Favorite

Farewell, Franzi 

A community comes together to say goodbye to a local political legend

click to enlarge tw_june_15_pg1.jpg

Hector Acuña

Local political legend Emil Franzi died on Wednesday, June 7, after a battle with cancer. He was 78.

That's the traditional news lede for an obituary, but Franzi was far from traditional. He was a man of great passions: A political strategist who was born on the Fourth of July, a newspaperman, a radio host, a devoted husband and father of three girls, a conservationist, a gun nut, an animal lover—all this and much more.

I had the good fortune to meet Franzi at an early stage in my career in the news biz—and I can surely say I would not be where I am today if we hadn't crossed paths. We worked together for seven or eight years in the '90s and shared a byline on a piece about a county government scandal that brought home a first-place award from the Arizona Press Club.

click to enlarge A young Emil Franzi - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • A young Emil Franzi


I learned a lot from Franzi: The game is not on the level; somewhere, every day, the fix is in; politics ain't beanbag. These aphorisms aren't original to Franzi, but I first heard them—and many others—during my conversations with him.

Oh, and he taught me how to shoot a pistol. On our first day out at the now-shuttered Sabino Canyon gun range, I nearly killed him. I was firing off one of his smaller handguns (and he'd be disgusted that I don't remember which one, a quarter century later) when a spent casing popped out and slipped down my shirt. It was hot as hell and I started hopping like a monkey, pistol still in my hand. He took a look at me and growled: "Would you mind pointing that thing at the ground?"

As with most of Franzi's friends, our relationship had its ups and downs, but if I ever needed to know the background on anything about politics in this town, I knew I could call him—as long as I had plenty of time to spare to hear not only about the topic at hand, but also a few lessons about Western history or Chicago politics. He was a walking and frequently unfiltered encyclopedia. Half the time, I wasn't even too sure about what I was learning about, but it was always entertaining to listen.

As you can see in the pages that follow, Franzi had many friends (and a fair share of enemies) in these parts and elsewhere. This week's tribute could have easily been twice as long, and I'm hoping that others who knew him will share their memories in the comments section.

When I visited Franzi in the hospital last week, he was looking frail. The cancer had taken its ugly toll. But when the name of a mutual acquaintance came up, Franzi let out a stream of invective and waved a middle finger wildly in the air. His spirit was strong right until the end.

I'll miss you, Franzi. Wherever you are, I'm sure you're giving them hell.

—Jim Nintzel

Jim Nintzel is the editor of Tucson Weekly

Our earliest memories are of him on the phone, reading books or listening to classical music. We would often wake up to classical music bellowing through the house. One morning, it was Brahms' 4th Symphomy, repeating over and over as he was writing liner notes for a new LP and comparing each conductor's rendition; he had many versions of it. His history of music—he played the bassoon in high school—inspired our love and appreciation of music. Throughout his lifetime he had acquired an extraordinarily large collection of classical music. He never missed a Tucson Symphony concert or an Arizona Opera performance.

He taught us all how to shoot as well as gun safety and was a long-term member of the NRA. He had a vast knowledge of weaponry and military history and a great love for the history of the old west. In fact, it was years before his kids really understood that Patton was not a holiday movie, the Godfather series was not our family saga, and that John Wayne wasn't an actual historical figure.

He loved calling himself a redneck and sported a "Rednecks for Social Responsibility" cap. He even wrote a glorious column for Chuck Bowden's City Magazine called the "Redneck Restaurant Review." We all got to enjoy his dining adventures around town. He spent quite a bit of time searching throughout southern Arizona to find the ultimate chicken fried steak. In more recent years he was well known on his local radio shows: Inside Track and Voices of the West. His work with Voices of the West gained him an award from the Western Writers Association in 2014.

