The End Is Nigh

Pandering! Lies! Lawyers! It must be Election Day!

OK, if you're just joining us, then you've missed a lot of hard-hitting investigation, insightful analysis and cheap shots over the last couple of months.

We're not gonna recap all that stuff, although we are providing you with an easy-to-read chart that lays out info about the candidates. If you're feeling more wonkish, be one of the billions who have followed the race online at Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy our final pre-election roundup.

Before we dig in, the basics: With Election Day coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Democrat Karin Uhlich is attempting to unseat Republican City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar in northside Ward 3, and Democrat Nina Trasoff wants to knock out Republican Councilman Fred Ronstadt in midtown Ward 6.

Political campaigns come down to narrative--and there are two basic narratives at work this year. The Republicans say they have fixed streets, installed sidewalks, staffed recreation centers, improved parks, laid the groundwork for downtown revitalization, implemented impact fees and straightened out the city budget.

Democrats say the Republicans have sold out to wealthy special interests, botched downtown redevelopment and taken the city in the wrong direction. They complain that Republicans delayed impact fees and instituted a regressive trash-collection fee. They want the city should boost spending and reduce fees for after-school programs.

Got it? Good. Here's the latest dish:


A most peculiar mystery unfolded last week in Ward 3.

It all started when Uhlich dropped a mailer that accused Dunbar of torpedoing a quarter-million-dollar impact-fee deal between developer Chris Kemmerly and the Amphi School District.

Here's the downlow: Back in the spring of 2004, Todd Jaeger, an associate superintendent of the Amphi School District, was asking the Kemmerly Company to cough up the quarter-mil as the company was going after a rezoning of property near River Road and Stone Avenue. Amphi has worked out similar deals when rezonings have come up in Oro Valley and Pima County.

Jaeger says the deal was all but done when he got a phone call from Dunbar. In a memo to Amphi Superintendent Vicki Balentine, Jaeger notes that Dunbar was "furious" at the "ransom" the district was demanding.

"She was literally yelling at me on the phone," Jaeger recalls. "I think her exact words were, 'You must know everything and I'm just a big fat idiot.' It was very odd."

Dunbar had zero recollection of the phone conversation last week: "I don't remember talking to him. I'll take a lie-detector test. You can hook me up to anything."

Larry Rollin, the lawyer who was negotiating with Jaeger on Kemmerly's behalf, says Dunbar never threatened to torpedo the project. Rollin says he was just playing along in negotiations with Jaeger while counting votes on the City Council. Once he realized that Jaeger--who admits that he never called any of the City Council members to discuss the rezoning--didn't have any support to block the rezoning, Rollin informed Jaeger the deal was dead.

The collapse sent Jaeger scurrying down to a council meeting, where he asked the City Council to delay the vote. But despite Jaeger's entreaties, the deal passed on a 7-0 vote.

"There was never an agreement signed," says Rollin. "There was never a deal in place. They just dropped the ball. They thought they could extort us."

However the incident went down, the Uhlich campaign is clearly going with the Kathleen-hates-kids-and-loves-developers version. In a mailing to educators that was signed by three retired teachers, the Uhlich campaign recounted Jaeger's statement to the council about how Dunbar screwed the deal and concluded that the incumbent councilwoman "does not support our schools and children."

Dunbar got so outraged by the mailer that she lawyered up with attorney Stephen J. Gonzales and started threatening defamation action against the Uhlich campaign, the Democratic Party and at least one of the retired teachers who signed the letter.

"I've had it," Dunbar said last week. "You can't, in political campaigns, start saying stuff that's not true."

Just before 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, Dunbar woke up Alison Newman, a 68-year-old retired Amphi teacher who had signed the letter, with a phone call. Newman says that Dunbar accused her of defamation and asked her to sign a retraction.

"I wasn't interested in that, because I felt what was said in the letter was truthful," says Newman. "She said, 'Well, then I am going to sue you personally.' And then she hung up. She sounded agitated."

Newman, who got involved because she is a friend of Uhlich's campaign manager, Holly Lachowicz, brushed off Dunbar's comments.

"I'm a retired teacher," Newman says. "I'm used to being threatened."

Gonzales started shooting off e-mails on Friday morning. He warned Jaeger that "you have caused quite a mess for you, your family, and the district. We need to talk about how you are going to fix this."

In another missive to the Democratic Party, Gonzales insisted they withdraw a call encouraging people to write letters to the editor in response to a story about the mailer in the Arizona Daily Star. "Should you fail to do so," Gonzales warned, "your committee and ALL persons and organizations involved in this defamation will be subject to the same legal action which will be brought against Mr. Jaeger and the Amphi School District."

The Democratic Party wasn't spooked. Attorney Bill Risner wrote back to Gonzales on Friday afternoon, saying that public records backed up the claims in the mailer.

