councilmember, asked that the council reconsider its decision to send the gay-rights amendment to the voters. He substituted a motion that exempted religious schools and employers with 35 or fewer employees from the ordinance. It received the obligatory second.

Frances Barwood, opposed to the amendment on principle, voted "no." Then, somewhat surprisingly, Kathy Dubs, Johnson's hand-picked successor to Linda Nadolski, also voted against the compromise.

Before casting his vote, Rimsza asked the city attorney if the ordinance would apply only to those employers who chose to do business with the city. Once assured that a company could discriminate against gays so long as it conducted no business with the city, Rimsza cast his vote in support of the compromise. With "reluctance," Goode also cast his vote for the compromise. Tribken, Nelson and newly sworn-in District 7 councilmember Pat Ortiz--Wilcox's appointed replacement--also cast her vote for compromise.

Vice Mayor Thelda Williams, a trace of a tremble in her voice, said she could not support Nelson's substitute motion. She said sending the issue to the voters was still the right thing to do.

Finally, with the issue decided, and without comment, Mayor Paul Johnson at last said "yes" to a gay-rights amendment. Weeks after the surprise breakdown of the council, Johnson had brokered a symbolic measure unlikely to affect the way Phoenicians conduct their lives.

But the belated, toothless compromise would not erase the damage and divisiveness that occurred on the mayor's watch. For the first time, the council had slipped through the mayor's grip. Though the mutiny had been contained, and order restored, June 16's isn't likely to be the last surprise. It was only a warning shot--that these nine politicians were off to the races, and all bets were off.

TERRY AND THE PIRATES WHY DOES EVERYONE ... v7-15-92

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Philip Martin