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The Steiger Legend

Sam Steiger strolls behind the bar. The place is Penelope Parkenfarker's sports bar on Cortez in Prescott.

This isn't Whiskey Row. That's a much-bawdier area on Montezuma. Whiskey Row is two blocks away, fronts the Prescott County Courthouse and is anchored by heroic drinking emporiums like the Western Bar and the Bird Cage.

Steiger made his mark as a social vigilante over there when he overruled the state highway department by painting his own crosswalk in the street. It's one of several bodacious public gestures that has become part and parcel of the Steiger legend.

Right now, Penelope Parkenfarker's is jam packed with people celebrating the fact that it's not only Saturday but Saint Patrick's Day as well.

Steiger, who quit drinking more than two years ago, is being hindered in his trip behind the length of the bar because he's carrying this huge and incongruous-looking white object that turns out, on closer examination, to be the bleached head of a white steer.

Steiger brought the steer head with him to auction off to the crowd for charity. It will bring $150 in the auction, which Steiger himself will, of course, conduct.

Steiger is on a roll. Wherever he goes these days, people move toward him. They want to shake his hand, tell him a joke. His popularity is at a high point. Shyly--and sometimes not so shyly--they ask variants of the same questions.

"How's the campaign going, Sam?" "Do you have enough money, Sam?" "Do you need somebody to do some volunteer work for you, Sam?" These questions keep coming from serious political junkies who spot Steiger as a man with a real chance. The odds are still long. Nobody is silly enough to predict as yet that he will be elected governor. But he's a serious candidate. The political junkies all want a seat on the train before it leaves the station.

"It's all very friendly right now," Steiger says. "But if it reaches the point where they think I'm a real threat, you can bet they'll come after me. They'll hit me with everything they can dig up." By now, Steiger has tied a bartender's apron around his ample middle. It's time for him to move his way up and down the bar, pouring drinks and working the crowd. He will do more working of the crowd than pouring drinks. The former is what he does best.

"I'm amazed," Steiger says when he moves back to the end of the bar. "Never in all my time in politics has it been this good for me. People keep calling me and offering money for the campaign. "It's getting so I'm forced to open a campaign office down in Phoenix so I can have people answering the phones for me." But the campaign still has eight months to go. Depending on how hard Steiger chooses to work, the pace could turn into a killer. Right now, however, he clearly loves every minute of it.

Saturday morning, Steiger got out of bed in his Prescott home--the one on Burro Lane, where the living room is punctuated by the huge buffalo head that appears to be driving its way in from outside. Steiger later headed north in his yellow convertible to Sedona for a Republican candidates' debate in the Poco Diablo resort.

"The debate was all very proper," Steiger says. "I went up through Jerome rather than I-17 because it's such pretty drive. That turned out to be the wrong way. I got caught in Sedona's Saint Patrick's Day Parade. No way around it. There's just one big street in Sedona." The debate between the candidates was a predictable dance. It's much too early for the heavy hitting. It's still time for a show of unity. The heavy stuff surely will come later. Steiger has been through these things too often. He knows it's bound to end that way.

Right now, Parkenfarker's is bursting with beer drinkers of all ages. Most are drinking with gusto from tall pitchers. They are going at an exuberant pace because they know they can rest up all day Sunday.

These are mostly working people with a smattering of Chicago lawyers who own Prescott winter places. The town's yuppie population is all down the street in a place called Murphy's.

The one thing they have in common here in Parkenfarker's is that all their outfits are decorated with touches of green, displaying their desire to show some Irish heritage. Even Steiger is wearing the green.

There was just one exception. That was the round man standing in the center of the bar sporting a Superman costume.

When the patrons spot Steiger and the steer head, they stop watching the Georgia Tech-Louisiana State game being beamed at them from the bar's twelve television monitors and begin to shout for his attention.

They watch with amusement as Steiger carries the steer head out into the room a few minutes later and starts the auction. There was absolutely no dignity involved in this performance. But this is the kind of thing at which Steiger excels and which is one of his great attributes. Can you imagine J. Fife Symington III standing up before raucous barroom patrons and successfully trading insults with them? Do you think Fred Koory could do it? Or Evan Mecham?

This was the kind of crowd that would run Terry Goddard out of the room.
A man at the end of the bar sat there marveling at Steiger's performance as auctioneer.

"You must be the cheapest dame in the joint," Steiger shouts at a customer who raises the bid on a giant Budweiser can a single dollar from the $10 previously bid.

The woman grins back. She insists that $11 is her final bid. She wins. Steiger hands her the big beer can and tells her that if she puts it in her living room, it will mark her as a woman of discerning taste.

A man at the end of the bar turns to his companion.
"I've known Sam Steiger for longer than I care to say," the man says. "The question is, knowing all I do, would I vote for him to be governor?" "Well, why don't you answer your own goddamn question," his friend says.

"I still haven't made up my mind. One thing's for sure, though. Already, I know that he's smarter than those other people."

The auction ends. Steiger says he must be off. It's time for him to head down the hill toward Phoenix. He's going to Scottsdale to do some schmoozing with the important money types at an affair for 1,200 citizens interested in the arts.

When that's over, he'll again head back up the hill to Prescott. Before the day is over, Steiger will put nearly 300 miles on his yellow convertible.

Before this is over in November, Steiger's going to need either a driver or a new set of tires. Maybe both.

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Tom Fitzpatrick