He lived for politics, both local and national, and was very active in community issues. He, along with his wife Kathy, fought the fight to establish the town of Tortolita and taught us to love and preserve the land we lived on, our very own "Tara." He understood and respected nature, the value of wildlife, and open space. He loved animals and never turned away one in need and was a very active supporter of the Animal Care Center and local animal rescue organizations.

—Carroll Franzi Schneider

Carroll Franzi Schneider is Emil Franzi's daughter

Emil Franzi's passing is definitely the end of an era. He was a lion in word, deed and spirit. There are few men like him around anymore. He was unforgettable.

Franzi was my friend and mentor. My political Dutch Uncle. I did my best to soak up his knowledge of politics and history. I wish I had listened better. I had hoped we would have had more time together. We talked nearly every day and there was always something new, although he frequently went back to stories about his exploits with California pols like Johnny Rousselot and Dick Rutan to make his points about how politics should be waged. He was a political partner with Maureen Reagan and served as California state chair of the Young Republicans that was still a big deal in the '60s. He was a real operator. He butted heads with party legends like Morton Blackwell and Karl Rove and usually prevailed. I never tired hearing some of the same stories over and over.

Emil took me under his wing from the first time we met at Ghini's French Caffe in 2004. His encouragement and tutoring was essential to whatever political successes I have enjoyed as a Republican activist.

Our radio experiences were certainly the most enjoyable of our relationship. We were sort of like Frick and Frack. Franzi was the aggressor and the learned broadcaster. I was the new kid. Listeners loved the show and his rants were epic. I could only stand by and listen once he got going on one of his stem winders. Eventually we grew to be partners, but with all of his worldliness I was always the junior member of the team. I knew that, but he always treated me as an equal.

He said frequently to friends that the only Republicans who he "gave a shit about were Martha McSally, Ray Carroll and Bruce Ash." Rare company. A real honor for each of us. Emil was fiercely loyal to his friends and was feared by those on the other side of the political aisle. He refused to be a precinct committeeman because he wanted to be able to beat up party officials when he needed to (which was frequently).

Franzi was hard to figure. A tough guy who on his radio show referred to the Japanese and Germans in WWII as "Nips" and "Krauts." No one else could get away with using that language in the 21st century and no one ever challenged him on using those terms. Not me, either. He was, however, a very tolerant man and a softie. A lover of classical music and opera who probably knew more about music and opera than most professors. He wrote Tucson Symphony notes for several years and went to the performances all the time with his wife and mother-in-law. Franzi loved the Old West and worked to preserve our western spirit through the Empire Ranch Foundation and his Voices of the West radio show, which he did for about a decade (and loved much more than Inside Track). The show was very successful and he was honored by the Western Authors Association—an award that meant a lot to him.

He supported Israel and wore a US -Israel flag pin on his coat lapel on the rare occasion he actually wore a sport coat. He supported The NRA and "no-kill' animal shelters. He loved his "brown" liquor and hanging out with pals at Hifalutin' restaurant. He was extraordinarily well read. Franzi loved all of his very successful daughters; his only granddaughter, Julia, was his pride and joy. She shares Franzi's spirit. He always had three or four books underway at any time. His gifts to friends were frequently books on history, politics or warfare. I think I'll take time this summer to read some of those books which have been gathering dust on my shelf.

I will miss him until we see each other again.

—Bruce Ash

Bruce Ash is a Republican National Committeeman for Arizona

click to enlarge Franzi when he launched his radio show in the mid-’90s - HECTOR ACUÑA
  • Hector Acuña
  • Franzi when he launched his radio show in the mid-’90s



Emil Franzi had a combative intolerance for hypocrisy, fake news and political indifference. He questioned authority but he also tested those on his and the other side to make their own questions of authority better or he'd dismiss them entirely. He was honest and capable in the 20 years he handled my campaigns and I was never in doubt of Franzi leading me to victory. He led others, too, but he was told me it was easier to unelect someone than to win the first place. Likewise, it was always easier to kill an initiative than to pass one.

