Thursday, April 26, 2007

Replacements waiting in wings as Renzi ponders resignation

The Business Journal of Phoenix - 12:42 PM MST Thursday, April 26, 2007

Embattled Arizona Republican Congressman Rick Renzi may resign from office in the wake of a federal investigation into his involvement in land-swap deal and an FBI raid on an Arizona insurance business owned by his wife.

Renzi told The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., this week that he was considering stepping down.

Democrats are looking to oust Renzi and some top Republicans in the state, who asked not be identified, are talking about the possibly of Renzi's resignation.

The Hill also reported that the federal inquiry is focused on possible nondisclosure of a $200,000 payment made to Renzi by a business partner involved in the land swap. The Wall Street Journal reports that a grand jury has been convened in Tucson to look into Renzi's actions.

Taxes and links with government contractor Mantech International also have come into question, according sources familiar with the Renzi controversy.

Renzi has hired Phoenix attorney Grant Woods as well as Washington, D.C., law firm Nixon Peabody LLP to help him in the matter.

Renzi's office has not commented on the matter since Tuesday, when the congressman issued a statement saying he was stepping down temporarily from congressional panels. Renzi has denied any wrongdoing and said press accounts and Democratic charges are inaccurate.

A number of names on both sides of the political aisle have been mentioned if Renzi's steps down and there is a special election or if he opts not to run again in 2008.

Possible Democratic contenders include former Casa Grande Mayor Bob Mitchell, real estate developer and former state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Pederson, Sedona attorney Ellen Simon, Pinal County Attorney Carter Olson and former Phoenix TV news reporter Mary Kim Titla. Simon ran against Renzi in 2006 and Bob Mitchell is the brother of Tempe/Scottsdale Congressman Harry Mitchell.

On the GOP side, former state Senate President Ken Bennett, state Sen. Tom O'Halleran and state Rep. Bill Konopnicki are possible contenders.

Renzi's district is a competitive one, including Flagstaff, Window Rock, Sedona, Casa Grande and Prescott.

The FBI raided Patriot Insurance Agency Inc. in southern Arizona earlier this month. The agency is owned by Roberta Renzi. The Renzi family also owns a vineyard and has had real estate holdings in the state. Renzi's father, Eugene Renzi, is an executive with Virginia-based Mantech.

by Mike Sunnucks

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