I almost didn’t finish reading this Arizona Republic article about the Phoenix Suns‘ successful push for $168 million in arena renovation subsidies, since the headline and intro made it seem like it was just going to be another unsupported article about how area residents were convinced that it was a good deal because that’s what the city councilmembers who switched their votes to approve the deal insist, and why would they lie? But buried toward the end of the piece is some actual information about what seems to have prompted those swing votes to swing Suns owner Robert Sarver’s way:
- Councilmember Michael Nowakowski, who’d been the key vote demanding public hearings before approving the Suns deal, said he was swayed by the city agreeing to spend more money on homelessness prevention and public safety, though none of that money will be provided by Sarver. (Some of it will be rent paid by Sarver, but only rent he was going to pay anyway under the original deal; for why this counts as public money, see the Casino Night Fallacy.) Also, Sarver let Nowakowski look at the Suns’ financial books: “Everybody says he’s really rude and tough to deal with but it hasn’t been that way.”
- Councilmember Vania Guevara, who’d previously called the arena subsidy “bad policy” and said she’d vote against it, switched sides after Sarver agreed to make a $10 million contribution to local preschool programs and other nonprofits.
As far as wangling boodle in exchange for your vote goes, this is pretty penny-ante stuff compared to the more than $100 million that Miami-Dade county commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones got funneled to her district in exchange for approving the Miami Marlins stadium deal. Phoenix officials come cheap, I guess.
Republic reporter Jessica Boehm also raises the question of whether Sarver’s deep pockets could have influenced Nowakowski and Guevara, both of whom are currently raising campaign money for election battles later this year, but Nowakowski reassured her that no funny business like that had happened:
Nowakowski said Sarver never brought that up in any negotiations.
He said Sarver did bring up Suns Charities and asked Nowakowski if there were any non-profits in his council district deserving of the Suns’ support.
Nowakowski said he did not think it was appropriate to have that conversation during the arena negotiations but said he told Sarver that he would be happy to work with him after to see how the team could be more involved in the community.
That’s reassurance, right? Not a city councilmember admitting publicly that he was offered payola by a pro sports team owner and replied, “Shh, let’s talk later so it’s not so obvious”? I can’t tell anymore what’s a scandal and what’s just what passes for democracy these days.