Of the dozens of campaigns that we were involved in, the $22 million Pima Animal Care Center bond victory was one of the most celebrated among his family and friends. That Animal Care Center would not be built if it weren't for Emil's strong defense on right-wing radio and in newspaper interviews.

I wept openly when I heard the news of him dying. It wasn't because I wasn't at his bedside and certainly not because I hadn't been with him through the battle with cancer. My tears marked the end of an era. He was brilliant. Now he is with our friend Chuck Bowden and I can honestly tell you those two were my role models for my politics and the image I tried to project as a political leader.

—Ray Carroll

Ray Carroll served on the Pima County Board of Supervisors from 1997 to 2017.

I first met Emil Franzi at a Best of Tucson® writers meeting. He walked in with Chris Limberis, another guy taken from us way too early by bitch-ass cancer. Chris introduced us and the first words Franzi ever said to me were, "Wow, you are a (large human being)."

I replied, "Naw, it's just the lighting in here."

The three of us sat in the back of the room and basically goofed on people as the downtown-centric crowd argued where to get the best falafel (south of Speedway and west of Campbell). Then-owner Doug Biggers actually gave us the stink eye a couple times, so we settled down. Near the end of the evening came the category of Best Bookstore. Several people shouted out "Antigone!" I blurted out, "That can't be the best bookstore. They have no humor section."

We became friends that night.

A couple years later, the Weekly sent Emil and me to cover the national convention of the National Rifle Association in Phoenix. Man, was he in his element that day. He freakin' knew everybody! He was like the best-BS-ing politician of all time, except he was likable. He'd shake hands or pat somebody on the back and say, "How the hell are ya'? How's the wife and AR-15? Full bore sniper scope hand-loaded Second Amendment ammunition." You know, authentic frontier gibberish.

We had a great time not agreeing on anything. We hung out with Jeff Smith. Right before we were going to leave, he took me in a side room and told me there was someone he wanted me to meet. It was Charlton By-Golly! Heston. Like all really cool people, Emil called him "Chuck."

Sensing that I wanted to take advantage of the situation by asking a few questions, Emil said, "Be careful, Chuck. He's a liberal who doesn't like guns."

Heston gave me his best give-me-your-best-shot (no pun intended) look, but I said to him, "Huh-uh. You marched with Dr. King. You put your life on the line. I've got nothing but respect for you." I paused, then added, "Plus, you were in Wayne's World 2." It was way cool.

Emil and I talked all the way back to Tucson. Not long after that, he asked me to join him on his radio show.

We did the radio together, on and off, for years. Different stations, different studios, same format. We were certainly a mismatched pair. I like soul music and sports; he liked westerns and opera. The disagreements were real, the shouting was real, but there was never any animosity. We just disagreed and we enjoyed disagreeing.

One thing, however: When he would yell, he would spit. In close quarters, it got nasty. One time, when we were going to have a show on a particularly contentious topic, I borrowed an outfit from somebody and showed up dressed as the Gorton fisherman, yellow slicker and all. Emil laughed so hard ... well, he spit.

I learned a lot from Emil by watching and listening to him. What impressed me the most was that he saved his real disappointment and scorn for people on his side of the political spectrum. He usually took a "forgive-them-for-they-know-not-what-they-do" approach to Democrats, but when Republicans and Libertarians overstepped their bounds, got greedy, lazy or disrespectful, he was on 'em, full force.

I got to spend time with him at the hospital during his final days. He asked what book I was reading and I told him that I had just finished a book about the mak ing of the movie High Noon and the Hollywood blacklist. He sneered, "Worst Western ever. Great (musical) score, terrible movie."

The last time I saw him, he was in and out on the morphine. He smiled at me and I told him that I had come across the perfect thing for him and me. On YouTube, there's a video of James Brown singing "This Is a Man's World" with Luciano Pavarotti.

Now that my old friend is at rest, maybe he can get those two guys to sing it for him, pardon the expression, live.

