B y J i m N i n t z e l
WELL, IT'S THAT time again--as if we needed any more hot air in this town, the political season is officially underway. Last week, candidates in Tucson's November elections turned in their petitions down at the clerk's office, announcing their intentions to seek a seat on the City Council--delightful part-time work that pays all of $12,000 a year, plus a car and health insurance. (Unless you're the mayor, who makes $24,000.)
Up for grabs this year: the mayor's seat and three council spots. A whole bunch of eager candidates are stepping up to the plate. Some we've seen before and some are fresh new meat all set for a grind in the mill of city politics.
We've put together this handy guide to introduce you to these friendly faces. We've broken down the different races into easy-to-read info-packs, along with a few handicapping notes for those interested in wagering. Things are brief this time out, but you can look forward to painfully in-depth investigations in the months to come.
A few notes:
Primary elections are exclusively for ward residents, so unless you live in westside Ward 1 or southeastern Ward 4, you don't get to vote in those races. But you Democrats aren't off the hook on primary election day: You need to turn up at the polls to vote in the main event--the long-brewing battle between Mayor George Miller and Ward 1 Councilman Bruce Wheeler, which is unarguably the title bout on the September primary bill.
Because there are no primary battles in Ward 2, we've left it off our bright little spread. Councilwoman Janet Marcus will take on Republican Rick Grinnell and Libertarian Tim Loomis in November general election.
Ward races in the general election are open to all voters in the city. Because Tucson has about 133,000 registered Democrats and only 89,000 folks with the GOP, there hasn't been a Republican on the City Council since 1987--retiring Ward 4 Councilman Roger Sedlmayr notwithstanding.
But it's not as impossible as some folks think for a Republican to win a spot. Registration is one thing and voter turn-out is another, and with two open seats and almost four months of campaigning ahead...Well, let's just say we've seen stranger stuff happen.
We've included the amount of money candidates had raised as of May 31. Keep in mind that was a month and a half ago, so most of them have raised more since then. But rest assured, we'll keep you updated as the season wears on.
Two initiatives may also turn up on the November 7 ballot. One, the water initiative, would ban delivery of CAP water for five years, mandate a recharge program and set high water standards. Backers, who needed 10,932 signatures, turned in 26,862, so it should have little trouble making the ballot. If the initiative passes, critics fear it will cost a fortune to delivery water in Tucson, which will ultimately soak consumers. It may, however, also bring growth in Pima County to a grinding halt, so it won't be all bad.
Earlier this week, Councilwoman Marcus floated the idea of adding another water proposition to the ballot, tailored more to the liking of the council, so we could see that in November as well.
The other ballot initiative calls for a $7 minimum wage in Tucson. Supporters say it would provide a livable wage to all workers, while critics say it'll send businesses scurrying for the city limits. Since backers were only able to turn in about 15,000 signatures and need 10,932 valid sigs, you can look for a court challenge on this one.
The council is also considering putting a proposition on the ballot to raise their pay to a paltry $18,000.
The general election will also allow Tucsonans to join voters in Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis and more than a dozen other cities to participate in the inaugural Cityvote, a new straw poll of presidential candidates. Most major announced candidates will be included on the ballot, which will result in the first nationwide urban straw poll. And, unlike the presidential primary approved by the Arizona Legislature earlier this year, this one won't soak taxpayers for $2.5 million.
The primary election is September 19, but if you're planning on voting, you need to register by August 21. General election day is November 7, with an October 9 registration deadline.
THE TOP STORY, at least until September: Two-term Ward 1 Councilman Bruce Wheeler is surrendering his seat to take on Mayor George Miller in the Democratic primary.
Miller, who has been active in Democratic politics for three decades, has been on the council for 18 years, the last four as mayor. He's a big government man who has put together an unusual coalition of social services proponents and developers. Although quiet and soft-spoken on the outside, Miller is ready to campaign, as evidenced by the $37,557 he's already raised for his race.
Wheeler, who works at the Tucson Airport Authority, likes to portray himself as being ahead of Miller on most of the issues, but many political insiders view him as an opportunist. He's earned a reputation as a volatile councilman, sometimes storming out of council meetings.
Miller and Wheeler have been at odds for years. They clashed in 1992, when Wheeler joined the council majority to oust then-City Manager Tom Wilson. More recently, they've fought over the CAP, hiring more cops and the annexation of Don Diamond's Rocking K development. With Miller solidly leading the fundraising race and carrying the support of the Tucson establishment, Wheeler is clearly the underdog in the race.
The winner will face Republican Sharon Collins in the November 7 general election. A former kindergarten teacher, Collins now co-owns and manages an assisted-living retirement community. A newcomer to Tucson politics, Collins' political experience includes her work as a GOP precinct committeewoman for the last three years, "since Clinton came into office." She also worked on Sen. Jon Kyl's 1994 race. Collins has tightly tied her campaign to the CAP water initiative, declaring water and juvenile crime the top issues facing Tucson.
