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Casa Grande restaurateur dies in Hawaii
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CASA GRANDE — Family and friends are mourning the death of Fernando Cornejo, one of the owners of Eva’s Fine Mexican Food.

Cornejo died over the weekend while on vacation in Maui, Hawaii, according to a text message sent to Rotarians by former Casa Grande Rotary Club President Steve DiMuzio.

Cornejo was wading in the surf when he was knocked down by a large wave, according to the family.

Maui County Police reported that an unresponsive man was pulled from the water around 4:10 p.m. on Saturday at Makena State Park. First responders attempted to revive the man but were unsuccessful. Maui County Police confirmed that the man was from Arizona but declined to confirm he was Cornejo.

The Eva’s Cornejo Facebook Page posted about a loss in the family on Sunday. It also reposted a 2020 video Cornejo made about the history of his family’s restaurant and the demolition of the original building on Sunland Gin Road where his father and mother first opened the restaurant in 1985.

The family was working on renovating its original Casa Grande location on Pinal Avenue just north of Kortsen Road and was planning to move back in from its current location, 665 N. Pinal Ave., this fall. Cornejo designed and built the original Pinal Avenue building as part of his parents’ expansion of Eva’s in 2008.

Cornejo was also a member of the Rotary Club of Casa Grande and was recently named the club’s new president. Rotary is a service club with chapters all over the world that has been around for 115 years and is known for its efforts to fight polio.

“When COVID started, our local club searched for a way to help those families who lost jobs and more,” DiMuzio stated in an email. “Fernando and others developed the idea of providing ready to heat and eat meals to families in trouble. As a result, more than 2,400 families received a prepared meal to feed six people. Several of the employees at Eva’s were able to return to work because of this effort.

“Fernando not only helped develop the plan, he contributed to the cost,” DiMuzio stated in an email. “As a member of the Casa Grande community he supported many programs to assist others. As a Rotarian for more than 10 years, he lived the motto of ‘Service above self.’ He will be missed by all of us.”

“He was so giving and generous,” said Pat Griffen from Against Abuse, Inc. Cornejo served on the organization’s board and was the chair of the organization’s annual Taste of Casa Grande event.

Griffen said she knew Cornejo as a trusted friend for more than 15 years. She described him as very giving and generous with a good sense of humor and willingness to charge ahead if he felt something was a good idea. However, he was also willing to compromise when needed, she said.

Cornejo was involved in a number of local organizations including the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Humane Society, as well as running his family’s restaurant and a construction business, Griffen said.

“You will continue to feel his energy in the community for sure,” she said.

Hispanic Heritage Night downtown brings out big crowd
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CASA GRANDE — Hispanic Heritage Month wrapped up in Casa Grande with un gran exito.

CG Main Street, in partnership with the city’s Arts and Humanities Commission and the Latino Family Initiative, hosted a special themed night of festivities on Friday as part of their “Downtown After Dark” concert series at the Neon Sign Park.

The event included music and dancing, vendors serving tacos, loteria, flower-making, and at least half a dozen smashed piñatas. With both temperature and COVID numbers dropping to more comfortable levels, the evening drew a large crowd to Casa Grande’s downtown region.

“I’m always happy when people are here,” said Holly Rakoci, CG Main Street’s director. “We were able to use grant money for some really cool prizes from local downtown businesses.”


Ralph Varela, Chairman of the Arts and Humanities Commission and CEO of the Pinal Hispanic Council, said that Casa Grande has a rich local Hispanic heritage, including some of the oldest small businesses still in operation around the city.

“Some of the restaurants here have been with us a long time and are iconic,” Varela said. “Mi Amigo Ricardo’s, Ochoa’s, Little Sombrero. They are a part of everything here.”

According to Varela, the commission gave $4,500 in grant money to various local organizations to contribute to the festival, including cookies, PPE, and at least a half dozen pinatas which were smashed to bits so kids in attendance could collect the candy.

Originally, the plan was to host a salsa or tamale table, but Varela said because of lingering COVID concerns, they switched it to a flower-making table. The most popular event of the evening may have been the “loteria Mexicana,” a traditional card game, on CG Main Street’s patio.

The local ArtMobile also provided paper flowers and papel picados that were hung all along Florence Street.

The musical performers including Mariachi Pasion, an all-female mariachi band, and Ballet Folklorico del Sol.

“We are here to share some of the beauty of our music,” said Mariachi Pasion member Betty Duarte-Matwick, who plays the band’s guitarron. “You don’t have to understand every word we say, but listen with your hearts, and you will get the gist of what we are doing.”

Several attendees at the concert said that it was their first time they were able to come out and be part of the community.

“Downtown is not that big, but I like when people come out,” said resident Robert Inzunza. “Normally on weekends Casa Grande is dead and you have to somewhere like Gilbert, so this is great! Let’s keep it going.”

