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ELECTION 2011: STROLLING TO CITY HALL

So who wants to be mayor of this crazy burg, anyway?

As Republican Bob Walkup wraps up his third term, it appears as if next to nobody does.

Maybe Tucson's titanic budget problems are discouraging ambitions. Maybe more people would be launching campaigns if voters had boosted the mayor's pay up from a mere $42,000 a year. Or maybe they just want to keep their names out of this column.

Whatever the reason, there's a paucity of experienced pols who want an office at the top floor of City Hall.

It's not that different from 2007, when the Democrats, despite a decisive voter-registration advantage, failed to field a candidate against Walkup, allowing him to clobber Green Party nominee Dave Croteau.

Walkup has yet to say whether he's going for another term. Much of the chattering class predicts the 74-year-old mayor is ready to retire, but we've heard whispers that he's giving serious thought to another run.

Hizzoner has moved the annual State of the City spectacle from late January to Feb. 22. We suspect that's when he'll make his Big Reveal.

Democrat Jonathan Rothschild, a business attorney who recently surrendered his position as managing partner at Mesch, Clark and Rothschild, is likely to formally announce his campaign later this month. He had a swank fundraiser at Etherton Gallery a few weeks ago, and his website features hundreds of supporters, including former mayors George Miller and Tom Volgy, alongside a long list of developers, environmentalists, lawyers, doctors, artists and activists of various stripes.

With all that early politicking, Rothschild may have succeeded in chasing all of the other Democrats out of the race; we hear that Councilwoman Shirley Scott is likely to soon announce she's going for a fifth term representing the southeast side's Ward 4 this year.

Republican Shaun McClusky, who made his political debut with an unsuccessful campaign for City Council against Democrat Richard Fimbres two years ago, says he'll decide in the next few days if he's going to run.

"My goal is to get the citizens of Tucson and our City Council back on track and going in the right direction," McClusky says. "I firmly believe we can get Steve Kozachik help. I don't believe the mayor and council are doing what's best for Tucson. ... I'm pretty good at stirring up the situation."

He describes his potential candidacy as something of a process of elimination, because the guys he'd really like to see run for mayor live in the county.

"I've asked everybody and his brother who should run," McClusky says. "Nobody can come up with a name of someone who lives in the city."

McClusky has no worries about challenging a fellow Republican, should Walkup decide to run.

"I don't believe that Bob Walkup has done anything in the last 12 years that has been productive and promoting toward the city of Tucson," he says.

McClusky, who has been using his Facebook account to pursue something of a jihad against City Manager Mike Letcher for the last several months, got hooked on city politics during his council race, which he lost by roughly 4,500 votes citywide.

Last year, he chaired the successful effort to defeat the half-cent sales tax that city officials hoped would help them bridge an estimated $50 million deficit this year.

After the election, McClusky was slapped with an $18,450 fine by city officials, because he failed to note the top contributors to his campaign in a television ad. That's a pretty steep penalty, given that he only raised $16,284 for the entire campaign.

McClusky, who argues that the state law regarding disclosure was ambiguous, tells The Skinny that city officials recently offered to reduce the fine to roughly $12,000. McClusky countered with an offer to pay $450, but the city didn't bite, "so we're at an impasse."

McClusky is prepared to take the matter to court if necessary, but doesn't want the matter heard locally.

"I would like a change of venue so we can get a fair shake at this," McClusky says. "I'll take it anywhere outside of Pima County."

He's willing to make a deal to settle out of court to spare the city legal costs, "because I know that they're broke. So if it's $6,000 to go to court, deduct that from my fine, and we'll come up with a number that we can agree with."

If he decides to run for mayor, McClusky might face a fight for the nomination from Republican Ron Asta, who ran for mayor as a Democrat way back in 1983.

"I'm taking a hard look at it," Asta says. "I'm not ready to make an announcement or start campaigning, though, because I have people to talk to."

Asta, who was elected to one term on the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1972 on a platform of protecting the environment, has worked as a consultant to developers in the quarter-century since his failed mayoral bid.


TO PARTY OR NOT TO PARTY

We still don't know whether the city will have partisan elections or move to a nonpartisan system. Nonpartisan elections could lure additional candidates into the mayoral mix.

The Arizona Court of Appeals is expected to rule any day now on the city's challenge to a state law passed in 2009 that requires all municipalities to adopt nonpartisan elections.

Also at stake in that decision: whether council members will continue to run citywide in the general election, or just within their own wards.


GIVING IN TO THE DARK SIDE OF THE FORCE

The halls of the state capitol building are nothing new to Daniel Scarpinato, who worked there as the Arizona Daily Star's capitol reporter (back when they still employed a capitol reporter) and as an editor for Arizona Capitol Times before he stepped down last year to head Jonathan Paton's failed congressional campaign.

But with his new gig as the director of communications for the Legislature's House Republican caucus, Scarpinato has officially crossed to the other side of the fence: He's on the government's payroll.

"I made the switch a year ago because I just felt personally like the country was on the wrong track, and I wanted to be part of helping to fix it in some small way," Scarpinato said on his first day at the job.

The Legislature may be further to the right than it has been in years past, but selling the Republican leadership's message won't be hard, he says, because the people of Arizona like what they're hearing.

"For all the talk about how the Republicans are supposedly radical, voters in Arizona—and nationwide, for that matter—overwhelmingly rejected the ideas of Democrats and increased the (Republican) majority in both the House and Senate here in Arizona," he says. "Every statewide office is Republican, and I don't think that their views are radical in the sense that voters sent a clear message that government has to spend within its means. That's not a radical view; that's a common-sense view."

Though he will be working on the other side of the cameras from his former colleagues, Scarpinato says he still feels right at home.

"I know the reporters, because I've worked with them," he says. "So it feels like I'm back where I'm supposed to be."


Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

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