—Tom Danehy

Tucson Weekly columnist Tom Danehy was a frequent cohost on Inside Track with Emil Franzi.

click to enlarge Franzi was the life of any party - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Franzi was the life of any party



Before there was Google there was Franzi—particularly when it came to military history and past political wars. Nobody in my world knew more. Nobody was a more loyal friend. Nobody was a tougher opponent. And nobody had ever hung up on me before Emil. But I will even miss that about him.

—Rich Moret

Rich Moret heads up the longtime local public-relations firm Moret and Associates

Chief, as I dubbed Franzi during the launch of his online news project Southern Arizona News-Examiner, often said there wasn't any subject so complicated he couldn't oversimplify it. 

I'll do my best. 

I miss the man who taught me so much during the 1991 "Borozan for Mayor" campaign, and took me under his wing after The Swindle Brothers putted out.

As a Franzi protégé texted me this weekend, «Dammit Borozan, this SUCKS."

Yup.

It helps to know that he's been reunited with the gents pictured on his office wall, Sam Steiger and Chris Limberis. Pretty sure my dad, George Borozan, is with them, and the cigars are blazing, whiskey's flowing, and there are books everywhere.

I can still hear his words: "Hey, I owe you a lunch."

Yes, you do, Chief. I owe you so much more.

—Beth Borozan

Beth Borozan is the chief of staff for Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy.

click to enlarge Emil and Kathy Franzi on their wedding day - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Emil and Kathy Franzi on their wedding day



Tucson will not be the same without Franzi. I spent many an afternoon with him in dive bars or lunch joints. He was one of a kind, and brilliant. I remember being a source for The Skinny for him and Chris Limberis (who passed away at 47) and meeting them for "lunch" at Gus and Andy's.

He always said the same thing when I answered one of his calls: "Hey Rathner it's Franzi ..." and before I could even say hello, he'd barrel into whatever he was calling about—and it usually ended up with him telling me an old Tammany Hall-type political story from his days in smoke-filled rooms. He was always there for advice on how to handle a tricky issue, or to make an introduction on the right or the left. He taught me a lot about how to operate and how to win. He is a legend, and I'll miss his wit and counsel. Rest in peace Emil.

—Todd Rathner

Todd Rathner is an NRA board member.

The thing about Franzi was that

he was always "on," a hyper-vigilant warrior on the civic battlefield, a seasoned soldier of Republican conservativism without all the evangelical bullshit, and possessed of a Loki-like sense of political mischief that could occasionally turn to mayhem.

He was fun. He knew everybody and where all the bodies were buried. He was passionate but not stupidly so. His innate cynicism was his armor and yet he carried a sense of outrage and absurdity that were his mace and sword. He was always pissed off about something or someone, and he had pretty good arguments for being so.

Of course we disagreed about almost everything, except the important stuff: He thought the city, the county, the state, the nation should work properly, that politicians should be honest. He loathed bullshit.

Fortunately he had a sense of humor, or his brain would have exploded long ago.

He wasn't afraid to walk up and poke the rich and powerful in the eyes and slap them around as if they were just another one of us Stooges. Despite our unspoken class divisions, our striations of wealth and power, despite the pompous self-importance of some politicians and public dignitaries, Franzi understood that we're all in this human comedy together. And deep down he always seemed to be hoping for a better world, although his rational mind told him that was an impossible dream. He consoled himself by going on the attack. And in the "old days" at the Tucson Weekly, after his vitriolic campaign of words would blow up, or worse, peter out, he usually uttered that classic Franzi line:

"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

—Dan Huff

Dan Huff was editor of the Tucson Weekly from 1993 to 2000.

Here's to Emil, who put conservation back on the conservative agenda. He was a walking contradiction: a lover of all things gun, all things four-legged and all things desert. He was a great friend and the WMD in all my campaigns from 1996 through 2016.