Another resident, Lindsay Chavez, said she had brought her kids to the concert because she wants them to experience more Hispanic culture.

“My kids don’t speak Spanish,” Chavez said. “I have been telling them for the longest time, you guys have to get involved with your roots. This is where you come from: the cars, the music, the dancing, the food, the beautiful folkorico dancers. It’s exciting to be here.”

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BlackBox Foundation returns to stage with classic gothic romance
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SIGNAL PEAK — Following more than a yearlong hiatus prompted by COVID-19, actors with the BlackBox Foundation return to the stage this month with a new theater production, “Jekyll and Hyde.”

The Gothic-horror romance is produced by BlackBox Foundation with Central Arizona College and will be shown at the Pence Center theater Oct. 29 and 30.

The musical version of “Jekyll & Hyde” is loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella of the same name.

“Probably the most fun element of the show is developing these characters,” said show director Cindi Calhoun. “So many are unique and larger than life and require some strong versatility from the actors. This group is incredibly talented, and every rehearsal they develop and discover something new in telling this story.”

The story follows main character Henry Jekyll in his pursuit of knowledge and a desire to help people who are in asylums due to mental illness.

“He is motivated by the declining health of his father and decides that the only way to test his theories and discoveries is to make himself the subject of his experiments — a devastating choice that leads to the creation of Edward Hyde,” Calhoun said.

As the story unfolds, a love triangle develops.

“Jekyll is engaged to London socialite Emma Carew, but he is also drawn to burlesque performer Lucy Harris, for whom Hyde develops a dangerous and violent obsession,” Calhoun said.

The story has developed a cult-like status in musical theater circles.

“Composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse actually created several versions of the show, so it can sometimes pleasantly surprise fans which one is performed. In our case, it is the licensed script from Musical Theatre International,” she said. “I do think audiences will enjoy the balance of the macabre and Gothic elements against the love story. And there are some surprises, but I can’t give them away here.”

For Calhoun, the production is the second time she’s directing “Jekyll & Hyde.”

“I produced ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ seven years ago and some of my actors then returned to do the show again,” she said. “The cast is immensely talented and have worked so hard to make this production happen. I am so proud of the work they’ve done and I can’t wait to share this show with the community.”

The play is the first full production at the CAC Signal Peak Campus theater since COVID as well as the first for BlackBox Foundation.

“BlackBox did present a musical revue — kind of our greatest hits — in July at Pence. It was successful and a sign that people are ready for theater again,” Calhoun said.

Producing a show and ensuring the health and safety of the cast and crew amidst the continuing concerns for COVID has been a challenge, Calhoun said.

“Fortunately, almost all cast and production team members are vaccinated, and we’ve had no cases of exposure or quarantine up to this point,” she said.

The show features a cast of 20 actors from CAC and area communities, including residents from Casa Grande, Maricopa, Mesa and Tucson.

“Our cast members are wide and varied,” Calhoun said. “I think that shows how popular ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is and how many people were ready to be a part of it and return to the stage.”

Characters in the show are played by the following BlackBox Foundation actors:

  • Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde — Carlos Omar Venegas (understudy is Mardonio Monreal)
  • Emma Carew — Terese Sanchez (understudy is Mandy Ressler)
  • Lucy Harris — Lindsey Howard (understudy is Chaienne Zoller)
  • Sir Danvers Carew — Jason White
  • John Utterson — Mardonio Monreal
  • Simon Stride/Spider — Logan Keiser
  • Lady Beaconsfield — Kari Davis
  • Lady Savage — Kailey Mattheisen (female swing)
  • Bishop of Basingstoke — Daniel Grimaldo
  • Lord General Glossop — Steven Madsen
  • Sir Archibald Proops — Garret Hicks
  • Nellie — Mandy Ressler
  • Poole — Sevi Silvia
  • Bissett — Olivia Slater
  • Red Rat Girls — Olivia Slater, Sevi Silvia, Chaienne Zoller, Megan Skoko and Kailey Mattheisen

There are three chances to catch the show.

  • Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 30 at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets are $15 per person and may be purchased online at https://centralaz.edu/event/jekyll-and-hyde/.

CAC recommends that attendees wear masks on campus.

Arizona's redistricting process praised by Princeton project
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PHOENIX — It’s still a work in progress.

But an organization that studies the fairness of political redistricting plans nationwide likes some of what it sees developing here.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is giving the proposed map of new legislative districts a grade of A in partisan fairness.

So out of the 30 legislative districts, the lines give Republicans a sufficient edge in 14 to pretty much guarantee whoever is nominated can win the election, with two others leaning that way. By comparison, it gives Democrats nine seats that should be safe for the party’s nominee with five others with a Democratic leaning.

Ditto, the researchers say, with the draft map of how the Independent Redistricting Commission is drawing the lines that will exist for the state’s nine congressional districts for the decade, with a Democratic edge in three and a Republican edge in three others.

