Walker Stumbles

A City Council candidate abandons his campaign following a 'Weekly' investigation

Republican Vernon Walker announced he was quitting his City Council race last Wednesday, Aug. 31--just seven days after a Tucson Weekly exposé revealed a litany of legal and financial problems Walker has faced in his career as a landlord and developer.

Walker, who had hoped to unseat four-term Democrat Steve Leal in Ward 5, has been the target of numerous lawsuits aimed at recovering debts and has been delinquent in paying property taxes. He has also had run-ins with city and county building inspectors and has voted only once since first registering in 1980. (For details, see "Meet Vernon Walker," Aug. 25.)

Walker said he decided to withdraw from the race after receiving a death threat.

"Sadly, in recent days, due to unsubstantiated charges levied against me by my political opponents, I have received personal threats, shockingly, even a death threat," Walker said in a statement. "It is for that reason, and, most importantly, for the protection of my family and dear friends that I leave this race today."

Walker told Tucson police that a threat was left on his answering machine on Friday, Aug. 26. Although TPD officials did not release the message left for Walker, a report on the incident notes that the caller "did not make any direct threats to harm the victim."

On Thursday, Sept. 1, one day after announcing he would leave the race, Walker delivered a campaign-finance report to City Hall and told City Clerk Kathy Detrick he planned to remain on the ballot, according to Detrick.

But by Friday afternoon, Walker's campaign consultant, George Gobble, had asked Detrick's office to draw up paperwork for Walker's formal withdrawal, Detrick said last week.

Walker reported raising a total of $8,585 as of Aug. 24, including $2,430 he personally gave his campaign. He had spent $7,836, but failed to include a breakdown of expenses with his report.

By comparison, incumbent Councilman Steve Leal had raised $45,109, including $3,000 he had loaned his campaign. Of that, $42,109 was potentially eligible for matching funds through the city's publicly financed campaign program, which provides a dollar-for-dollar match of privately raised contributions to candidates who agree to limit their spending to $84,904 this year.

Leal is now undergoing an audit to qualify for matching funds, which requires him to show he's collected contributions of $10 or more from at least 200 city residents.

Leal said he would probably spend city matching funds on his campaign even if the Republicans don't field a candidate in his race so he could "define issues" between Democratic and Republican candidates and discuss "things that matter to me."

Leal also worried that he might need the public money to counter hit pieces from the "phantom opponent of independent campaign committees."

In other news from campaign-finance reports that cover activity through Aug. 24:

In the Ward 6 primary that will decide which Democrat will challenge Republican incumbent Fred Ronstadt, former TV news anchor Nina Trasoff continues to lead public artist Steve Farley in fundraising.

Trasoff had raised $42,452 and had not yet requested any matching funds, although she is eligible for the public dollars. Trasoff had spent $25,212. Major expenses included $750 each to campaign workers Paul Durham and Alex Hingle, in addition to printing and mailing expenses.

Farley had raised $25,215 and received an additional $11,288 in matching funds, giving him a total of $36,503. Farley had spent $23,996. Major expenses in the reporting period included $3,500 to campaign worker Lorena Howard. Like Trasoff's expenses, the bulk of Farley's expenses were in printing and mailing costs.

Ronstadt, who is not participating in the matching-funds program, reported raising $36,340 since his last report, bringing his campaign total to $56,168. Ronstadt has spent $20,089, with roughly $12,760 going to Edgemont Partners, a political consulting firm. In Ward 3, Karin Uhlich reported raising $40,804 and had received $35,114 in matching funds from the city, bringing her total to $75,918. She had spent just $10,868, leaving her with more than $65,000 going into the general election season.

Uhlich's biggest expenses in the reporting period included $2,300 in payments to political activist Katie Bolger to manage campaign volunteers, $508 for a campaign party at Hotel Congress and a $500 down-payment on campaign T-shirts.

Her opponent, Republican Kathleen Dunbar, had raised $50,047 and had spent $10,499, leaving her with $39,548. Dunbar has mostly spent money on printing, mailings and a Web site. Dunbar declined to participate in the matching-funds program.