Scottsdale’s longtime players losing influence

In Scottsdale, you’ve never really needed a program to tell the players, the people who have long had entrée into city offices and the ear of the People Who Run Things.

These days, however, the influence of some of Scottsdale’s long-established players is fading. Here are a few who may find city hall not so quick to return their calls in 2009.

Carla and the preserve traditionalists. For years, the city mantra has been that the boundary is the boundary. Never would Scottsdale give up an inch within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to those who seek to turn it into yet another marvel of master planning. Then Carla, who has done more to make the preserve a reality than any other person in Scottsdale, was ousted from McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and Mayor Mary Manross, the preserve’s earliest and staunchest advocate on the City Council, was defeated in November. These days, there is talk of building a 2,000-seat amphitheater within the preserve (excellent idea, wrong place) and there are whispers of bowing to the financial realities and giving up on some of the tantalizingly developable preserve land still to be acquired. A few years ago, such talk would have brought pitchforks and torches to city hall. And now? Now, incoming Mayor Jim Lane is suggesting that we consider running an aerial tram up to a restaurant to be built high in the mountains. “I think it could be a phenomenal attraction,” Lane told me this week. “Just think about it. Think about it.”

Bob Vairo and COPP. Once Bob Vairo and his Coalition of Pinnacle Peak were essentially city hall-north. Anyone with political aspirations dared not cross the well-heeled citizens’ coalition that formed during the go-go growth days of the 1990s. In its heyday, Vairo and company regularly beat back developers, with dreams of four houses to the acre dancing in their heads. Every politician knew that a nod from the group was the surest way to get elected. This year, COPP endorsed four candidates and not one of them won. Their mayoral candidate, Manross, didn’t even carry north Scottsdale. Then in December, COPP opposed a plan to put five-story hotels at Bell Road and Loop 101. And lost. Maybe it’s because the near-weekly rezoning wars that forged COPP into a fighting force are a thing of the past. Maybe it’s because the November turnout diluted the strength of its members. But COPP has gone the way of the old guard it once dislodged from the halls of influence.

Neighborhoods. Pity the people in the path of what developers will invariably call progress. It’s always been an uphill battle to fight them as they come into an area and want to change the rules because bigger is always better, don’t you know. They’re always better funded and they always hire ever affable John Berry, who has an astonishing track record of rezoning basically anything he wants. Now, they’ve got another ace in their pocket – the current downturn in the economy. The new development mantra will be take it or leave it, and if you leave it, don’t expect anyone else to come calling in this economy. And if our leaders are desperate enough to drop their standards, the citizens’ fallback – threats of referendum – is gone. In years past, those seeking to put a council decision to a public vote had 30 days to get 1,961 voters’ signatures on a petition. Given the November turnout at the polls, the number is now 11,625.

Rick Kidder and the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. Long a force to be reckoned with at city hall, the chamber stumbled last year with its Campaign That Wasn’t A Campaign. After pouring money into ads promoting the chamber-endorsed candidates – Manross, Ron McCullagh, Suzanne Klapp and Betty Drake – the chamber’s CEO, Kidder, insisted that it wasn’t a political campaign at all and thus the chamber wouldn’t be disclosing who actually put up the money to promote the foursome, as campaign finance laws require. Meanwhile, Kidder proceeded to increase his pain by sending Lane a nastygram, demanding that he provide “a full public apology” – “in writing … within the next 24 hours” — for some newspaper ads that took aim at the chamber. Ads, by the way, that Lane had nothing to do with. They were underwritten by an independent campaign committee. Kidder’s drive-by e-mail infuriated Lane, who responded with a missive of his own: “Instead of attempting to demean my campaign, I strongly suggest you resign immediately from your position with the Chamber and allow new leadership dedicated to unifying our great city to assume control.” Three weeks later, Lane was elected mayor. Ouch.

Veiw the newspaper article.