Lawyer Ed Kahn is running on the Libertarian ticket. A former right-wing Republican, Kahn has climbed aboard the Libertarian bandwagon because he feels the GOP no longer represents true conservatives. Kahn freely admits it would take a miracle for him to win the election, but says he got into the race "to stir the pot." We're sure he'll do that.
THE WESTSIDE WARD 1 primary promises to be a hotly contested race, with five Hispanic Democrats vying to replace Councilman Bruce Wheeler, who is giving up his seat to challenge Mayor George Miller. The five candidates will be fighting for the votes of the 22,600 registered Democrats in the ward, few of whom go to the polls for primary elections.
The youngest candidate in the race, 25-year-old Jose Ibarra, has also been the most effective at fundraising, picking up more than $6,000 by the end of May. Despite his youth, Ibarra is no stranger to local politics. He cut his teeth on Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva's campaign in 1988. Since then, Ibarra has worked on several campaigns, including Mayor George Miller's 1991 mayoral run, Terry Goddard's 1990 gubernatorial campaign, and the 1990 MLK holiday initiative, and served as the Clinton/Gore southern Arizona campaign manager in 1992. Ibarra has been an aide to Grijalva and now works as a supervisor with the Border Volunteer Corps, a division of the Clinton administration's Americorps program.
Despite Ibarra's lead in the fund-raising race, the advantage may go to the only woman seeking the office, Irma Yepez-Perez, who has worked as an aide to Wheeler for the last seven-and-a-half years. She's also worked as a paralegal in the Pima County Public Defender's Office and as an assistant planner for the city of Edinburg, Texas. She's been interested in politics since she volunteered her time for a mayoral race in Yuma.
The other three candidates are familiar faces who have worked together on past campaigns. Former state Sen. Luis Gonzales served four terms in the Arizona Legislature before leaving in 1986 to challenge legendary U.S. Rep. Morris Udall, a move he now calls "the ultimate political stupidity." Gonzales resurfaced on the political landscape in 1992, challenging Supervisor Raul Grijalva in the Democratic primary. Gonzales was thrown off the ballot when a judge tossed out all but a dozen or so of the signatures on his nominating petitions. He says the incident was a mistake by overzealous volunteers, a defense that did little good in court.
Ruben Romero held the Ward 1 seat from 1971 to 1979, but gave it up in a failed bid for mayor. A former developer and past president of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, Romero is sympathetic to the struggles developers face.
Like Navy hero John Paul Jones, Romero has not yet begun to fight. He says he held off on fundraising until he was sure he had enough signatures on his nominating petitions, so he has yet to turn in a campaign finance report to the city. He also has yet to stake out a position on some of the most pressing issues facing the city, such as how to use Tucson's massive CAP allotment.
Accountant Rodolfo Bejarano was Romero's successor to the Ward 1 seat, holding the office from 1979 to 1987, when Wheeler defeated him in the Democratic primary. Bejarano thinks the city should continue to grow, supporting the annexation of Don Diamond's Rocking K development even if the city needs to provide the infrastructure for the project.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Ray Fontaine in the November 7 general election. Fontaine, who moved to Tucson in 1989, is a business consultant whose clients have included Dev-Con, the development corporation once interested in re-locating the downtown city and county government headquarters and building a hotel and mall in their place. He also touts his NAFTA-related work.
Fontaine is full of ideas. He wants to eliminate the primary city property tax, streamline government, create more cultural-based tourism and put mounted police along the Santa Cruz.
Libertarian Scott Stewart will also be on the November 7 ballot.
WITH EASTSIDE WARD 4 Councilman Roger Sedlmayr calling it quits after two terms (and weighing a run at Paul Marsh's spot on the Pima County Board of Supervisors--a jump that would mean a $40,000 annual raise, not to mention better retirement bennies), four candidates have lined up for his open seat, none of whom have held public office.
Jean Wilkins and Shirley Scott will duke it out in the Democratic primary. Wilkins, an aide to Sedlmayr for the last four years, worked with the city for more than four decades before retiring in 1989. She spent 25 years in the police department's administrative unit and moved to the city's finance department in 1973, where she soon became an assistant director in the budget and research department. She says the job gave her a good understanding of the city's organization.
Shirley Scott, who owns a wholesale fastener supply shop with her husband, has served on the city budget committee for the last year. She's also worked on political campaigns in the past, including former councilman Chuck Ford's failed mayoral bid in the 1991 Democratic primary. She's an instructor at Pima Community College and has been active with the local Girl Scouts chapter.
The winner of the September 19 primary will face either Todd Clodfelter or Bill King, who are squaring off in the Republican primary. Clodfelter, who owns a printing business, has no previous political experience, but has been active with the local Boy Scouts chapter, various local youth baseball organization and the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc.
The 65-year-old King says he has no desire to become a career politician. A self-employed accountant and tax consultant, he served as the treasurer for the Pima County Republican Party in 1993-94. He complains the city wastes too much money on consultants and says he wants to make the city more responsive to the needs of small businesses.
Illustration by Rand Carlson
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