At the start of my first campaign in August of 1996, a diverse, unlikely group of allies met at the house Lan Lester, a friend of Emil who lived in the Tortolita Mountains, to plot my road map to victory. This meeting was at Emil's request—no, at his demand. Attending were free-thinking libertarians, progressive Democrats and both conservative and moderate Republicans. Some were packing guns, some were wearing Birkenstocks, and some were carrying briefcases. Emil's goal was winning. As the sun set and the sky darkened with a threatening monsoon, my goal suddenly became focused on assuring that no bodily harm came to anyone in the room. But after the yelling, the pounding and the posturing was done, everyone coalesced around a plan. I wish I could say it was a consensus plan. It wasn't, of course. It was Emil's plan. It helped elect me, a political novice with no name recognition.

Once I was in office, another side of Emil revealed itself. Emil was a former Pima County employee who worked in Facilities Management. Translated, that means he knew the intimate details of Pima County's guts. He literally knew where all the pipes were buried and where all the wires ran. He knew who was connected to whom. I came from the private sector with much to learn about how the public sector worked. His advice proved invaluable as I navigated this new territory.

And it was during those early days of my first term in office that he disclosed one of his passionate obsessions to me. He described what was then known as Pima Animal Control Center as a third-world inhumane place for the unfortunate homeless pets kept there. He wanted that changed—and so did I, after touring the facility. Today, it is Pima Animal Care Center with a 90 percent save rate and a state-of-the-art new facility under construction opening in December 2017. Good on you, Emil!

Another of his loves (which I continue to share) was for the Sonoran Desert with its unique ecosystem. And it was that shared love that he used to unite Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll and me to push our shared agenda, the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Today that shared vision is a reality.

The Emil I knew was bombastic; there was no distinction between his inside and outside voices. He only sang tenor arias at full volume. At heart, I think he was a social engineer who was skilled at building bridges across great political divides. May you not rest in peace Emil. Come back, haunt us and continue to build those bridges, my dear friend.

—Sharon Bronson

Democrat Sharon Bronson has served on the Pima County Board of Supervisors since 1997.

click to enlarge Emil and Kathy Franz - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Emil and Kathy Franz



Emil Franzi's opera collection was even bigger than his gun collection.

That makes sense, because Franzi's political monologues were over-the-top theatricality. At our periodic Indian buffet lunches, Franzi would dust his tandoori chicken with the usual spittle-laced political invective and mockery; at dessert his little balls of gulab jamun would drip with as much self-delighting cynicism as cardamom-sugar syrup. Franzi never spouted anything he didn't at least partly believe, but his delivery produced a carefully calculated effect: This well-educated history and military nut from the suburbs of California, who in school had played the friggin' bassoon for crying out loud, wanted more than anything to come off as a profane, mildly racist redneck.

But between the red-fleshed chicken and the sweet, deep-fried dough balls (Franzi called them "rag-head hush puppies"), while he was gently mopping up his aloo saag with a bit of bread, Franzi would turn with less calculation but no less passion to the subject of classical music. Often I got the idea that Franzi cared about opera even more than the Second Amendment.

Most of us knew Franzi was a music freak, but only a few of us understood the depth of his freakdom.

Start with opera. Arbitrarily, start with Italian opera, although it might as well be French or Russian or Albanian. Yes, he loved Verdi and Puccini, but he was askeen to hear an obscurity like Oberto, Count of San Bonifaccio as he was to hear standard fare like Rigoletto. And the obsession went well beyond Italian opera's A-list composers. He knew the full catalogs of one-hit wonders like Leoncavallo and Mascagni. He obsessed over also-rans like Montemezzi and Pizzetti. If there existed a pirated 1955 Italian Radio aircheck of, say, Respighi's La fiamma, Franzi had it, or knew where he could get it.

