Calling It Quits

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild talks about why he’s not seeking a third term atop City Hall

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: “I feel like I’m leaving at a time when we’ve got stability.”

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild announced last month that he would not seek a third term. Tucson Weekly caught up with Rothschild to find out why he's ready to step down, what he still wants to get done and the challenges of combating poverty in our community.

Why did you decide not to seek reelection?

First of all, decisions like this are always personal and difficult. And I really am honored to have served the city I was born and grew up in, but when I came to the Tucson city government, I had a couple things in mind that I wanted to see accomplished and I think we've done them. Of course there's so much more that can be done, but those main things were to try to restore competence in city government, establish a culture of getting work done for constituents, and then bringing needed dollars to the city for roads, police, fire and parks. And we've done all of that, and so I feel like I'm leaving at a time when we've got stability. We've got an excellent city manager, an excellent city attorney, good department heads, so for me I think it's the right time.

What's left on your to-do list that you'd like to get done in the next year?

There are some things that we're working on that are important to me and I want to get them progressed as far as I can, if not accomplished. I want to work on what we call infill corridors. That would include working more on Broadway, Oracle Road, South 12th Avenue—places where we can create zoning maps and provide incentives to put development and business in places where it's needed, and then also places where it's wanted. So that's very important to me.

I want to work on what we're calling an urban innovation district downtown, where we really bring to the downtown area our entrepreneurs, our technologists and our creative thinkers. We've got a good start. The Roy Place Building at the southeast corner of Pennington and Stone, across from Jacome Plaza, has been leased by the University of Arizona from the county, and I've been putting in a lot of time working with the university to get that building full of content, full of innovators. And I think that we'll see an opening there hopefully as early as May. And when that building is humming, we'll go look for the second building and try to create what they've created in some cities with these urban innovation districts.

I want to work with the UA to move them along, to help build out The Bridges. The property that was the city's property for zoning purposes has really been built out at this point. We've got the Costco, the Walmart, the Planet Fitness, the movie theater, the Starbucks, but to the north, which is the university's land, close by, we now have got Geico coming in, and I think we're in a position now where the university is prepared to move so I want to help them with that.

I want to work on some annexation opportunities when they arise. I still think that's very important to all of us, and I want to work to create a program where we bring more young people to work in city government. Across the country, municipalities are having difficulty attracting young people, young professionals, and our workforce is getting older.

And lastly, I want to work—and I saw the county got a bit of a grant—I want to work to see what we can do to help reduce evictions, working with the different court systems and the different social service agencies to see if we can do some good work there.

Poverty has long been a challenge for many Tucsonans. What did you learn as you went through your two terms about the limits of what government can do to alleviate poverty?

What I learned was that in the current environment where government resources are limited, the best we can do is where we do have funds that are provided either by the federal government or the state. For instance, for us, it's principally the housing program; for the county, it's principally the jobs program that the local governments have to be extremely efficient and extremely innovative in how they do that. And that's their only way to be successful.

Outside of that, because there's not enough resource provided, what I've learned is that as a elected leader, the best thing you can do is convene the social service agencies, convene the business community and bring them together to work on programs. So for instance, our Steps to Success program with the TUSD that brought the high school students back to school; our Help for Home Buyers program, where we got the word out about different programs that are available for people to buy homes; our work on the Affordable Care Act, where we got out on a regular basis working with different agencies getting people signed up for health insurance.

For many years, Tucson's main economic driver outside of the public sector was homebuilding and commercial development. What do you see as the big economic drivers of the future for the City of Tucson?

For so long, our city's economy was not particularly diverse, and still our big drivers are Davis-Monthan, Raytheon and the University of Arizona—but if you think of Raytheon as receiving mainly federal funds, those are all governmental-supported economies. And if the money's not there from the government, your city suffers. So it was really important for us to start to think about diversification, and we've been fortunate. And whatever hand I've played in bringing Caterpillar, expanding Raytheon, expanding Geico, having a large expansion of Comcast, bringing the Amazon Distribution Center, the HomeGoods Distribution Center, and things like that, so that diversifies our economy.

But I really do believe, and if you look at things like the distribution centers, we are really a logistics center. We have the I-10 going east-west. We have the corridor into Mexico, and that Mexican trade's so important for us. Caterpillar came here because they do a lot of work in Mexico and they wanted to have this as their launching point. Amazon is here because they can go south. HomeGoods is here because they can go south. So I think we're a logistics center.

I also think that we can do more and will do more to capitalize on the intellectual brain power at the university, and see more businesses come out of the university. We're in the process of building that infrastructure so that young people can stay here and develop their businesses, and I really see that as our future. And we're always going to be a great place for history, and for culture, and for recreation. We've been recognized as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. We're a great arts and music community. That stuff's not going to go away, because that's just who we are, but we need to diversify that larger economy around us.

What's next for Jonathan Rothschild?

I'll probably take a little time off. I probably also want to see what opportunities come my way, if any. I am going to continue to be certain to be active in the community. I know I've learned a lot from this job, and hopefully I can take what I've learned and apply it in whatever my next setting will be. From my office, I can see my old law firm's office, and my two boys are over there, and I know I left just as my oldest son was coming into the law firm, so I didn't get to spend a lot of time working with him. I know my dad worked with both of them for a number of years and really enjoyed that time, so that's definitely something that I want to explore. And I have two grandchildren now. My wife was born to be a grandmother, and I probably should enjoy that while I can, too.

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