Sarah Palin's meteoric rise to political superstardom got its start thanks to Nick Carney, who soon came to regret the move.
Carney, who now lives in Ivins, Utah, has known Palin almost her whole life - his daughter went to school and played basketball with Sarah "Barracuda" Heath. He recruited her to run for office, but says her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, was a disappointment, during which she looked out for herself and her cronies who she put in management positions.
Since Palin was nominated to be vice president, he has received countless phone calls from media outlets and he has given less than glowing reviews on his former colleague.
"I'm shocked" that she was picked to be vice president, Carney said Thursday. "And the reason I am has nothing to do with our personal relationship. As a voter, I can't believe Mr. McCain would pick someone who has no foreign experience, someone who has . . . nothing to offer for solving our economic woes, has, frankly, far less experience in the energy field than she would like to think she does."
In 1992, Carney, then president of the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce, and other business owners worked to enact a
2 percent sales tax to create a police department, and ran for city council to make sure the department got funded.
To help the cause, he recruited Palin, then 28, a political newcomer who agreed to run if she got help with the race. The sales tax narrowly passed and both Carney and Palin won council seats.
For 18 months she did a fine job, said Carney. Then she began harsh attacks on Mayor John Stein, he said. Then, in 1996, she took on Stein in a race that Carney said was unlike any the town had seen.
"I termed it the end of the innocence for the city," he said. She injected party loyalty into the race for the first time, campaigned against the sales tax she had supported, and worked for endorsements from the National Rifle Association and a national anti-abortion advocacy group, Carney said.
"That is unfortunately, in this nation, how elections are run and won," Carney said. "That's what the voter responds to I guess, and she's very good about telling the voters what they want to hear."
She won the race and in her first year remodeled her office, Carney said. As he recalls, she broke the law by spending $55,000 of road maintenance funds, without the council's permission.
"When I braced her about that, her response, and I will never forget it, is 'I'm the mayor and I can do anything I want until the courts say I can't,'" he recalls.
Carney watched as Palin fired many of the long-serving city employees, including the librarian, police chief and museum manager. She hired the former lawyer for the Alaska Republican Party to be the new city attorney. He said she was simply repaying political debts.
"Always, her first question is: 'How is this decision going to affect me and my administration. It was never, 'Is this the best thing for the city of Wasilla?'" said Carney.
The McCain campaign defends Palin's tenure as mayor and boasted of her accomplishments.
"Governor Palin wanted to change Wasilla for the better so it could be a place you can raise a family, have a quality job and be part of the community. She did exactly what you need to do to lay the foundation for lasting, sustainable economic growth she cut taxes, made key infrastructural improvements that brought in business and created new opportunities," said McCain spokeswoman Maria Comella.
In a 2006 profile in the Anchorage Daily News, Palin, who was then running for governor, acknowledged a bumpy relationship with Carney.
"I couldn't do anything without Nick Carney griping about it. That was the nature of our relationship," she told The News. "I could have walked across Lake Lucille on the water, and he would have griped about me splashing."
In a new biography of Palin titled Sarah, Wasilla City Councilwoman Judy Patrick, said "Nick Carney told Sarah to her face that he'd do anything he could to make things difficult . . .There were some very cantankerous people on that council."
Carney was part of a group of residents who formed Concerned Citizens for Wasilla to consider a recall effort against Palin, but they did not pursue it, according to reports.
Carney says he never made any such threat.
Utah Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, has heard the criticism of Palin and said it doesn't change his unabashed support.
"What really intrigues me in Governor Palin is her quick rise and how she did it. You don't just go from where she was to governor of the manliest state in the nation rolling over the top of the establishment unless you really have political skills," he said.
Cold weather escape
Carney and his wife moved to Ivins permanently about four years ago. They passed through St. George, almost by accident several years earlier on their way to Mesquite for a golf outing with Todd Palin's parents.
They had been looking for someplace to escape Alaska's winters and Carney's wife was so impressed with the beauty that they began spending more and more time in the area, eventually buying a house, but he still feels his roots are in Alaska.
"I normally would be absolutely ecstatic that an Alaskan would have the opportunity to get to a position like that," he said. "Unfortunately, she's not the person."