Mike Carrafa threw his foot on the brake, stuck his head out a Jeep door to give a shout to a city worker filling a pothole.
The man with the shovel straightened defensively, sighed, recognizing the vehicle. He had an idea where the conversation was going.
In the Old West narrative, the sheriff runs the town. Though, as Carrafa will point out, the mayor runs Tombstone.
On April 5, outspoken resident Mike Carrafa announced over Facebook his intention to run for mayor of Tombstone.
Ten days later, Dusty Escapule, the city’s present mayor, reacted in an article in his Tombstone News, “Mayor Escapule Responds to Mike Carrafa’s Allegations,” addressing in 1,900 words, and a few exclamation points, why he thinks Carrafa’s reasons for running are wrong.
There’s long been bad blood between Carrafa and Escapule.
The weather was windy, blowing dust in people’s eyes when the article came out. “The war begins,” Carrafa said, while out getting signatures for a petition to get his name on the ballot in August, the date of the primary election in Tombstone.
If any candidate gets more than half of the vote in that election, they win. If the vote is split, the two candidates with most votes will face off in November.
Carrafa made a point that day of asking people if they had read the mayor’s article. Few supporters admitted to having seen it, though Carrafa defended himself anyway against the mayor’s response.
The sense remained that Tombstone residents are choosing sides, between Carrafa and Escapule, about how they see the future of the place.
Escapule chose not to comment for this story.
The difference in appearance between the two men doesn’t help to lessen the sense of rivalry in the race. Mostly bald, with white hair, Escapule often wears a white cowboy hat. Carrafa’s hair is long and dark, and he wears a black cowboy hat. Both men are mustached.
Carrafa passed Escapule sometime around high noon that Friday on Allen Street, west of the main strip.
The two men acknowledged each other. From a dark green Jeep and a clean, black pick-up truck, each gave a single wave, slowing only a little.
Carrafa joined on to the Tombstone Gazette, a small paper known for its big mouth, a few years ago after writing letters to the editor. Now he writes most of its stories, including an article on the front page of a recent issue, questioning the city’s decision to spend $137,765 on new road equipment.
John Morris, one of the owners of the Gazette, who is originally from Chicago, said that Tombstone is a town made up of people from all over. Mike Carrafa included.
Carrafa’s family will have been in town 10 years this November, which feels like an accomplishment, he said. Born in 1957 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he moved to Tombstone with his wife, son, and then daughter-in-law, from outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after having had too much of life near the city.
Carrafa likes a small town. In Florida, he kept his hair short. Now, people run up to his car and knock on his side-sliding window just to talk. Others wave. He recognizes his friends by what they drive.
Occasionally Carrafa pretends to rev up and hit a pedestrian he knows. The license plate on his Jeep bears a misspelled variation on the town’s name.
Carrafa feels as much a part of the city as anybody. Although, some have been here longer.
The Escapule family has been in Tombstone for generations. His ranch is across the street from the cemetery where residents have been buried since the 19th century.
For Carrafa, as far as family histories are concerned, what’s important is the legacy that can be left today.
Back at the pothole.
“That’s not how you do business,” Carrafa said, getting out of his car at the pothole to take pictures on his camera phone, his shoulder-length hair then tied up into a ponytail.
He tells the worker with the city not to worry, that he knows he’s just doing his job, that he won’t get him in any photographs.
The job that the city was doing on that pothole will only work temporarily, Carrafa said. The hole needs to be fixed, but the filling being used was mixed in with leaves, sticks and rocks.
In Florida, Carrafa worked as a contractor. Before that, in the early 80s, he served in the Navy. When he moved to Tombstone he began running a bar. He seems to have no problem with telling people how things should be done.
The bottom line when it comes to what needs to be done in Tombstone is increasing tourism, Carrafa said.
Another stop. Carrafa sniffs the overwhelming odor of urine in a parking lot off of Allen Street, where carriage drivers let their horses do their business. He said he can’t understand why this is allowed when visitors to the city walk right by there.
Later that day, someone called into the marshal’s office to complain about Carrafa’s investigation of the area.
