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Rookie Face-off 

Democrats Regina Romero and Ken Green face off in the Ward 1 primary

The last time a Ward 1 City Council member retired, in 1995, five Democrats rushed into the race for the open seat, with José Ibarra coming out on top.

With Ibarra's retirement three terms later, only two candidates have shown an interest in replacing him: Regina Romero and Ken Green.

The Sept. 11 Democratic primary will all but decide the westside race, as the Republican Party failed to field a candidate. (A Green Party candidate, Beryl Baker, is running in the primary as a write-in; if she can get 18 votes, her name will appear on the November ballot.)

Of the two Democrats, Romero brings the most experience to the race. Romero says her interest in politics was sparked growing up as one of six children of immigrants in the Yuma area. As the only kid born in the United States, Romero was the only U.S. citizen, although her parents and siblings have since become citizens.

"We would talk politics at the dinner table," Romero says. "When I was 17 or 18, my parents said, 'You have to register to vote, because you represent the entire family.'"

Romero came to Tucson to study, first at Pima Community College and then at the University of Arizona, where she earned a degree in social and behavioral sciences after eight years of study. While she was taking her classes, she got involved in local politics--her first campaign involvement was Ibarra's 1995 run for office--and landed a job with Pima County. She ended up running the county's youth-internship program, which put kids to work in support positions in various departments, before moving on to work with neighborhoods in deciding how to spend community-reinvestment bond dollars.

After Democrat Karin Uhlich won the Ward 3 seat in 2005, Romero joined her staff. She resigned earlier this year to launch her council campaign when Ibarra announced he would not seek re-election.

While going to school and working at the county, Romero remained in politics and volunteered her time with organizations such as the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, where she serves on the board. In 2002, to help boost Democrat Raúl Grijalva's congressional run, she co-founded Las Adelitas, a political club that helps educate women about issues and raise money for political candidates.

Romero says the city is moving in the right direction, for the most part. She supports recent efforts to hire more cops and firefighters, repair neighborhood streets and extend after-school programs through the Parks and Recreation Department, though she'd like to beef up the educational component. She says the $14-a-month trash fee is vital to the city's budget, and she opposes Proposition 200, the Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights that voters will decide on the November ballot.

Romero's political connections have helped her assemble a formidable campaign. She's landed endorsements from a lengthy list of elected officials, including Grijalva (who employs her husband, Ruben Reyes, as a top aide), Gov. Janet Napolitano, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Attorney General Terry Goddard, the three Democrats on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, most of the Southern Arizona legislative delegation and the Democrats on the Tucson City Council (with the exception of Ibarra). She's also got support from the Sierra Club, local labor unions and the Tucson Firefighters Association, among others.

Romero has already raised about $45,000--essentially the maximum for the city's matching-funds program. (Romero's application for matching funds is still undergoing an audit.)

Green, who is also making his first stab at public office, is struggling with his campaign effort. He's won no major endorsements, and with less than three weeks before the Sept. 11 primary, he has yet to apply for matching funds.

"We hope that everything will work out, but we're kinda short right now," Green says. "We're hoping it will turn around this week."

Green, a pastor at the fledging Faith Heritage Ministries, quit his job with Veterans Affairs earlier this summer to join the race; the federal Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees from seeking partisan office.

Green, who serves as president of his A Mountain neighborhood association, says the city needs new ideas that break from the status quo, although he's hard-pressed to come up with specific criticisms of anything the council is doing.

"That remains to be seen," he says. "I don't really know."

Nor does he have much to say when asked what the council is doing right.

"That's a hard one to discuss, too," he says. "I don't have an opinion on it. Right now, why I'm running is because I'm not sure what the city is doing. I just think they need some new leadership, period."

Green's most innovative suggestion: Persuading developers to fund a light-rail system.

"Just like they've got developers here building houses to build up the downtown area, we need developers to come in and think about a solution of how to put together a light-rail system," Green says. "I think that would be a good way of paying for it. ... They're going to make some revenue off of it if they invest in it."

More by Jim Nintzel

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