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RIALTO DISCHORD

There's more trouble in downtown Tucson for the Rialto Theatre Foundation.

This time, the heat is coming from the new Rio Nuevo board, the gang of people who were appointed to the board by Gov. Jan Brewer and Phoenix-area GOP lawmakers.

One of the new board's first actions: targeting the one Rio Nuevo project that has succeeded in bringing hundreds of thousands of people downtown to see shows and spend money.

We don't have enough space to unpack the story here (and as our deadline, we hadn't heard back from any Rio Nuevo board members who were willing to discuss the Rialto matter), but the board has threatened to evict the nonprofit Rialto Theatre Foundation from the theater unless it kicks over hundreds of thousands of dollars in "back rent," or signs a new draconian lease that would make it impossible to stay in business.

The foundation has a 50-year lease of the theater from Rio Nuevo, but it can claim credits against its monthly rent payments for improvements to the theater.

One of those key improvements was a sound system that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000—which the new Rio Nuevo board says doesn't count as an improvement.

We'll admit up front that we have a bias in this case (Rialto Theatre Foundation executive director Doug Biggers is the Tucson Weekly's former publisher and a friend of The Skinny), but doesn't an investment in a sound system seem like a critical improvement for a concert hall?

The Rialto Theatre Foundation is negotiating with the Rio Nuevo board this week, but if the talks don't go well, Biggers tells us the foundation will have no choice but to enter into a bankruptcy proceeding to reorganize its debts and seek a new lease under the protection of the bankruptcy court.

That doesn't mean the Rialto is going out of business; the theater has a big fall season lined up, and the shows will go on. It does mean that the Rio Nuevo board couldn't kick the foundation out of the theater while they're under the protection of the bankruptcy court.

We're left to wonder why the Rio Nuevo board would put so much effort into grinding down the one successful element of Rio Nuevo. Let's hope the Rio Nuevo board realizes that it makes a lot more sense to negotiate with the foundation than drive them into bankruptcy court—especially since the taxpayer will be on the hook for Rio Nuevo's legal bill, which could end up exceeding the amount of back rent that Rio Nuevo board members believe they're owed.


CD 8: A TOSS-UP?

Nate Silver, the statistical wizard behind the legendary polling blog fivethirtyeight.com, has completed his analysis of the U.S. House races for The New York Times. Silver gives the GOP a 2-in-3 chance of retaking the House.

But he favors Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in CD 8, saying she has a 51 percent chance of beating Republican challenger Jesse Kelly. That means that if the race were run 100 times, Giffords would win 51 times.

Meanwhile, Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report has kept CD 8 in the "Leans Democrat" column. But Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report has moved CD 8 into the pure toss-up category.

The National Republican Congressional Committee hasn't yet committed to spending any money here; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing out of commitments to spend about a half-million dollars in CD 8.

CD 8 didn't make it onto the "Fix 50"—a roundup of the 50 most competitive House races in the country by Chris Cillizza of The Fix, a Washington Post blog. CD 8 has also dropped in the National Journal's listing of competitive seats, from No. 34 to No. 51.

Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for Team Giffords, says that the rankings drops show that national pundits don't believe Kelly's message will resonate with CD 8 voters.

"It's clear that Kelly's priority is his own radical political agenda, not serving Southern Arizona," Hilby said via e-mail. "One after another, voters and analysts are rejecting his dangerous and out-of-touch positions."

In an e-mail to The Skinny, Kelly dismissed the rankings as irrelevant.

"The voters of Southern Arizona are more concerned that Giffords voted to cut $500 billion from Medicare and that Giffords bailed out Wall Street than they are with what some Washington, D.C., paper thinks," Kelly says.


WHY IS AL MELVIN SO SCARED OF A DEMOCRAT?

Gov. Jan Brewer isn't the only candidate ducking debates this year. Up in Legislative District 26, which stretches from the Catalina foothills up to SaddleBrooke, Sen. Al Melvin is having trouble finding the fortitude to take on his opponent, Democrat Cheryl Cage.

Dave Perry, the editor and publisher of the Explorer newspaper, set up a nonpartisan debate hosted by the paper.

Perry says he wanted to run the debate himself to make sure it was fair and informative and didn't get hijacked by either party or any special-interest groups.

Melvin apparently trusted Perry to do just that, and wrote a confirmation e-mail saying, "Dave, Count me in. I'm sure you will give this a lot of thought and that you will do your utmost to make the event fair and balanced."

But Melvin now says he won't attend the debate unless two new requirements are met: He wants the debate to include the district's three House of Representatives candidates; and he insists it be held at one of four places he has chosen.

"I attempted to put together a debate between the two Senate candidates, and they both initially agreed to do it, but on further reflection, Sen. Melvin has concerns about the venue, and he has concerns about not including the House candidates," Perry explains.

Perry had scheduled the debate at Mountain View High School, which Melvin says he didn't like because it is outside of his area—and because it is a public high school.

"I would prefer, frankly, not a public high school, (because of) the AEA (Arizona Education Association)," Melvin said when we tracked him down at the GOP Unity Rally over the weekend. "Every year, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat everybody in this room."

Perry says he might consider changing the venue to accommodate Melvin, but he has no interest in inviting the candidates in the House of Representatives race.

"I said I wanted a debate between the two of them. ... I did not want to bring in the House candidates. I believe that those forums where there are five or six people—they're not debates," he says.

Cage says she will be at Mountain View High School on Sept. 30, whether Melvin shows up or not.

"The bottom line is it's not that complicated," Cage says. "You put your dress shirt on; you get in your car; you drive to the public high school; and you have a public debate to share with the voters your views.

"I will not be manipulated by this man," she continues. "He's manipulating the voters. He's manipulating the press in order to not have to defend his horrific voting record."

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