Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/mesa/articles/0205mayor-Heames05Z11.html

Brice-Heames earns respect from her foes
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 5, 2004
Adam Klawonn

Teresa Brice-Heames, a Latina and a native daughter of Mesa, is waging a creative campaign for the mayor's seat that is wooing minorities and earning grudging respect from the opposition.

It includes early
balloting parties, plugs on prominent Hispanic radio stations, and a bilingual campaign Web site. It also is forcing some supporters of Mayor Keno Hawker to think twice.

Dave Richins, who co-chairs the politically attuned Mesa Grande Community Alliance, says he is torn.

"If you would have asked me two weeks ago, I'd have said Keno," Richins said. "I think he's the right mayor for the right time. But Teresa realizes that things are changing Mesa."

Her efforts and gusto won over Nereyda Lopez-Bowden, a political consultant and small business adviser to Gov. Jane Hull during Hull's term.

Brice-Heames has raised about $17,000 to date. Lopez-Bowden's group, the Coalition for Latino Political Action, will host a fund-raiser for her next Tuesday."I'm impressed with her, and I'll be honest, I'm a Republican," she said. The mayor's race is non-partisan. Early voting for the March 9 election starts today.

Brice-Heames, an Arizona State University law graduate, worked as an attorney before co-founding a non-profit. Her public service record shows she has worked with affordable housing, low-income families, neighborhoods, the arts and the Hispanic community.

She served on groups that studied Mesa's housing issues, its council districting system and others since moving to the Evergreen Historic District downtown in 1989.

She's pro-property tax, wants controlled growth, backs public transit and is sharply split from Hawker on how the city should handle the problem of day laborers that wait on street corners for work.

To curb loitering laborers, Hawker said, "I think we need to go back to arresting employers; that it's illegal to hire people here in the country illegally and not pay Social Security and withholding."

Brice-Heames, who supports creating a day laborer center, scoffed at that.

"That would basically shut down the economy of the Valley," she said. "That is so unrealistic and counterproductive."

She said she voted in favor of a $38.5 million city finance package for an Arizona Cardinals football stadium in the September 2002 election and calls the defeat of the measure a missed opportunity for the city.

If elected, Brice-Heames says she would relax conflict-of-interest rules governing council votes on items in which they have a financial interest.

Hawker, for example, is precluded from voting on part of the Riverview at Dobson project because he lives within 300 feet of it.

"I think it has been used because Mesa is afraid to take some bold steps," she said.

Brice-Heames, 49, would also tweak the ordinance forbidding bars to be within 300 feet of churches or schools. Both items have tied leaders' hands, she says, and caused more missed opportunities, especially downtown.

"Mesa, for so long, has been governed by a particular group of people who feel like the rest of world thinks the way they do," she said. "Well you know what? It doesn't."

Brice-Heames' motives

But little is known publicly about what brought Brice-Heames to get involved in Mesa and co-found Housing for Mesa, a $4 million-a-year non-profit agency that helps low-income residents become homeowners.

Her grandparents came from Mexico to Arizona in the early 1900s for work in the copper mines. Her grandfather, Santiago Contreras, worked with unions for better working conditions. He died in his 30s because of the dusty mining environment.

Her grandmother, Erlinda, brought her 10 children to Mesa around 1940. The oldest boys - Brice-Heames' uncles - dropped out of school in eighth grade to work and support the family.

Her mother, Concepción Contreras Brice, 73, told stories of being tormented for using Spanish and having to learn English by immersion.

She went on to work at the University of Arizona as a home economist, where she taught low-income families how to stretch a buck and drove a purple pickup truck around migrant farm worker communities to deliver surplus goods.

Brice-Heames' father, Jack, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and joined the Navy at 17 with signatures from his parents. He served in World War II in the Pacific Fleet as a ship's cook.

Her parents met and were married at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mesa, where pastors predicted the union across ethnic lines wouldn't last. The couple lived in a still-existing Main Street mobile home park and had six children.

All of them attended Seton Catholic High School and went on to college. Career interests amongst the children include the Army, Naval reserves, and state Department of Environmental Quality and Housing for Mesa.

Brice-Heames helped found the non-profit in 1988 after leaving her $37,000-a-year job as an attorney for Community Legal Services. She specialized in spousal abuse and landlord-tenant cases, but no longer actively practices law.

Woman of Year in '99

Frank Bennett Sr., whose group named her the city's 1999 Woman of the Year, said he likes Hawker but that Brice-Heames could "bring a lot of extra things to the table" for the mayor's office.

"Maybe we need a little bit more of an activist in that role," he said.

But her activist/social service tilt makes some people cringe. LaRue Gates, a Mesa seamstress who helped defeat the stadium finance plan, called Brice-Heames a "socialist in disguise."

"I'm afraid Mayor Hawker will have to be my candidate this time," Gates said. "I might as well vote for the lesser of two evils."

Local pols say Brice-Heames' campaign faces three major hurdles: She is a woman who's "too smart," she is a minority and she has a temper that can run as hot as her grandmother's chili.

"I need to moderate that," she admitted.

Regardless, she has mounted a vigorous campaign that has been strenuous but fun, said her husband, Ken, a Motorola engineer who designed her Web site and graphics.

"Neither of us have been very political," he said. "We've been involved in campaigns but never this intensely."

Reach the reporter at adam.klawonn@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7946.

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