Longform

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Man?

On a sunny winter morning not long ago, Don Sorchych -- editor and publisher of the weekly Sonoran News -- doused his lox, eggs and onions with hot sauce and talked about how he came to live in Cave Creek. Hybrid wolves. He breeds them, crosses wolves with malamutes and keeps them in a pen outside his house. All legal, but it didn't go over well with his neighbors in Mesa, Sorchych's last place of residence. So in the early '90s, Sorchych moved to a place where he had no close neighbors -- Cave Creek, a tiny town on the northeastern edge of Maricopa County, the final frontier of an increasingly tract-homed metropolis.

Sorchych and his half-dozen wolves have been very happy. He speaks fondly of Romulus, his alpha male -- the leader of the pack. He speaks fondly of his newspaper, too. The Sonoran News celebrates its sixth anniversary this month, and in that time, many Cave Creekers have come to consider Don Sorchych the alpha male in town.


The publisher is gracious and elegant. Past 70, Sorchych (pronounced SORE-chek) is tall and well-built in black jeans and a tweed jacket, with bright blue eyes and bright white hair, sparse on top but reaching to his shoulders. Reading glasses hang around his neck. Over eggs and toast he's full of funny stories, the charming host of his adopted hometown.

Pick up the 30,000-plus circulation Sonoran News, and you'll meet a different guy. Sorchych's column, "My View," is legendary in these parts for its scorched-earth take on the local news of the day and the people who make it. Sorchych considers himself a devout preservationist, and anyone who does anything he believes jeopardizes Cave Creek's environment -- particularly his pet project, the purchase of Spur Cross Ranch -- is fair game. He has no shortage of fodder, as growth is about the only issue that matters in this town that looks south and west and sees Phoenix and Scottsdale rolling toward it at a rapid pace.

But Sorchych's attacks are not necessarily related to growth. He makes it mean, and he makes it personal: A former town councilwoman with a drug problem is "Ellen the Felon." A development attorney with a friend in the hallucinogenic business is Noel "Peyote" Hebets. When a disabled woman fought the town to allow her to build a wheelchair ramp from her property down to Cave Creek, as her neighbors had, Sorchych went after Easter Seals.

Sorchych has had a remarkable success rate -- if not in stopping growth, then in eliminating his enemies. "Ellen the Felon" Sands, as well as almost every councilmember he's taken out after in six years, is gone from office. So are two mayors, countless town staffers and members of the planning and zoning commission and other boards -- many have quit in disgust with the Sonoran News, replaced, by and large, with people Sorchych has celebrated.

Noel Hebets has little luck with the town. And as for Liz Weideman, the woman in the wheelchair -- who just happened to run into her trouble with the town when Sorchych moved into a house overlooking her proposed path -- no path. At least, not yet.

Again and again, the accused say they aren't allowed their say in the Sonoran News, mistakes are not corrected and letters to the editor are not printed. When a story wrongly accused then-council candidate Peter Curé of blading his lawn -- sacrilege, particularly for the guy who had written the town's native plant ordinance -- Sorchych did not correct the error. When the local chamber of commerce wanted to refute an attack, it had to run an ad; Sorchych wouldn't print its letter, the chamber says.

Former Cave Creek mayor Jacky Davis recalls that Sorchych did print a letter she sent, challenging him to write an editorial in which he didn't call anyone a name.

His comment, printed below her letter: "Pray for me Jacky."

Davis laughs. "Well, why should I bother?" she asks.

In a society where hatred of the media is practically an art form, it's not surprising that an outspoken small-town newspaperman would find himself at odds with local folks. But the depth of the animosity aimed at Don Sorchych is unusual, if not unique. Those he has crossed are obsessed -- even years after the attack -- insisting Sorchych has a hold on the town, control over those in power. He knows what goes on behind closed doors at town hall, they insist. Confidential documents are leaked to him. He's at every meeting. In another world, that's the mark of a good journalist. In Cave Creek, some insist, it's the mark of the devil.

Sorchych's enemies have hired private investigators to dig dirt on his background. They've nicknamed him "Sore Cheeks"; a wealthy real estate investor started a "Sore Cheeks Survivors" club and sent certificates to dozens of Cave Creekers. A raucous party was held at a local bar to celebrate the awards. The rumor around town is that one frequent Sorchych target actually stole the publisher's signature cowboy hat during a town council meeting, took it out back and urinated in it, then replaced it on his seat. Former Carefree mayor Hugh Stevens -- a Sorchych target -- is now so paranoid around the media he tapes all conversations. Local businesswoman Roberta Toombs just finished serving a year's probation for literally spitting in Sorchych's face.

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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 amy-silverman.com.