Tony’s Final Report

I could have finished Tony Nelssen’s final campaign finance report a long time ago. In fact, I’ve had it done for almost a year except for a few minor details. I’m a huge procrastinator, but that’s not the problem. These reports are tedious, kind of like filling out long-form tax returns. But that isn’t it, either. I guess I just never wanted to admit that it was over.

Tony Nelssen | East Valley Tribune

Tony was about as close to being Mr. Scottsdale as we’ll probably ever see. Even so, most of us never really knew how much that was true until he turned to ride away into the sunset. Then, just like that, he was gone.

It seems that’s the way it is with Scottsdale herself. She seems to be slipping away. It didn’t take long for the buzzards to start circling up north where Tony lived. The Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance, the Desert Foothills Overlay, and so many other juicy morsels have gone lame, just waiting to be picked clean. How long before they are just words in a history book that no one bothered to write?

After Tony died, there was some quiet gallows humor among his friends. We tried to figure out who Tony would have supported so they could say, “Endorsed by the Dead Guy.” We joked about Tony haunting his rivals and “tourists” on the City Council. We were mad at Tony for being “inconsiderate” by having gone and died on us. We whispered that his ghostly hand must have influenced the drawing of names from Tony’s Stetson, so as to put his wife Marg in his seat for the remainder of his term. More denial, I suppose; not wanting to face what had happened, let alone what was coming. As much as we felt sorry for Tony and his family, we felt sorry for ourselves.

I reviewed and re-reviewed all three (count ’em, three) pages of Tony’s final campaign finance report, looking for any error that might require me to amend it. By accident, I hit the wrong tab and pull up the previous report which lists all of Tony’s campaign supporters and friends. It also lists all of them as receiving a full refund after his death. That’s the way Tony wanted it, and that’s the way Marg wanted it, so I wrote the checks.

Tony and Marg put a lot of their own money into the campaign, too, and they weren’t exactly wealthy. But after campaign expenses and refunds to contributors, all they got back was $86 and change. You can’t buy a lot of hay these days with $86. You can hardly drive from Tony’s house to the Kiva and back for $86.

Gone forever are the days, however, when campaign finance reports could be folded into a business envelope. I contrast Tony’s final accounting against the 80-page campaign finance report that Jim Lane filed last week. Tony’s list of contributors is pitiful in comparison. I’ve seen small-town phone books that weren’t 80 pages.

Ironically, there are a few names of development-types that appear on both lists. Some gave money to Tony’s campaign even though he almost always voted against them. They recognized how important it was to have Tony involved in the process and what a symbol of Scottsdale he was. Too bad they didn’t believe it enough to respect the work that he and his allies put into keeping Scottsdale special.

These days most of Tony’s friends look pretty weary. After the long City Council meetings that end in defeat and late-night community events that keep us from families and from sleep, we’ve quietly asked ourselves,

“Is it worth fighting anymore? When will it stop, and if so, where? Does anyone else get it? Does anyone else care?”

We’ve rarely asked each other these questions aloud, but we can read them on each others’ faces.

OK, I’m off to the Kiva to file this last report. It’s a beautiful day…the kind of day that reminds us why we suffer through July in the Sonoran. I think I’ll ride my bike. I wish I had a horse. I’d take a ‘shortcut’ out through the scrub and circle back to tie-up to the rail at City Hall after sundown; after everyone has gone home except Carolyn, so no one else could see me hand her this final report.

If I can get some rest tonight, maybe I’ll fight a little more tomorrow.

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  1. That was a moving tribute, John. It captured so much of Scottsdale’s spirit, and so much sadness. But fight on my friend – tomorrow is another day.

  2. John, you have a way with words. I never knew Tony personally, and that is to my detriment. He will always be remembered for what Scottsdale Pride is all about.
    As for keeping up the fight, when asked why I try when there is no hope to win, I tell people what Thomas Burke said:
    “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”

  3. John
    Great tribute, no one misses him more than me, except for his family. He was family to me but also an inspiration and the reason many of us try to continue what he started, in his words to keep Scottsdale the special place it is. He was a supporter of all residents in Scottsdale, not just up north which made him the perfect council representative and a prime example of why districts wouldn’t be good for this city, it is the person that makes the difference, not where he lives in the city. May he live on in all of us and may we keep his memory and all he stood for alive and well in Scottsdale. The Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center is a great start.

  4. There aren’t a lot of folks out there like Tony Nelssen, but it is amazing how many lives he touched, and continues to touch….

  5. Here I sit at 6 a.m. trying to figure out how this city is going to get the public drunkenness law fixed and before the state Legislature in 3 days or wait until the next session before it can be fixed. And you write that article…….damn… have made me cry.

    “”These days most of Tony’s friends look pretty weary. After the long City Council meetings that end in defeat and late-night community events that keep us from families and from sleep, we’ve quietly asked ourselves,
    “Is it worth fighting anymore? When will it stop, and if so, where? Does anyone else get it? Does anyone else care?”
    We’ve rarely asked each other these questions aloud, but we can read them on each others’ faces.”

    Those 7 sentences nailed it. I was brought into city government service – volunteer service- by Mayor Herb Drinkwater in 1988 and because of folks like Tony I stayed. I am not from North Scottsdale. Raised our kids in the house my parents bought in South Scottsdale in 1960. Worked in southern Scottsdale stables with horses that were boarded, groomed them and maintained tack and kept the stables pristine if I do say so myself.

    The values that Mayor Drinkwater instilled in staff and volunteers for community, people and good government were echoed by Tony. Sitting down with Tony one on one was a treat. Humor, common sense and great intelligence. No partisan politics. No favors done under the table or behind closed doors. No effort was beneath them. They cared. They gave without a second thought.

    Damn I miss those guys.

  6. Tony would have liked this post, it would have made him smile that big wonderful smile of his. I miss Tony and what he brought to Scottsdale. I’m sure he was with you when you filed that report and was patting you on the back with gratitue. He would be proud of your efforts and others who choose to fight the hard fight.

  7. Tony was a a man with character and integrity. He knew himself. He was true to his values and principles. He always acted with integrity basing his actions on his deeply held principles. His love for Scottsdale was obvious for all to see. More than most, because of his history of involvement as a citizen, he knew Scottsdale’s history, its vision, and its values. Tony Nelssen was for Scottsdale. Tony Nelssen was Scottsdale at its finest.

  8. I just got my computer back from the shop. I also sit here with tears in my eyes because at a meeting in Mayor Lane’s office I asked Tony if I could talk to him when we were done. I asked him if he was alright and of course he said he was on medication for awhile and why did I ask? I said I thought his color was bad. He told me he was going to see his doctor but no one else had told him that.

    It wasn’t very long afterward that he made his announcement about his cancer. He called me and he told me he did not know when we had our talk. We talked for a long time. Big, huggable Bear. I do miss him as you could call him anytime.

  9. John,

    Very well put, very prosaic in a western sort of way, and with the perspective of what we’ve all lost, our voice, the one who’s common sense outweighed his personal sense of importance, to our late friend we are forever ‘beholden’, he stood tall and was never at a loss for words when it came to what ‘should’ be best for the Wests most Western Town to remain same. God Bless Tony Nelssen, he cared and lived by the Code of the West, not the Board Room or that of Politoco’s with the deal-making that at its heart compromises all who take part, leaving forever it’s negative stamp on the land, and somehow the refrain from the old S&G song, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio………………”, Tony, will always be here in spirit, with our thanks and gratitude for the fight well fought for the City he loved.

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