Police: Fire at Arizona Democratic headquarters was arson

Politics

Fire investigators stand outside the Arizona Democratic Party headquarters Friday, July 24, 2020, in Phoenix. Fire investigators are looking into the cause of an early morning blaze that destroyed part of the Arizona and Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters Friday. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX (AP) — A fire that destroyed part of the Arizona and Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters was an act of arson, authorities said Friday.

Investigators were gathering surveillance video from nearby buildings after combing the wreckage and concluding the fire was human-caused, authorities said. Nobody was hurt.

Police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune declined to reveal what evidence convinced investigators the blaze was set, saying she doesn’t want to tip off the perpetrator.

“We are working through it. It’s very early on,” Fortune told reporters. “We do have some good video, we do have some information.”

The building, located in the heart of the Central Avenue business district a few miles north of Downtown Phoenix, is the longtime home for both the state and county Democrats. The northern portion of the building, which houses the operations for Maricopa County Democrats, was totally destroyed, said Steven Slugocki, the county chair. Damage was less extensive in the state party’s portion of the building, he said.

The fire destroyed computers, tablets, phone-banking equipment, campaign literature and years of candidate and organizing information, Slugocki said. It also burned political memorabilia accumulated over decades, including campaign materials for John F. Kennedy, he said. He requested donations to help the party replace the tools it uses to mobilize voters.

Firefighters got first word of the blaze at 1 a.m. After it was extinguished, a dog trained to sniff for fire accelerants and the agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were involved in the search for evidence, said Phoenix fire Capt. Rob McDade.

“The Democratic Party in Arizona is pretty small. We’re a small group family,” Slugocki said. “Everything has come out of that building. Elected officials. All meetings. Everything goes through that office. At some point, every Democrat has been through that building. It’s gone.”

Slugocki and state Democratic Chair Felecia Rotellini said employees have been mostly working remotely since March.

“We want to know why this happened, and it is something that is simply going to empower us to work harder and keep our eyes on the prize,” Rotellini said. “We’re definitely not going to let this be a distraction from working as hard as we can to turn Arizona blue in November.”

Arizona Republican Chair Kelli Ward condemned the act, saying violence is unacceptable.

“Arizona Republicans look forward to meeting the Democrats on Election Day as opponents on the field of ideas,” Ward said in a statement.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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