More likely, Franzi had a more or less legitimate commercial recording of it on his shelf. Franzi had at his fingertips more CDs than he had racial epithets (including for his fellow Italians), and he accomplished that by poring over catalogues of remaindered items and buying discs on the cheap. That started in his college days, when he would almost automatically buy any classical LP he found in the bargain bins, especially if he'd never heard of it. "Hell," he told me more than once, "I'd pay two bucks to listen to monkeys fuck." It wasn't just operas. For years Franzi strove to create a master list of every symphony written in every country since at least the time of Beethoven. And then snag a recording of as many of them as possible.He tried to enlist me in a project to turn this into a book, but I managed to dither long enough that the arrival of the Internet saved me from a project even more doomed than Franzi's scheme to become a car-wash mogul.

Although, come to think of it, I did get a couple of free car washes out of that venture, and borrowed dozens of CDs Franzi picked up in the course of his symphony research.

Few things delighted Franzi more than obtaining, on the cheap, a box of discs surveying the career of some third-string conductor like Aledsandr Gauk (Soviet Union, 1893–1963). Or finding an old book stuffed with witticisms by conductor Thomas Beecham ("The sound of a harpsichord: two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm").

I don't believe in the afterlife, but if I did, I'd be pretty sure that last week Franzi took the Down staircase, of his own volition. That's where he'd be happiest. Not just because he could drink with his departed political cronies, but because he could finally persuade Benjamin Godard to mount a hellish production of his forgotten 1890 opera Dante et Béatrice.

—James Reel

James Reel is Arizona Public Media's classical music director and weekday morning announcer.

News of the passing of my old friend and sometime antagonist Emil Franzi was saddening but not unexpected.

Emil had valiantly battled cancer over the past few years. Even though the illness was clearly taking its toll, you'd never know from talking with him. He was never one to complain or burden anyone with his troubles. He had better things to talk about.

Up to the end, you could always count on Emil to provide his take on—solicited or not—the issues of the day. And you could be sure Emil's take would be delivered with his signature sarcasm and immense wit.

My conversations with Emil, a former county employee, in case you didn't know, might not always have ended in total agreement, but they always left me with a lot of questions and much to think about.

What was most endearing about Emil was all the wonderful contradictions he reveled in that made him a true iconoclast.

As a lifelong, pro-business Republican, Emil was an ardent environmentalist, although I'm sure he would prefer the term "conservationist." He supported Pima County's efforts to protect the unique natural environment that surrounds us through the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Emil also was a vocal opponent of the proposed Rosemont mine project, believing the mine would pollute the air and water and leave an indelible scar on a pristine landscape.

A gun aficionado and hunter, Emil also was an animal lover. He strongly backed Pima County's efforts to reach no-kill status at Pima Animal Care Center and the bond election that provided funding to build the new PACC facility, now under-construction.

In his commentaries and on the radio, Emil often seemed gruff, pugnacious and acerbic. He suffered no fools and could quickly eviscerate opponents.

And yet in private conversation, Emil was kind and caring, a true gentleman who could just as easily expound on the Old West, political philosophy, classical music or opera. In many ways, Emil was an intellectual in disguise.

Our community would benefit from more people like Emil, some who embraced contradiction, didn't view politics as faith, and recognized that people who thought differently than he were simply misguided and in need of convincing, not evil or the enemy.

Emil and I were on different sides of a lot of issues. Friendship wasn't one of them.

Emil's family will miss him, the community will miss him and I will miss him, too.

—By Chuck Huckelberry

Chuck Huckelberry has been Pima County administrator since 1994.

I met Emil Franzi—also known as "EF" or just "Franzi"—during the 2001 Tucson City Council race in which I was the Libertarian candidate. Franzi was a Republican, but he was also one of the co-founders of the Libertarian Party back in 1971, so we shared a fundamental political philosophy which was not always that of the Republican Party.  It was during that campaign that through a number of appearances on his show, and yukking it up over coffee, that we got to know each other and became friends.

