Two weeks ago, Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio started his reelection campaign with an email to supporters asking for donations.
Last weekend, he posted a public swipe against one of his party’s icons, stating he can’t bring himself to vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio and believes no fiscal conservative should vote for him either.
Whether his public criticism of Arpaio will impact that election is yet to be seen, but DiCiccio made no apology this week for his blistering Facebook post, which said:
“You have a sheriff costing taxpayers $150 million in lawsuits. How can any conservative support or vote for a person who is costing taxpayers this much money? $150 million could easily build a new jail and put every single person who is a criminal behind bars in the city of Phoenix. To give you another perspective, $150 million can hire 1,500 new police officers for our community.”
DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee, said in an interview that he was not encouraging support for Arpaio’s opponent, Democrat Paul Penzone, partly because he risked being sanction by the Republican Party if he did.
“But I can tell you that nobody in my family is voting for Joe, and that’s really, really hard because I like him personally and I like many of his policies,” DiCiccio told AFN.
What initially sparked DiCiccio’s Facebook post was Arpaio’s contribution to the campaign of Phoenix 3rd District Councilwoman Debra Stark, who was appointed in June to fill a vacancy created by Bill Gates’ resignation and who is on the Nov. 8 ballot to fill the rest of his term.
Stark, Mayor Greg Stanton and three other council members a few weeks ago voted against DiCiccio’s effort to force Valley Metro to return about $62,000 because the transit agency board had paid $180,000 in retirement benefits to its disgraced former CEO, Steve Banta.
Banta resigned last year after disclosures that he had rung up more than $315,000 in improper expenses. The state Attorney General is investigating Banta’s spending.
“I provided examples of how lower-level employees were sent to prison and had their monies taken away for this sort of behavior,” DiCiccio said after the vote.
Valley Metro executives said their lawyer advised that the money belonged to Banta and that they risked losing a suit he had filed for more than $1 million if they didn’t pay him. In return, Banta agreed to drop the suit.
But DiCiccio felt Valley Metro should have fought Banta’s claim, producing the cases of three lower-level public agency employees who were convicted of embezzlement or misspending and who lost their retirement benefits and went to prison.
“This council voted instead to give a golden parachute to Banta,” he said. “Valley Metro and now the city of Phoenix are condoning and rewarding his bad behavior. Low-level employees go to prison, those at the top get rewarded with more taxpayer money.”
In his Facebook post over the weekend, DiCiccio slammed Stark, saying her vote in favor of the Valley Metro payment “is kind of a big deal and it should be a big deal for the voters.”
DiCiccio had posted a video of the council meeting where it discussed the Banta issue and it drew more than two dozen comments from people who condemned the vote.
In the interview with Ahwatukee Foothills News, DiCiccio said Arpaio’s contribution in effect endorsed Stark.
But even without that donation, he said, Arpaio’s string of court actions has been bothering him.
“I'm not really looking at creating another issue with my own party, but this thing has been bothering me for some time now,” he told AFN, calling the $150 million that Arpaio has cost taxpayers “outrageous.”
“This is very painful for me, but the money he has cost taxpayers is just too much,” he said. “I cannot be a fiscal conservative and not challenge people in my own party who aren’t.”
Arpaio’s campaign chairman Chad Willems posted an angry response to DiCiccio’s comments, calling him “a wierdo” and writing, “Supporting Penzone should do wonders for your political career.”
Two weeks ago, DiCiccio effectively began his own campaign for reelection next August with an email blast to supporters asking for donations.
“This has been a crazy election year and one that none of us will ever forget,” he wrote. “The good news is that we are nearing the end of this cycle and the bad news is that the special interest groups are pouring on the attack to the core essence of our community.
“I am writing today to ask for your help to beat back the groups that are devoted to taking away your rights and protecting their insider access,” he added.
In an interview, DiCiccio said he didn’t like asking for money, especially so early, but he was preparing for another assault on his candidacy by organized labor and other political foes.
“The last time I ran, the government employee unions came after me and spent more than $1.5 million,” he said. “Every day there was a new mailer. I decided to raise funds now. I hate doing that. But there’s no way I can be caught flat-footed again.”
He estimated that he has a war chest right now of about $500,000.