And we're not talking personalities. Both Republican Bob Walkup and Democrat Molly McKasson are nice folks -- bright, engaging, conversational. Both have dedicated their time to civic affairs and education. Both have worked, in their own way, to make Tucson a better place.
But McKasson has had far more time in the rough-and-tumble arena of city politics, where she's already acquitted herself honorably. And she's learned that in politics, unlike in business, an important-sounding title on the door doesn't automatically entitle you to respect, the unquestioned obeisance of your inferiors, nor even the expectation that your orders will be carried out.
That's because, in a democracy, a leader generally is granted her full measure of respect only after she leaves office -- there are too many opportunities for disappointment otherwise. In a democracy there are no inferiors, only those who fail to vote. And in our democratic form of city government, as it's currently structured, the professional bureaucrats have an inordinate amount of power. And many of those bureaucrats, if they know what's good for 'em, have long catered to the fat cats of the development community.
But things are changing in this burg these days. The Growth Lobby has been taking a beating at the ballot box lately. It's lost on the question of direct delivery of CAP water twice in the last four years. It's lost with the election of Jerry Anderson to the City Council. It's lost a lot of its muscle on the Pima County Board of Supervisors since 1996. And it's likely to take a knockdown punch next year, if the people of Arizona pass an urban growth management initiative that almost certainly going to be on the ballot.
The change has come because people are sick of seeing the desert bladed and graded. They're sick of rising crime and taxes and traffic. They're weary of hearing about how they need to sacrifice for the next population wave. And to protect themselves, they've banded together in neighborhood associations to fight crime, to stop bad development in their midst, to protect their peace of mind and their property values.
Molly McKasson learned about these struggles by holding regular town meetings to listen to the people of this town -- and she has been a champion of their causes, from repairing streets to putting beat cops on the sidewalks.
McKasson knows our city is going to grow, but she talks about finding ways to make growth pay its own way, so longtime residents don't have to subsidize their declining quality of life with their tax dollars.
That's the real issue here: Namely, where does the power to shape growth reside in this community? With the people of this city, who conduct their business openly; or with the power elite and the corrupt bureaucrats who cater to their whims?
Do we want to see thousands upon thousands of more cheap homes? Or tens of thousands upon tens of thousands more low-paid workers toiling in the crappy phone-solicitation centers Bob Walkup helped bring to town during his much-touted GTEC tour of duty in the public sector?
Is Tucson, when all is said and done, just another machine for making money -- big money for the power elite, and a little chump change for the rest of us?
WALKUP HAS ASSEMBLED a slick campaign. He's done his polling and crafted a message so moderate that he didn't even include his party affiliation on his campaign signs. He's pushed a positive message about leadership and planning.
He's avoided attacking McKasson. But then, he didn't need to -- because his pals are doing his dirty work for him by targeting McKasson. It's a good deal for Walkup. He still looks like a nice guy, and the ersatz Democrats running the negative campaign get to bend the spending limits under our strict campaign finance laws, approved by perspicacious voters more than a decade ago. The Tucsonans For Responsible Leadership Committee was organized by Judy Abrams, who used to run former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini's Tucson office. (DeConcini understands the importance of having the right people in office -- just look at how well that worked for the DeConcini family when it came time to purchase the land for the CAP canal.) Her husband, Stan Abrams, is a former business associate of Walkup who has tangled with McKasson over ill-conceived development plans in the past.
Stan sometimes also works with legendary land speculator Don Diamond, who's currently cooking up some big plans for some mighty big chunks of land that stretch from the southwestern corner of the city to the Rincon Valley. These are guys who are accustomed to backroom access, which they've had under the reign of Mayor George Miller -- and which they certainly won't have in a McKasson administration. They'll have to do their work in the sunshine, which could cut into the bottom line.
Judy Abrams' independent campaign committee is nothing more than a front for the desperate attempt of the power elite to throw money at what they perceive to be the threat of Molly McKasson.
Yes, honesty, integrity and openness in government have always been a threat to the money-hungry power elite.
Bob Walkup, the sunny, up-front spokesman for efficient, professional government, is a terrific guy -- but when Stan Abrams comes to him with his latest development scheme, we just don't know what he'll do. We fear Walkup will keep his mouth shut when push comes to shove; he will not think -- if he thinks at all -- too deeply about what it means to have a community of citizens with individual rights.
If you believe the business of Tucson is only business, then do what the power elite tells you and vote for Bob Walkup.
On the other hand, if you see local government as a sacred and continuing dialog down through the ages, among rich and poor, white-collar, blue-collar and no-collar at all...
If you think community means more than just making a buck and paying ever more taxes to build more roads and sewers and infrastructure for more cheap stucco boxes with fake tile roofs, on and on beyond the increasingly smoggy horizon...
If you believe the people themselves should have a say in the quality of water they and their children must drink...
If you believe in the rights of the individual, the power of creativity and the possibility of change for the better instead of more and more of the same old thing...
Well, good golly, why not give Ms. Molly a shot this time around?