Blood Sport: A Brief Look at the Sometimes Violent Resistance to Public Funding of Sports Stadiums in Arizona

From Infoshop.
“I will say I’m sorry I shot you the day you stand before the court and admit what you did was an act of violence.”

Those were the uncompromising words Larry Naman, a 57 year-old homeless man with what up to that point had been a clean criminal history, said to County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox at his sentencing in July 1998. Angered over the political hi-jinx that led the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to approve a sales tax to fund the downtown Diamondbacks stadium on a 3-2 vote (Wilcox was the tie-breaker), Naman had almost a year previously walked into a public meeting and shot Wilcox in the ass with a .357 revolver.

With the return of the public financing debate now that the Phoenix Coyotes are up for sale, it’s worth looking back at the contentious and sometimes violent history surrounding local capitalist’s drive for publicly-subsidized profit. On more that one occasion Arizonans have taken violent action in response to both the blatant undemocratic process of capitalist development and the obvious hypocrisy of capitalists enriching themselves on the public dime.

Attacking the capitalist dictatorship

Following the shooting, Mary Rose Wilcox said she wasn’t surprised it had happened, given the controversy of the vote, which itself had circumvented a previous public referendum, passed by a 2-1 margin, forbidding the raising of sales tax for the express purpose of building public sports facilities valued at over $3 million without a public vote. That law had passed as a result of public outrage following the city of Phoenix’s massive subsidy of the Phoenix Suns stadium downtown, a facility the Suns shared with the Coyotes until they moved to Glendale to cohabitate with the Cardinals in what eventually became known as the University of Phoenix Stadium, itself built as another publicly-financed project.

The University of Phoenix project passed by county referendum with a narrow 52% approving. In the case of the Phoenix Suns arena, the city eventually swallowed almost 40 percent of the tab, and Maricopa County residents covered the vast majority of the funds for the Cardinals new West Valley home. The important fact to remember with regard to Naman is that, after the initial public outrage over the Suns stadium, and despite the successful referendum restricting public financing, nevertheless when major league baseball came touting an expansion team in 1994, the legislature deliberately transferred responsibility for the stadium’s construction to the county and the city of Phoenix specifically in order to circumvent the law and the popular will.

Facing 21 years in prison at his sentencing, Naman, unrepentant, spoke for 40 minutes, denouncing the move to build the stadium. “I shot Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox to try to put a stop to the political dictatorship of Jerry Colangelo”, he said, referring the Phoenix sports big shot and Diamondbacks owner. Colangelo had earned the public’s ire by refusing to participate in ownership without a public subsidy. When interviewed by Kevin J. Delaney and Rick Eckstein for their book Public Dollars, Private Stadiums, Colangelo put it this way: “There was a tax on the books, the tax was going to expire, baseball was thinking about an expansion, and there was a window. There wasn’t time to build a lot of public support and take it to a vote… Nor was I interested in going through that whole process [emphasis mine].” Speaking to reporters, Naman said he’d have shot Colangelo, too, “if I had seen him.”

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