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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
"Neither of us have been very political," he said. "We've been involved in
campaigns but never this intensely."
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-7946.