Uhlich dismissed Dunbar's legal efforts as "an attempt to intimidate Todd Jaeger and myself and the retired teachers involved in surfacing what happened 18 months ago, and I'm not feeling particularly intimidated by it."

Democrat George Miller, the former Tucson mayor who is co-chairing Uhlich's campaign, climbed into the ring, calling TW to say he found the story that Dunbar interceded in the negotiations disturbing. Just imagine, he said, what would have happened if the situation were reversed.

"If a city councilperson said to a builder, 'If you don't give the impact fees, then I'm going to make sure you don't get your rezoning' ... not only would builders and the developers get crazy, but so would the rest of the community. That's plain extortion, no matter how you cut it."

But isn't that pretty much what the Amphi School District has been doing in the county and in Oro Valley?

"I can't even comment on that, because I don't really know," Miller says. "But in the years when I was on the City Council, I don't remember anybody coming in with that kind of proposal: 'If you don't do this, we're going to make sure you don't get whatever you're after.' To me, boy, that's just the bottom of the barrel."


You remember those TV ads that said Ronstadt and Dunbar had sold out to "Big Oil" because they had refused to move the Kinder Morgan pipeline after it ruptured a couple of years back?

Those attack ads were the work of Tucsonans for Accountable Government, which finally revealed its major contributors in a campaign-finance report last week.

Turns out that TAG, which had so far raised a total of $41,315, got a whole bunch of dough between Oct. 12 and Oct. 19. TAG got $15,000 from the Democratic Party, $5,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and $10,000 from Tucsonans for Excellence in Government, another political committee that happened to get $10,000 from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union two days before it made a $10,000 contribution to TAG. (And Nina thinks the trash fee is a shell game?)

TAG had $18,247 remaining in the bank as of Oct. 19.

Paul Eckerstrom, chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, makes no apologies for funneling party money into attack ads.

"In the last three city elections, the Democratic candidates did not get any support from any independent committees to speak of, while the Republicans funded these independent committees to the tune of $100,000 to $150,000," Eckerstrom says. "And that's why we've gotten our teeth kicked in. We have to play by the rules to be in the ballgame."

TAG isn't the only independent campaign up and running. There's also Tucsonans for Bipartisan Government, which is fronting for the business community with ads designed to persuade voters that Ronstadt, Dunbar and Ward 5 Democrat Steve Leal, who is running unopposed, are working together to move the city in the right direction.

While he's sure that the group is right about him, Leal has some doubts about their assessment of the Republicans.

Tucsonans for Bipartisan Government reported having raised $32,720--less than the Tucsonans for Accountable Government--and had $14,153 left in the bank as of Oct. 19. Either we're living in the Bizarro World, or the big checkbooks weren't opening until after the last reporting period ended. Reckon we'll just have to wait to see until the final reports are filed in December.

In the meantime, we can tell you that the biggest contributor to Tucsonans for Bipartisan Government so far has been the Arizona Multihousing Association, which kicked in $10,000.

Other major contributors: car dealers Don Mackey ($1,000), Thomas Quebedeaux ($2,930), Buck O'Rielly ($1,100), and Karl Watson and his wife, Kathy ($500 each). The rest of the contributors are listed as "investor" or "housewife." Given that the names of the investors include developers such as Yoram Levy ($2,000) and David Mehl ($1,500), we think it's safe to say that most of them are invested in real estate.

Just guessing here, but we think there are some negative attacks in the works this week.


U.S. Sen. John McCain came to town Friday, Oct. 28, to endorse Ronstadt and Dunbar. The press conference kicked off at 11:30 a.m.--just as Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was releasing his indictment of Scooter Libby, the right-hand man of Vice President Dick Cheney.

So it was no surprise that reporters were all asking about the indictment, Harriet Miers' decision to withdraw her name from consideration as a Supreme Court justice, immigration tensions and other national issues. By the time McCain's appearance made the TV news, there was no mention at all of the GOP endorsement, although some TV shots showed a portion of Dunbar's head behind McCain.

The press conference serves as a straight-talkin' metaphor for the entire campaign. Overshadowed by the Bush slump, Republicans have been struggling to get their message out. Democrats, energized by their hatred of the GOP-controlled White House, Congress and state Legislature, have done a thorough job of framing the city race as a campaign against wealthy special interests.

The Democrats have also shown a new level of organizational savvy. By the time the deadline to request an early ballot hit last week, 18,307 Democrats had asked to vote by mail, compared to 14,088 Republicans. (About 4,000 other voters had also requested early ballots.) By Monday, Oct. 31, 7,649 Democrats had cast ballots, compared to 6,994 Republicans.

Three big questions: Will the rest of those ballots get turned in before Election Day? What will turnout look like next Tuesday? And where are the celebration parties on Election Night?

The last one we can answer: The Democrats will be at Hotel Congress, while Republicans will be at the Manning House. Who'll be celebrating?

We'd tell you, but we've been sworn to secrecy.