There is a wide gap, or an entire canyon maybe, between butting heads with a popular, eccentric sheriff and making friends with him.
But Alessandra Soler Meetze, the newly appointed executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that’s a crevasse she’ll try to straddle next month when she takes over the organization known for its battles with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The first Hispanic to hold the post, Meetze is 30 and media savvy. She was a reporter for the Miami Herald, and most recently, was spokeswoman for one of the nation’s largest ACLU chapters in Florida.
Meetze was in the Valley last week shopping for a home, interviewing lawyers for her staff and plotting a strategy to expand the chapter. She said she plans to utilize her media knowledge once she takes over Feb. 1, hoping for lots of appearances on TV and in newspapers.
"That’s a good way to reach out to people and let people know we’re there," Meetze said. "In Florida, a lot of people respond to us when they see our name in the paper."
It would be a break from the style of her predecessor, Eleanor Eisenberg, who — as the chapter’s interim executive director Dawn Wyland said — wasn’t exactly camerashy, but didn’t chase the media either.
Eisenberg, 64, spent much of her time behind the scenes lobbying state legislators. She retired from the ACLU in August after eight years at the chapter’s helm.
"Every executive director will see their job differently," Eisenberg said.
Using the media more might also be a good way, some chapter members said, to deal with Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and the federal government, all of whom are media savvy in their own ways and occasionally duel with the ACLU.
But news releases and relationships with reporters aren’t the only tools at Meetze’s ready. And Arpaio, Thomas and the feds aren’t the only things she plans to keep an eye on.
Having grown up in a home that spoke both Portuguese and Spanish — her mother was from Brazil and her father from Argentina — Meetze is fluent in both. She wants the chapter to reach out more to minorities and plans one of her bigger issues to be immigration, a hot topic in the state legislative session that begins today.
Meetze is married and has a 1-year-old son.