Battle Royale: Controversial Mary Rose Wilcox Is in the Political Fight of Her Life
People say she was hit in a buttock, but she insists the wound was higher than that. Indeed, the gunman's hollow-point bullet shattered her pelvis. It also shattered her desire to remain in public office.
Some family members pleaded with her to walk away from her seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors at the time, but Wilcox decided to continue in the political arena.
"What could I do?" a defiant Wilcox recalls. "If I left, he won. So I went back."
Nearly 20 years later, she's in the final week of her bid for an open seat in Arizona's 7th Congressional District.
She's running against three other Democrats: Ruben Gallego, a Marine and former state lawmaker; Randy Camacho, a social-studies teacher and former Congressional candidate, and the Reverend Jarrett Maupin, a firebrand who's gathering political support from churchgoers in South Phoenix.
Immigration attorney Joe Peñalosa, an Independent, and Joe Cobb, a white Libertarian and perennial political candidate, also are in the race to represent a nearly 200-square-mile district that spans several communities, including Phoenix, Guadalupe, Tolleson, and southern portions of Glendale. It's a safe district for progressive politicos where 68 percent of voters are registered Democrats and 64 percent of 710,000 residents are Latino.
Congressman Ed Pastor, who unexpectedly announced in February that he would retire, served the area for 23 years and easily captured two to four times as many votes as his opponents in the past decade. It's hard to remember a time when Pastor stirred up controversy.
The August 26 primary race is far different. It's gotten ugly as Wilcox and Gallego have exposed each other's imperfect and messy political pasts, with each trying to cast the other as untrustworthy. It's a battle between Latino royalty in Phoenix: Wilcox (who uses the last name of her husband, Earl) and Gallego, a politically savvy, Harvard-educated, two-term state lawmaker.
Mary Rose Wilcox
But the war of words pales, Wilcox maintains, when she remembers that somebody once tried to murder her.
Wilcox recalls that in 1997 a man stood out in the auditorium where the supervisors convene. He appeared to be extremely uneasy. When the meeting adjourned, she recalls, he walked toward her. She hurried her steps but froze when she felt a gun at the middle of her back. Or was it pointed at her head? She can't remember.
A blood-curdling scream escaped from her lips, jolting a security guard and a fellow supervisor to tackle the gunman, later identified as Larry Naman. But not before he'd fired his weapon.
"It felt like a hot bolt of oil going through my leg. I just felt it explode inside me," she says. "I remember everything swirling around me."
Wilcox says she later told Earl in the emergency room: "I don't want this job anymore. You take it."