Lopsided Contest

Rodney Glassman and Robert Reus square off in the Ward 2 Democratic primary

Rodney Glassman is what you might call a go-getter.

Although he's just 29 years old, Glassman has already earned master's degrees in both business and public administration, as well as a doctorate in arid-land resources. He's worked as a business and agriculture liaison for Congressman Raúl Grijalva. He's hosted a TV show on the city's cable TV station. He's created his own foundation to help raise money for local nonprofits that benefit kids. He's served on more than a dozen local boards, from the Tucson Jewish Community Center to the Boy Scouts of America Catalina Council. (Back in his scouting days, he earned 72 merit badges and his Eagle Scout badge before he turned 14.)

Now he's set his sights on replacing Ward 2 Councilwoman Carol West, an independent (and former Democrat) who is retiring after two terms on the Tucson City Council.

As he campaigns for the eastside council seat, Glassman likes to boast about his wide range of support in the community; he's won primary endorsements from the Sierra Club and the Tucson Association of Realtors, from the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

"We have a campaign that's made up of the whole community," he says.

That's reflected in Glassman's fundraising. He expects to be able to announce any day now that he has raised the maximum--somewhere around $45,000--under the city's public funding program. He qualified months ago for a dollar-for-dollar match from the city. Even more impressive: He's the first candidate to ever do it in $20 increments.

Glassman's first hurdle is next month's Democratic primary, where he is facing Robert Reus, who makes his living selling colorful beaded Huichol Indian art in a Fourth Avenue shop. Reus admits he's not likely to prevail in the Sept. 11 primary.

"I'm not going to pretend that I have a chance of winning," says Reus, who explains that he's had little luck raising money for his campaign. "My credibility is more important to me than that."

Instead, Reus is using his campaign as a platform to get out his message that the city of Tucson needs a fundamental change from the weak-mayor system of governance.

Under the current setup, Mayor Bob Walkup and the City Council have the authority to set policy, but they don't have anything to do with the day-to-day operation of the city. That's handled by City Manager Mike Hein, who takes direction from the council but runs the bureaucracy.

Through appearances in front of the council and on his public-access TV show, Reus has been agitating for years to see the system changed to a so-called "strong mayor" form of government, in which the mayor would essentially take over the job of the city manager as the head of the bureaucracy. The City Council would then have the job of passing ordinances and advising the mayor.

Reus pushed through a similar change in government in Fayetteville, Ark., where he lived before returning to Tucson six years ago. (Reus had lived here for a few years in the '70s.)

He believes until this fundamental change is made, the community will continue to be plagued by "economic stagnation, crime, gangs and runaway growth."

"People have a right to elect a mayor who promises to try, through the use of the law, to reduce growth to a sustainable level," Reus says. "You could be a saint come back to life with the best intentions in the world, and with this form of government, you're not going to be able to do anything. We're still going to see the economy foundering; we're still going to see marginalization; we're still going to see crime increasing."

While they're not debating the same issues in the campaign, Glassman and Reus do disagree on some issues. For example, Glassman is opposed to the Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights, the initiative on the November ballot that would repeal the city's trash fee, ban the future home delivery of treated effluent and prohibit new water hookups without voter approval once the city is delivering 140,000 acre-feet of water annually.

Glassman complains the initiative ties the hands of the City Council.

"It removes the City Council's ability to govern, because it takes decision-making away from the council," he says. "I'll personally be voting against it."

Reus supports the proposition, although he foresees the potential for legal trouble down the road.

Reus says he thinks the city's trash fee, which was a major issue in the 2005 city elections, is unfair and inequitable. But he stops short of calling for its repeal.

"I've never promised that I would repeal the trash fee if I'm elected, but I have made it as clear as I can that I'd rather find another revenue stream for that money," he says.

Glassman says he hasn't yet decided whether the city should have a trash fee.

"I can tell you that I believe that the role of government is to be transparent and provide services, but also to be accountable," Glassman says. "So before imposing fees and taxes, you should find out what the needs are and then talk to the community about what the priorities are, and have the community buy into that."

The winner of the primary will face Republican Lori Oien in the November general election.