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Northwestern Exposure 

A three-candidate bloc in the Oro Valley Town Council race has opponents crying foul

Oro Valley is the town too tumultuous to stay the same.

With ballots going out Thursday, Feb. 16, for an all-mail election to fill three Town Council seats, Oro Valley voters could make it so that no member has more than two years of experience on the council.

Six candidates are in contention for the openings, including incumbent Bill Garner, the de facto long-in-the-tooth council member, who has held his spot since 2008.

Fellow incumbent Steve Solomon is actually heading into his first election, having gained his seat via appointment in May 2010.

The current council member with the longest tenure is Barry Gillaspie, who was first elected in 2004 but is not seeking a third term. The remaining members—Joe Hornat, Mary Snider, Lou Waters and Mayor Satish Hiremath—were all elected two years ago, and Hornat and Snider have already been subject of a failed recall attempt. (See "Clash of the Egos," Currents, Oct. 13, 2011).

All of that turnover makes one wonder what would possess anyone to run in Oro Valley. But there's always someone willing to jump into the fire—there were 10 candidates for four spots in 2010—and in this politically active town, there's usually a group ready to steer voters toward a bloc of candidates.

Two blog-centric groups—Let Oro Valley Excel (letorovalleyexcel.blogspot.com) and We Are Oro Valley (weareorovalley.blogspot.com)—have identified the same three candidates as the most deserving of votes: Garner, newcomer Brendan Burns and Mike Zinkin, who lost the mayoral race to Hiremath by 30 votes in 2010.

While such endorsements or recommendations are nothing new, it has led those not selected to wonder if that means the "chosen" candidates are already aligned and meant to represent a package deal.

"All that implies is they want to try to take over the council, like there's a special interest or an agenda, and that's disingenuous to the town," Solomon said. "I think people should look at them as individuals. I'm not interested in people running in blocs. I'm running on my own accomplishments."

That opinion is shared by Mark Napier and Fred Narcaroti, who are both running for political office for the first time.

"I will never be a party to the divisiveness that goes on around there," said Napier, a retired police officer who now serves as associate director of the University of Arizona's Parking and Transportation Department, about past councils. "I'm not into this junior high school drama-class stuff."

Narcaroti, who manages a geotechnical and environmental consulting firm, said: "I don't think there's a value in running aligned when there are individual positions. You're not trying to create alliances; you want to get different perspectives. Disagreeing is not a bad thing."

Those backed by the blog groups are quick to deny predetermined alliances, especially Burns, who, at 33 and with three children younger than 6, is an atypical Oro Valley candidate. Burns said the notion of being considered part of a voting bloc is a "problem" that he doesn't know how to battle. He said he agreed to link up with Garner and Zinkin in an effort to make his campaign less expensive.

"I'm sharing costs with Bill and Mike, but I'm hoping to get my message across independently," said Burns, an attorney and active member of the Army Reserve. "A lot of what they stand for, I agree with. We actually disagree on a number of issues as well."

Zinkin, a retired air traffic controller who said he will not "accept an endorsement from anybody except the voters," said things just fell into place in terms of him working with Burns and Garner. He said he hadn't planned on running again after coming so close to becoming mayor in 2010, but kept being urged to do so by others, including Burns and Garner.

"It's kind of how it fell out," Zinkin said. "We're going to split some advertising costs to make things cheaper."

Garner, who said he essentially aligned with Salette Latas in the 2008 election because they were both political newcomers, noted that although he's being packaged with Burns and Zinkin for monetary reasons, he doesn't want people to think that the trio will always vote the same.

"We're not going to be all on the same page on all the same issues," he said. "We've already agreed to disagree."

The reasons for backing Burns, Garner and Zinkin are much clearer to the blog groups, who make no attempt to hide their dissatisfaction with the current council.

"We're looking for people who ... if you have issues, they will talk to you," said Richard Furash, blogmaster of Let Oro Valley Excel. "If you pick up the phone and talk to some people, you may get a helpful response, or an in-your-face response. That, to me, is a reflection of arrogance."

Furash said Let Oro Valley Excel hasn't officially endorsed candidates this year for fear it would "send out a message that they're doing something special for us." But the site does list the candidates it thinks should be elected.

We Are Oro Valley, in contrast, indicates on its website that donations it receives will go directly toward the campaigns of Burns, Garner and Zinkin, and that such donations "will be the best investment you ever make."

We Are Oro Valley, by the way, is led by Conny Culver, who spearheaded the recall effort last fall against Hornat and Snider, only to pull the plug when petitions were due. Culver said the candidates her group is endorsing are the ones most likely to research issues brought before the council.

"When you sit in the (council meeting) audience, you can see who's done the homework," Culver said. "You know who has not read the packet."

Oro Valley voters will have two opportunities to hear all of the candidates together before ballots are due March 13. Forums are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18, in Sun City Vistoso, and Wednesday, Feb. 29, at the Hilton El Conquistador.

Any candidate named on more than 50 percent of the ballots will automatically be elected to the council, while any seats unclaimed in the March primary will be decided in a runoff election in May.

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