The betting action was furious February 6 at downtown Phoenix's American Legion Post No. 1 as Sheriff Joke Arpaio swaggered to the podium. People were giving odds on exactly how vainglorious The Crime Avenger would be.
The occasion was the Legion's 60th annual Policemen of the Year awards, the most prestigious honor a Phoenix PD officer can earn. Two veteran cops -- Jack Ballentine and Thomas Kulesa -- were to pick up plaques and plaudits for their efforts in last year's highly publicized Aryan Brotherhood prison sting. The hall was packed with family members, host Legionnaires, Phoenix police brass and even three members of the Phoenix City Council.
Everyone knows that Sheriff Joke used to be a DEA narc. But in his case, narc is short for narcissist. So it was fitting that onlookers cast wagers on whether Arpaio would bother to mention Ballentine's and Kulesa's names. It was generally suspected that if the Joke did mention the honorees, it would be in the context of his own alleged exploits.
(Note to Rick Romley, Grant Woods and Internal Affairs: Despite all the wagering, no cash or IOUs were seen exchanging hands. This was a friendly, no-violation-of-departmental-policy-or-any-law-we-can-think-of format.)
"I know we're here because of two brave detectives who showed bravery in infiltrating gangs, what have you," Arpaio began in his mangled syntax. He then immediately launched into an anecdote about posing for a celebrity cookbook entry on green bologna. But the sheriff soon devolved into his stock speech -- green bologna, pink underwear, vacancy signs, striped uniforms, female chain gangs, blah-blah, woof-woof.
One half of the room -- the Legion half -- seemed rapt. The other half, most of them cops and their spouses, sat on their hands, the vast majority of these law enforcers apparently believing Arpaio to be a colossal buffoon.
Next, Arpaio tried to solicit a compliment, noting that Phoenix's mayor and city council always brag that the city is America's cleanest place to live. "Yeah, right," he grunted undiplomatically. "We had a chain gang out on Grand Avenue last week cleaning up beer bottles for hours. . . . I never heard the city council say, 'Thank you, sheriff.' Not once."
"Thank you, sheriff," councilman Cody Williams called out, his voice tinged with sarcasm.
Arpaio saw that councilwoman Frances Emma Barwood, target of a recall, was in attendance, and said, "I've had a lot of threats on me recently, too. . . . I always have my wife start the car up every morning [his wife, Ava, didn't smile]. . . . Where are those guys who are getting the award? I could use them as bodyguards. I don't use any, period."
Meanwhile, outside the Legion hall, two armed sheriff's reserves kept vigil. "Sure, I'm guarding the sheriff," one said. "He's worried about all the threats against him." (If Sheriff Joke's lie about eschewing bodyguards sounds familiar, it's because the sheriff took pains to claim -- in fact, he regularly repeats the falsehood -- that he spent a night in Tent City Jail, unprotected. His own department acknowledges that a SWAT team and marksmen stood by during the Tent City publicity stunt, just in case an inmate got fresh with the sheriff.)
Arpaio's reference to "those guys who are getting the award" was the last time Arpaio even alluded to the honorees, detectives Ballentine and Kulesa.
Arpaio's harangue/speech ended on a predictably low note, as Arpaio waved a handful of imaginary tickets at Phoenix police chief Dennis Garrett. "I got five tickets I need fixed," he told the chief, who grinned icily at his quasi-colleague's attempt at pseudo-humor.
The sheriff finally sat down. Several Legionnaires gave him a standing ovation. The rest of the room gave him golf applause.
One cop who kept track says that during his 20 minutes of blather, Arpaio used the word "I" 129 times -- for a rate of 6.45 "I's" per minute.
Those who had bet that self-aggrandizement would win out over decorum won, hands down.
What happens when state environmental regulators take steps to protect the public health? They invoke the wrath of the Arizona Legislature.
Case in point--representatives Sue Gerard, Jean McGrath, Bob Burns, Marilyn Jarret, Jim Weiers and mastermind Senator Russell Bowers want to kill the Office of Laboratory Licensure, a tiny unit that licenses and then ensures that environmental testing labs don't lie about test results for public drinking water, Superfund sites and other matters affecting public health.
These erstwhile politicos, who introduced House Bill 2231, want the state to stop regulating labs that test drinking water.
The reason: In 1995, the Office of Laboratory Licensure accused the largest drinking-water lab in the state, Westech Laboratories Inc., of faking data about Scottsdale's drinking water. In a nutshell, the state says the lab manipulated the data to make Scottsdale's drinking water look as though it had lower TCE levels than it actually had. The state suspended Westech's license, and at an ongoing hearing is introducing damning evidence about Westech that may open up the company--and the City of Scottsdale--to all sorts of lawsuits.
House Bill 2231, no doubt written by lobbyists who represent clients like Westech, is clear retribution for the Westech scandal.
Attempts to get comment from Gerard, McGrath and Bowers were unsuccessful. None of them returned phone calls.
Be sure to tune in next week, when those wacky legislators vote to turn libraries into prisons, and give Governor J. Fife Symington III a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The following appeared earlier this month in the New Yorker:
WISHFUL THINKING DEPARTMENT (From the [New York] Times)
Because of a telephone dictation error, an article yesterday about Representative Newt Gingrich's campaign to retain his post as Speaker misstated the Republican response to Representative Matt Salmon's suggestion that Mr. Gingrich step aside. Mr. Salmon was jeered, not cheered.
He's a bit belated, but correspondent Harvey R. Brannigan of Peoria offers these "Things to Look For in 1997." They're surprisingly insightful for someone from Peoria:
A. Jim Howl will continue to wear Charles Barkley's pants for the weather reports.
B. Fifty new news reporters on the local TV news broadcasts.
C. The 4 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts will give tips about the 10 p.m. news.
D. An increase in TV-dish purchases to eliminate local stations.
E. Bill Bidwill might pay a few bucks toward a new stadium in Ajo.
F. Keven Willey will stop writing about Symington and whack away at Clinton's cat.
G. The Cardinals will trade away any player asking for more than a 10-buck raise.
H. Al McCoy will wear a referee's shirt while announcing Suns games and call all fouls on visiting teams.
I. Wells Fargo tellers will continue to speak in broken English.
J. Fed chairman Alan Greenspan will have professor Irwin Corey explain Greenspan's new interest-rate theory to Hillary Clinton.
K. Harvey R. Brannigan will not be hired as a Wells Fargo teller or as a writer on Seinfeld, but has a legitimate shot at getting Bill Goodykoontz's job.
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