Grand Old Phantasy

Republicans want Tom Volgy thrown off the ballot for participating on a redistricting committee.

The slim field of candidates for City Council, and the voters who will do the picking, have before them a Tucson split into six wards that are balanced in population, protective of minority voters and free from goofy split precincts.

That map on which council seats in Wards 1, 2 and 4 are up for grabs is the product of a seven-member committee that reflected the council's 4-3 Democratic edge.

Tapped by senior Councilmember Steve Leal, a Democrat from southside Ward 5, Tom Volgy served on the committee. He was a logical choice: a longtime professor of political science at the University of Arizona, a former mayor who served more than a decade as a councilman from midtown Ward 6, a consultant to emerging democracies and a man who had contributed to several city reapportionment efforts.

Volgy and his map-making cohorts met eight times from March through September last year before handing the plan to the City Council for approval, and then to the U.S. Justice Department for clearance that is required under the Voting Rights Act.

But there's a problem: Committee members aren't supposed to run for City Council immediately after serving.

Thus, for all his work, Volgy will be bounced from the ballot and the hopes of the Democratic Party, which took a shellacking in city elections two years ago, will be squashed.

Nah. Not really. Not even close.

The dashed hopes are those of Republicans who are keeping the faith in incumbent Bob Walkup.

"I guess I got my nose out in front on this one," said Chuck Josephson, the genial GOP activist and owner of Print Well print shop in midtown. "We had to agree that none of us on the redistricting committee would run for the council."

Appointed by Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, the Republican who used lopsided voting from the eastside to win her northside Ward 3 seat two years ago, Josephson is right.

And wrong.

We can quote chapter and verse--or at least chapter and section: 12 and nine of the Tucson Code:

"Committee members shall be disqualified from election to the office of council member for a period of four years from the Dec. 31 of the potential redistricting year in which the committee is appointed."

The operative word is "council member." Or as Josephson calls it, "wiggle room."

There is plenty of that in Tucson's quirky and conflicting 74-year-old charter that sometimes puts the mayor as just another voting member of the City Council and at others as some type of exalted CEO.

Volgy senses some lingering resentment over the map that Josephson and the committee's Republican contingent, he says, attempted to alter with a novel method of policy and geography--rather than population and protection against diluting Hispanic votes, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act.

"We used to do these in about a minute and a half," Volgy said. "We did this one on the back of an envelope in about five minutes."

Not quite, but the point is taken. Josephson put forward a map that extended Ward 6 into a bigger hunk of the Rio Nuevo redevelopment district. Republican Fred Ronstadt has held Ward 6 since 1997 despite being unable to carry the vote in the ward. Dunbar overcame the same handicap.

Republicans on the redistricting committee also sought to move northeast side Ward 2 to the south.

It is clear that the lines are not terribly important in the city-wide mayoral election immediately following the redistricting.

Ward boundaries also are less important than, say, the Board of Supervisors districts, because of the charter provision that demands council members be elected at large.

"We only tinker at the margins in city redistricting," Volgy said. "Anything else, like policy-based redrawing, would be shot down by the Justice Department. In the city, there is no culture for gerrymandering."

Josephson is unimpressed.

"This is where it gets aggravating to me," he said. "The map in place now is his map. He intended to run. These commissions are supposed to be a collection of gray old men who are not running for office."