Parking is important to Carrafa because of how it introduces people to the place. He said he wants to draw in all those he can.
“The Old West is a dying genre,” Carrafa said, listing off the few western movies he liked recently. His grandchildren prefer superheroes.
A tattoo on Carrafa’s arm of Iron Man would seem at first to reflect that he does too, until he explains that the ink represents his son, who somebody ran down in town with a car, but who also lived to tell the tale. Carrafa’s wife Nor, who owns Doc Holliday’s Saloon, has a similar tattoo.
“I want to introduce the Old West to the young generation,” Carrafa said.
One way he hopes to do this is by starting a Facebook account for the city that would promote events and business here, he told the owners of the Sister Paranormal Investigators, one of Tombstone’s nighttime haunts. They said they liked the idea, and that when he becomes mayor, he should fix that banner, pointing up above the street to a sign for the upcoming “Wyatt Earp Days,” which the wind left crumpled.
Especially, he said, he wants to help Tombstone stay busy during the six-month, off-season lull.
To run for mayor in Tombstone, only 31 signatures are needed. Carrafa went out to Brian Davis for No. 28, one of the few that hadn’t directly come to him to sign the petition.
Davis is planning on running for city council in the election in the same ward that he once tried to run in.
The two talk strategy. They consider finding someone to run against Bill Barlow for another council seat.
Carrafa stopped for lunch at the Longhorn, ordering a dish that fit an Atkin’s diet and another ice tea. His deep blue eyes were bloodshot red with what he called “photophobia,” or sensitivity to light. He chose a table at the side of the restaurant that was easier for him to hear in.
While talking to a server, Carrafa outlined a platform – to make it easy for new businesses to set up shop in Tombstone, especially ones that will offer opportunities to young residents. He said he thinks they need a reason to stay here, and not leave for bigger places like Sierra Vista.
The owner of the Longhorn, Steve Goldstein, came by the table to check in. Conversation steered back to the news.
“You do a really, really good job with your paper,” Goldstein said.
Carrafa brought up the mayor’s article, particularly the sentence, “I want to point out that Six Gun City […] has nothing to do with this administration.”
Six Gun City was the bar Carrafa owned before it burned down in 2010. The bar was lost only a month after Carrafa’s last political race, when he was beat out in an election for city council by nine votes.
The case was ruled as arson, although nobody was ever charged. The city won’t release the results of the investigation.
In April 2009, Carrafa started facing legal troubles, when he kept the front door of Six Gun City open while in the midst of – what he interprets as – a bureaucratic mix-up over a newly constructed patio, during a time when Escapule was mayor.
That afternoon the marshal handcuffed Carrafa in front of his patrons took him away. An employee and a friend tried to stop the marshal and were both arrested as well. Escapule lost his re-election bid the next year.
Before leaving the restaurant, Carrafa handed off his petition to two dining residents, signatures 30 and 31. He said he plans on getting more, just in case the validity of some are challenged.
When Carrafa’s business burned down, he had to sell his car, and his century-old house that looked out from the top of a hill onto Tombstone, to get started again. It was then that the Jeep became his primary mode of travel.
Carrafa stays in a rented house now, with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and birds, including two small chickens. He leaves the TV on for the animals when he comes and goes.
Carrafa spent the last year renovating another property for a future home. He likes working with his hands and seeing the results, he said. In the new backyard, the family nicknamed a chicken coop, “The Chicken Mahal,” because of its size.
Before getting back into his Jeep, Carrafa grabbed a large metal tool from the garage to help stretch the chains on a fence.
Carrafa’s friend, Larry, once an employee, now lives in the house Carrafa once owned on top of the hill.
As the wind blew down the hill, holding the fence in place against the posts, Larry and Carrafa debated over the best way of going about setting and stretching the structure permanently. Larry’s tall pug, Dilliwhopper, ran around them.
Finally, Carrafa agreed to doing things Larry’s way. That is, until the links started bending weirdly.
The two gave up after half an hour, determined to try again later, but the next time Carrafa’s way.
Devon Confrey is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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