The analysis is of what is available publicly which is still an early version. Commission member meet again this week to continue making adjustments, with a goal of having something ready just before Christmas to use in the August 2022 primary and November general election.

But the project is less impressed with the number of competitive districts now being contemplated, places where candidates from either party have a chance of winning. And that is far different than partisan split.

Out of those 30 legislative districts, the project’s analysts found just seven in the maps so far being considered by the commission where the margin of vote share between the parties was in a range where the vote could go either way. And only three of the state’s nine congressional districts were listed in the “competitive zone.’’

Put another way, whoever wins the partisan primary in 23 of the districts is a virtual shoo-in to take the seat in the general election.

And just three of the nine congressional districts are considered competitive.

That rates just a grade of C.

What makes that significant is that the 2000 voter-approved law creating the commission requires that, to the extent possible, it create as many politically competitive districts as possible where a candidate from either party could win the general election.

But there are other factors that could get in the way.

It starts with the fact that the law mandates that districts be pretty much equal in population.

For congressional districts, commissioners are shooting for the area of about 794,500 for each.

Courts have provided a bit more wiggle room for legislative districts. But the goal here is about 238,000 for each of the 30 districts.

The law also requires commissioners to create districts that respect communities of interest and use county boundaries when possible.

But Adam Podowitz-Thomas, the senior legal strategist for the project, said the commission should not be disappointed by the rating.

“From our perspective, C is good,’’ he told Capitol Media Services on Monday. “C is an average.’’

Potentially more significant, the nonpartisan project finds reason to like what it sees.

“Arizona is doing better than a lot of other places,’’ Podowitz-Thomas said. And much of it comes down to the process used here.

Prior to 2000 it was left up to state lawmakers to draw both the legislative and congressional lines. That often resulted in the majority party crafting maps that were advantageous to its interests.

It also sometimes led to incumbent lawmakers drawing potential political challengers into different districts, even from within the same party.

That year voters approved creation of the Independent Redistricting Commission. It consists of two Republicans and two Democrats, each picked by elected party leaders. They, in turn, choose a fifth person, a political independent, to chair the panel.

Arizona is now in the third cycle of that line drawing.

“What we’re seeing in states that are strictly partisan controlled is that whatever party is in control is sort of maximizing the number of ‘safe’ seats that it can generate,’’ Podowitz-Thomas said.

In a broad general sense, much of what the draft maps show is no real surprise.

The fastest growth has been in Maricopa County, where population is up more than 21%t since the last time the maps were drawn. And Pinal County posted a 30.5% increase.

By contrast, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties actually lost population. And Pima County grew by less than 9%, less than the statewide 12% average.

So, to create districts of equal population and live within the numbers — 30 legislative and nine congressional districts — that means even more districts packed into urban areas to meet the population requirements. Conversely, it means large, sprawling rural districts putting geographically diverse communities into the same district.

And it’s not just rural areas that are affected by unequal population growth around the state.

For example, the draft congressional map divides Tucson between two districts. That is not unusual, with a similar split now.

The proposed line, however, is roughly north-south along I-10 and I-17 compared with the current maps which include downtown and the University of Arizona in that western half.

But to get the 794,500 residents it needs, that proposed west side district is drawn to include not just Yuma but the western Phoenix suburbs of Buckeye, Glendale and Goodyear. And that potentially dilutes the votes and influences of those living in the Tucson section of the district to elect lawmakers of their own choosing

That theoretically could be solved by moving the line between the districts to the east to take in more of Tucson. But then this district, which already takes in all of Cochise County, would be short of population.

That could be solve by moving sections of Marana, Oro Valley and southern Pinal County into the district. Only thing is, that would add more Republicans than Democrats, giving the GOP an edge.

And then there are ripple effects.

Those areas now are proposed to be in a district that sprawls all the way through not just Casa Grande and Apache Junction but into southwest Phoenix. Take away population to balance a Tucson district and the remaining district then needs to pick up more people elsewhere.

And the ripple effects continue.

There are other issues.

One is trying to keep Native American tribes in the same congressional and legislative districts even as population growth in the area has not kept pace with the rest of the state.

This is more than just an academic goal.

The Voting Rights Act generally forbids changes in state election laws that make it harder for minorities to elect someone of their choice.

There already is a legislative district with three lawmakers from the Navajo Reservation. Expanding that district to include large non-reservation areas could endanger that status and run afoul of federal law.

But here, too, any changes result in more ripple effects, doing things like putting Camp Verde and Cottonwood into the same district as Prescott, something that does not now exist. Other options include whether and how to divide Flagstaff.

That same provision of the Voting Rights Act also is likely to come into play as commission members work to ensure that the number of legislative districts represented by minority lawmakers are not reduced.