"Old School" was one way of describing Franzi's perspective on the world. He preferred an M1 Garand to an AR-15, cutting a check to using PayPal, and he thought Twitter was stupid. Regarding tech, I would not call him a Luddite, but his email account was with AOL. He was the only man I know who could used the term "broad" in reference to a woman without being derogatory. I know that's hard to imagine in the 21st century, but Franzi was not exactly a 21st-century guy.

The thing that many people don't get about Franzi is that he lived in the moment. For example, I said something in defense of Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller in one of my pieces for the Arizona Daily Star, and I get this phone call which started, "It's Franzi," followed by a three-minute tirade which consisted of his yelling about how dangerously insane she was. Then, his voice went to warm conversational mode and he said, "So, what's new, how's the family?" From wildly swinging a broadsword to sitting with his arm around you—all genuine and from the heart.

Franzi is probably best known for his radio talk show, Inside Track. I had the privilege of working for him as his booking producer and backup co-host, but the main show was Franzi and Tom Danehy. They made a great comedy duo in which neither was the straight man ... let me rephrase that, both took the lead in intellectual discussions and cracking jokes with each other.

You did not have to agree with Franzi to command his respect, nor was he closed minded, as evidenced by the camaraderie he had with Danehy. Another of Franzi's friends who cohosted the show, Mike Tully (who also held divergent political opinions from Franzi's), changed Franzi's mind regarding the issue of bullying among children. You could say that Mike led him to the 21st century in that regard.

Did Franzi have any faults? Well, yes. Sometimes he would show up at the studio for Inside Track eating a sandwich. This in and of itself was not wrong or bad, but if he launched into a rant early in the show, he would start spitting food all over the studio.

While Franzi's behavior might seem mercurial at times, he was anchored to the constants of truth, honesty, fraternity, respect, and loyalty.

—Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman worked with Emil Franzi on Inside Track.

click to enlarge Franzi’s radio show would run for more than two decades on various stations - HECTOR ACUÑA
  • Hector Acuña
  • Franzi’s radio show would run for more than two decades on various stations



My first exposure to Emil Franzi was similar to that of most people in this wilted valley—I read his pointed barbs in the pages of the Tucson Weekly.

I was a wannabe newshound in the mid to late 1990s, and the take-no-prisoners style of the Weekly fit my personality. The Weekly of those days was legendary. It had a murderer's row of writers including editor Dan Huff, Jeff Smith, Tom Danehy, Margaret Reagan, Chris Limberis, Franzi, and their cubby reporter and whipping boy, Jim Nintzel. They also had hundreds of freelance contributors, including some of the best writers in the West, if not the country.

Amongst all that talent, Franzi stood out for me—first, because the man could write and secondly, because he seemed to take great joy in taking the piss out of politicians. My father never met a politician he couldn't loathe. Franzi seemed a lot like my old man.

Franzi's nicknames for some local pols were often mean, such as calling Ora Mae Harn "Mamie Yoakum," but mean or not, they were too often on the money (and hysterically funny).

My first recollection of meeting Franzi was during some public gathering amidst the great Incorporation Wars of 1997-1998, in which Franzi was the tip of the spear for the embattled dirt road town of Tortolita. I was the editor of the Explorer and thought a lot of myself because of it. I spied Ora Mae Harn having a great time yukking it up with some balding guy in a dingy shirt, dirt-stained pants and shoes that may have been loafers in a previous life. Someone told me it was Franzi. Puzzled that Ora was having a jovial conversation with the guy who called her Mamie, I walked over and she introduced me to him and him to me. He immediately told me I was the new kid editor of the Explorer who didn't know shit about local politics.

Offended, I wanted to call him a son-of-a-bitch but lacked the courage. Looking back, I wish that I had because he would have loved it.

Regardless, I took some solace in the fact that I had just joined the ranks of the legion of Tucsonans who had had their inflated egos popped by the straight-talking Emil Franzi.

Franzi eventually stormed off from the Weekly and started his own radio show. By that time, the Explorer had picked up the flag the Weekly dropped, at least for the Northwest part of town, and Franzi called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to do a spot on his show touting each week's edition. That led to me asking him to write a weekly column for the Explorer in which he could tout his show. I must have been out of my head at the time because Franzi's hard edge didn't seem like much of a fit for the button-down blue-blood readers of Oro Valley.

He assured me he was.

And he was right, as he often was.

Each of our careers, such as they were, went up and down from there, but I would do his show now and again and he would again write his column for me at a different paper.

In the years that followed, we would meet for lunch every few months, at which he invariably would point out that I still didn't know shit and I would reply that he was still a son-of-a-bitch.

At least I was right about that. He loved it.

Goodbye, my friend.

—Mark Evans

Mark Evans is the former editor of Explorer News,

TucsonCitizen.com and Inside Tucson Business and now heads up Pima County's Communications Office.

click to enlarge Franzi with Sharon Bronson and David Steele - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Franzi with Sharon Bronson and David Steele



We all aspire to live in a manner resulting in our earthly accomplishments persisting after we are gone. Emil Franzi certainly lived a life that leaves a lasting legacy.

A lot has and will be said about Emil's gruff and somewhat abrupt demeanor. He was indeed a tough ol' guy, like many of the heroes in the western movies and literature he loved. I will never forget his greeting on the phone: "STEELE, FRANZI." Once you heard that conversation opener, you better be prepared to engage.

Emil despised phonies and those in power who were taking advantage of the little guy. He relished taking on those people, particularly those who were members of both categories. He did it with his word and political acumen. And he was quite capable.

But it is important to consider what Emil left for the rest of us.

His most important and significant legacy is his family. It amused me greatly that for many years he was the only male in his immediate family with three daughters and his wife, Kathy. He was immensely proud of each as they made their way through their respective lives. He especially took great delight in his granddaughter Julia. While I did not spend much time with Emil's daughters and their families, virtually every time we spoke, he shared his complete joy and pride in them with me. I knew them through Emil.

Emil was a man of words—he loved the English language and was always seeking ways to leverage it to accomplish more. He was among the best writers I have known. He could write long-form articles replete with obscure historical references to compelling and incisive radio copy that did not have one wasted syllable. I learned a lot from Emil.

Emil was a consistent conservative. Ironically, it was his conservative views that led him to support Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, in her first campaign for the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1996—the first time he and I worked together. He opposed taxpayers subsidizing the profits of real estate speculators at the expense of the Sonoran Desert he loved so much. Thanks in no small measure to his clarity, Sharon Bronson won, and along with her colleagues, the Board of Supervisors passed the widely acclaimed Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan with support from both environmentalists and developers.

Emil's efforts on behalf our homeless pets is another of his lasting impacts. Some asserted that conservative voters would not agree to spend tax dollars to provide humane treatment to lost cats and dogs while reducing euthanasia at the County animal care facility. They were wrong. Voters overwhelming approved a new facility which will open later this year.

What particularly saddens me about his passing is the fact that while we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, our friendship was more important to him than our politics. That is something I will certainly carry with me for the rest of my life.

I will miss my friend Franzi.

—By David Steele

David Steele heads up the Strategic Issues Management Group.


Tags:

Comments (10)

Showing 1-10 of 10

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-10 of 10

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

The Range

Quick Bites: Wasting Away Again

'Repeal and Replace' Cuts Schools' Medicaid Funding

More »

Latest in Feature

Most Commented On

  • The Skinny

    A secret recording shows U.S. Rep. McSally has some concerns about reelection
    • Jun 8, 2017
  • Danehy

    Tom remains distressed by the nation's cult of ignorance
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

People who saved…

Facebook Activity

© 2017 Tucson Weekly | 7225 Mona Lisa Rd. Ste. 125, Tucson AZ 85741 | (520) 797-4384 | Powered by Foundation