Longform

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Man?

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Sorchych was disgusted. At that point, the natural next step for many folks would be to either run for office or give up the fight entirely. Sorchych decided to buy a newspaper.

The Foothills Sentinel wasn't for sale, so he bought the corpse of a small paper in nearby New River called the Desert Observer. The first issue of the Sonoran News appeared in February 1995.

Tom Augherton, a town councilman at the time, was enchanted. Augherton is a dapper fellow, salt and pepper with round glasses, looking much more Washington, D.C., where he was raised, than Cave Creek. Augherton has worked in Arizona government for years -- including a nine-year stint as administrative chief of staff to then-attorney general Grant Woods -- but his first love was media. He has both bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism. He recalls that he and others welcomed the second paper.

"How could a news organization not be a good thing in a community, in terms of disseminating news? And especially as elected officials, we're all self-serving. All we care about is our name and our photograph in print. We thought, 'My God, it's even better. People will know what great guys we are, what great gals we are. They're going to think we're terrific.'"

He remembers the first issue of the paper -- on a broadsheet rather than a tabloid, bigger and more impressive than the Foothills Sentinel.

"[Sorchych's] paper was better from the first day. Larger print, photographs, kind of a more sophisticated layout."

And it wasn't just the cosmetics that won Augherton over. For the first time he could remember, he was learning new information by reading the newspaper.

"The paper now became critical because it actually would tell you what's going on, especially the unofficial stuff between the lines that was not a part of the council meetings."

More people were coming to town meetings, voicing concerns, bringing up neighborhood issues, Augherton says. "There was an energy in the town we had not had before."

Augherton recalls that he'd visit Sorchych's office in the early days of the paper. Augherton's young daughter would fall asleep in a chair while the men talked about journalistic theories.

"He said that when he retired from politics he wanted to be a stringer for the Sonoran News," Sorchych recalls. "But I don't think he wants to anymore."

Sorchych is right. The relationship survived through the Sonoran News' first big coup in 1986, a two-to-one recall against then-mayor Bernard Buffenstein, who Sorchych continually castigated as a micromanaging, unresponsive leader with a king complex.

Looking back, Augherton now realizes that Sorchych's paper was bringing about a subtle but significant shift in Cave Creek. "There was something happening in the town which had never happened before," he says, "which was that grassroots activity had shifted away from policies and over to personalities."

Augherton didn't realize the danger until he was appointed to fill Buffenstein's seat. Initially, Augherton and Sorchych got along well. Perhaps too well, Augherton now reflects.

"One day, in a moment of exuberance and enthusiasm, he said to me, 'You know, if you wanted to be mayor of this town for 20 years, you could be. It's yours for as long as you want.' . . . There was a little chill when he first said that, because the implication was that somehow he had a piece of the action now -- he had been responsible for Bernard's departure and he had been responsible for my ascension to the chair of the mayor."

Like many people who leave big-city life for Cave Creek, Augherton considered himself a devout environmentalist. He chuckles, remembering his early days as a member of the town planning and zoning commission, when he drove around Cave Creek with a video camera, indignantly taping the destruction of saguaro cacti (and not knowing that it is perfectly legal for a private landowner to destroy the plants). But as mayor, Augherton says he couldn't always take a hard-line position every time, on every issue.

So Don Sorchych blasted Tom Augherton on a weekly basis. Augherton was horrified. And depressed. He'd lost his confidence, he says, convinced that Sorchych was right -- he couldn't lead. He pleaded with Sorchych one night, outside the Sonoran News office, to back off, but the next week the attack was even worse.

Augherton's mother-in-law, a local Realtor, was a frequent target, too, which Augherton is convinced was designed to further humiliate him. Sorchych called him by the diminutive "Tommie," and teased that Augherton didn't sound like an Irish name, although the former mayor says it's a derivative of Augher, a town in Ireland.

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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.