Who's In Charge Here?

Here's a scoop for you: The most powerful people in Arizona are mostly fifty-year-old white men. And many of them are either politicians, developers or bankers.

You're not surprised? Then here's some news: Charlie Keating isn't one of them. And neither is Pat Murphy.

These bits of tid come from the March issue of Arizona Trend. Emily Benedek, who wrote the cover story, says she talked with nearly fifty "informants" before putting together profiles of the 25 most influential people in the state. (Actually, there are 27; she lumped three firefighters into one power spot.)

Benedek acknowledges that the list seems pretty heavy with middle-aged white men. If this were Atlanta, she says, there would be more black people on the list. "I tried desperately to get away from the established old guard," she says. But she adds that bankers like Gene Rice of MeraBank and Jim Simmons of Valley National just couldn't be ignored.

"I was disappointed that a lot of it came back to the usual suspects," she says.

The power list contains only one black (House Minority Leader Art Hamilton), one woman (House Speaker Jane Hull), a sprinkling of Hispanics and no one from outside Phoenix and Tucson.

Among those left out was megadeveloper Charlie Keating, who's still trying to unload his giant thrift, Lincoln Savings & Loan. His empire clearly is troubled. Benedek says her informants "felt he was on the edge of a great abyss."

Why does the list include Burton Barr, the former House majority leader who lost to Evan Mecham in the '86 GOP gubernatorial primary? Benedek says it was impossible to ignore Barr's continued presence in deal making. Especially now that he's got Terry Goddard's ear.

The list also includes the embattled Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald, despite his recent troubles in both D.C. and Window Rock. Benedek knows something of this subject (she's writing a book on the Navajo-Hopi relocation dispute), and she warns: "He's not out yet. I've historically seen his tenacity in the past twelve years, and he's remarkably tenacious."

How could Pat Murphy, the publisher of the two largest daily newspapers in the state, not make the power elite? Benedek says one of her criteria was that the person has to actually do something with his powerful position. Hence the inclusion of Duane Pell, Mike Bielecki and Pat Cantelme, who have molded a potent political force out of their fellow firefighters.

No media figure made Benedek's list. "My informants," she says of Murphy, "didn't think he was larger than, or as large as, the office."

Come to think of it, Murphy doesn't swagger nearly as well as Duke Tully did.

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.
Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy