The nightmares that once troubled Howard Mechanic’s sleep have faded with the fake identity he once hid behind to avoid capture by federal agents.
Mechanic was eventually arrested, jailed and then freed by presidential pardon.
While those elements of his life are gone, they are not forgotten. And Mechanic has put himself in a position where he must account for them all over again.
The Vietnam War protester turned fugitive — who lived in Scottsdale for nearly 30 years under the name Gary Tredway — has mounted a campaign for the Prescott City Council,
The 57-year-old Mechanic is urging the city’s nearly 50,000 residents to fight against developer subsidies and unbridled growth.
Mechanic had the same platform during his first foray into politics, when — as Tredway — he launched a bid for the Scottsdale City Council in 2000. That move ultimately led to his surrender on charges stemming from a 1970 protest.
He is no longer a wanted man by the U.S. Department of Justice. The question now: Can he convince Prescott voters to want him?
Mechanic has resurrected his political life by airing out the details of his real life. His campaign purchased an advertisement recently in Prescott’s local newspaper with a headline urging voters to elect "this felon."
"When I first saw that I started reading it and I said to myself, ‘My goodness, somebody’s finally had enough guts to come up and make this statement to the city,’ " said Mary Ann Suttles, a Prescott councilwoman. "Well, as I read it . . . it was Howard who decided to do that. I was just amazed that he would."
On May 5, 1970, a Vietnam War protest at Washington University in St. Louis led to the campus ROTC building being set on fire. Mechanic was a student at the university and was at the demonstration.
As firefighters attempted to reach the blaze, a protester threw a cherry bomb at them. No one was hurt.
Police, federal prosecutors and a jury decided in a 1972 trial that Mechanic threw it. He denies it and another person has since admitted culpability.
Mechanic was the first person convicted under a stringent law targeting campus protesters and was sentenced to five years in prison. After exhausting his appeals, Mechanic skipped bail and disappeared, settling in Scottsdale under the fake name.
After more than 15 years of living quietly, Mechanic became involved in city issues — particularly in opposition to developer Steve Ellman’s plans for the former Los Arcos Mall site. That led to his run for a Scottsdale council seat, he said.
"He was a major player in that election and when he left it that sort of opened the field up a bit," said Ned O’Hearn, a former Scottsdale councilman who also ran in 2000. "He set the stage. He was the one who really, more pronounced than anyone, articulated the issues and separated the sides."
The candidates were defined by how quickly they thought Scottsdale should grow, O’Hearn said. And Mechanic, who by habit he still calls "Gary," led the pack in pressing the city to use more discretion before approving new development.
In reporting a routine campaign profile, a Tribune reporter uncovered inaccuracies in Mechanic’s background. He confessed to the reporter that the information he put out about himself was a lie and, shortly thereafter, he pulled out of the race.
However, Mechanic’s fake name remained on the ballot and received more than 1,000 votes.
After 28 years in hiding, he turned himself in and began serving his sentence in 2000. Months later, President Bill Clinton included Mechanic in the plethora of pardons granted in the final days of his term.
Mechanic moved to Prescott with his partner, Janet Grossman, in 2001 to live in a tighter-knit community, he said. For six months he stayed away from the town’s city hall, away from politics.
However, he found the same issues in Prescott that had driven him to campaign in Scottsdale. So Mechanic became a regular at council meetings.
Prescott is in the midst of a boom of housing subdivisions, and the city’s population is swelling quickly. Development is not bad, Mechanic said, but it needs to slow or the city will be changed for the worse.
He is again a Democrat living in a predominantly conservative city, as he was in Scottsdale.
The Prescott council is "nonpartisan, technically, but the real world is people are aware of who are the Republicans and who are the Democrats," said Mayor Rowle Simmons. Right now, the mayor and all seven council members are Republican.
Some residents have even expressed suspicion about his pardon because it came down from Clinton instead of a conservative president, Mechanic said. They attack him for having lived in Prescott only four years and accuse him of being anti-growth.
Mechanic said the barbs are expected.
"People who may oppose my opinions are going to try to use anything they can to oppose me," he said.
The Prescott primary is Sept. 13.