I'm standing in the grocery store check-out line. Suddenly I sense something strange about the covers of the supermarket tabloids that shout to me from the metal racks near the cash register.
The usual photographs of Roseanne Arnold, Oprah Winfrey and Jack Nicholson are missing. They've been replaced, for at least this one week, by a piece of nostalgia, a smiling face from the past.
I recognize him at once. It's Bob Crane, wearing that crushed World War II aviator's hat. The star of the 1960s Hogan's Heroes television series smiles out from the covers of three different supermarket publications.
Then my eye catches one of the headlines.
"HOGAN'S HEROES MURDER: SHOCKING INSIDE STORY," screams a paper called the Star.
I shake my head. I recognize what's happened. Once again, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley has scored another of his sleazy publicity coups. It's now clear that self-promotion is his only clear goal in life.
Romley continues to amaze me. By dredging up this tawdry unsolved murder, he has topped even himself. What we have here is yet another disgraceful act by a pitifully ambitious prosecutor. But I give Romley credit for one thing. He's shrewd enough to realize the Bob Crane murder case is a hot button. By hitting it, he has revved up the engines of publicity he can use to win a second term as county attorney.
Romley basked in two days of front-page coverage from every daily newspaper in Maricopa County, as well as full coverage on TV and radio. National coverage was certain to follow.
From Romley's point of view, there was no downside. Announce an arrest in the case. By the time it came to trial, the election would be over. The Crane case would once again be in limbo.
But when you disregard the heroics at Romley's press conference announcing the arrest, you are left with a set of certain facts. Notice, for example, that I still haven't mentioned the name of the man arrested for the murder. I haven't for a specific reason. He is not important. Only Romley is important.
Besides, there is not one more shred of admissible evidence today than there was 14 years ago, when Crane's head was bashed in during the middle of the night over in Scottsdale. Here is your bottom line.
Romley plunged forward recklessly, because doing so makes him appear to be the public's idea of a hard-hitting prosecutor. What Romley's action is about is politics, not enforcing justice.
He is running for reelection and he means to get every vote he can.
These are the word combinations to remember: Romley and Bob Crane. Romley and AzScam. Romley and national television. Romley and the race for his next office. You would assume that a man who appears so often in public with his hair perfectly blow-dried is efficient at his job. And this is what Romley hopes the voters will believe, too.
Some pols cross the line and make schlemiels of themselves because they are emotionally needy. But Romley crossed for a darker reason.
And by doing so, he has demonstrated that he has a character flaw. He is a man beset by a touch of evil who is willing to use the powers of office to advance his own ambition.
The very fact that Romley has attained the office of county attorney emphasizes a serious problem. In an ideal world, you would suppose that only the most talented lawyers would seek this office because of its power to create change for the good.
But the job doesn't pay enough money for men who become lawyers. The county attorney's salary is smaller even than that of the lawyers who work under him as assistants. So for as long as anyone can remember, the job of Maricopa County Attorney has been held by men of modest legal gifts. I will go even further. In some instances, they were men of such overwhelming ignorance that it was a wondrous thing to contemplate how they passed the local bar exam. And of all of these hacks who have supped at the public trough, Romley surely ranks at the bottom.
We all wonder and worry about the future of Arizona. Why can't things ever get better? You need look no further than the County Attorney's Office for at least the start of your answer. Put a first-rate lawyer who is also a compassionate and honest man in this job for two terms and he could turn things around. The very sight of such a man in action would create a climate for change. But I am dreaming. It is only in the cinema that talented lawyers work for low pay because it will contribute to the betterment of society.