City Hall Showdown

The Issues Are Water, Poverty And Revitalization. But The Question Is, Can Anyone Beat Molly McKasson?

THREE YEARS AGO, Mayor George Miller gave Molly McKasson the boot. McKasson, who then represented midtown Ward 6, shared office space with Miller on the top floor of City Hall. Relations between the two Democrats were never warm, but they grew particularly icy just one day before the 1995 general election, when McKasson endorsed Prop 200, the Water Consumer Protection Act. A landslide 58 percent of the voters passed the law, which has banned direct delivery of Central Arizona Project water, and severely restricted its use.

Two days after the 1995 vote, Miller told McKasson to get out of her 10th-floor office.

Miller insisted it was simply because the mayor needed more office space. McKasson, comfortable where she could keep a close eye on city staff, resisted. Miller took the fight to the City Council and won approval to force members to have offices within their own wards.

When McKasson still hadn't moved a month later, Miller, a retired painting contractor, sped up the process. While McKasson was away for a few days, he sent a wrecking crew in to start knocking down her office walls.

McKasson rode out the remaining two years of her term in the new Ward 6 office on Speedway, east of the UA campus. When she retreated from public office in 1997, she opened the door for Fred Ronstadt to be the first Republican to win a Council seat in more than a decade.

An actress and playwright, McKasson turned to freelance writing and teaching drama at Pueblo Gardens Elementary School. All the while, she's kept an eye on the top floor of City Hall. She thinks Miller's restyled office would fit her just fine.

But the idea of Mayor McKasson bothers the 76-year-old Miller, who is releasing his grip after two terms as mayor and a total of 21 years on the City Council. A decorated World War II marine, Miller is soft-spoken, polite and smart. But underneath his avuncular image is a tenacious and sometimes ruthless politician who's doing plenty to keep McKasson from winning the mayoral seat.

EVEN HER OPPONENTS concede McKasson is the presumptive front-runner in the September 7 primary race against TEP bigwig Betsy Bolding, City Councilwoman Janet Marcus and commercial real-estate broker Pat Darcy to win the Democratic nomination for mayor. The winner will face Republican Bob Walkup, age 62, a genial if evasive former senior exec at Hughes Missile Systems Co., and Libertarian Ed Kahn, age 63, a frequent candidate who practices law when he´s not atop his limited-government soapbox, in the November 2 general election. Primary turnout in Tucson is traditionally dismal. In 1995, when former Councilman Bruce Wheeler decided to aggressively challenge Miller in the Democratic primary, only 18 percent of the voters went to the polls. In the bruising five-candidate Ward 6 Democratic primary in 1997, only 24.8 percent bothered to vote.

With 103,082 Democrats in Tucson, even a 25-percent turnout -- an astronomical percentage, given past history -- would mean a total of less than 26,000 votes in a city of roughly 468,520 residents. That's a small number of hardcore Democrats that the four candidates are chasing.

McKasson connects with many of those voters through her personality and lifestyle. She lives in a modest home separated from the elite Sam Hughes blocks. She swims with neighbors at Himmel Park. She is approachable even while jogging through Sam Hughes and the UA.

McKasson's critics often dismiss her as a dumb blonde, but McKasson is no airhead. A Tucson High and Northwestern University graduate who's an alumna of Steppenwolf Theater, the 52-year-old McKasson has been toughened by her eight years in office.

Although the City Council often gave McKasson a cold shoulder, she delivered constituent service for neighborhoods and small businesses even beyond the boundaries of Ward 6. She often decried annexation deals that required tax dollars be spent on the city's fringe while inner-city neighborhoods were neglected.

Those efforts have given McKasson a solid base in neighborhood politics, which have played an increasing role in recent Democratic primaries in Tucson. Ten years ago, in 1989, neighborhoods helped carry McKasson to an upset win against incumbent Councilwoman Sharon Hekman, who was appointed to the Ward 6 seat to finish the term of Tom Volgy after he stepped down to run successfully for mayor in 1987.

More recently, in the last round of city primaries in 1997, Jerry Anderson scored a surprising win against Ward 3 incumbent Michael Crawford, despite the fact that Crawford had more money, a slicker campaign and the endorsement of both daily papers. Meanwhile, in the race to choose McKasson's successor, Ward 6 voters picked two neighborhood activists -- Alison Hughes and Leo Pilachowski -- ahead of establishment candidate Carol Zimmerman, who got only 22 percent of the vote despite also having the advantage of dollars and endorsements. (Republican Fred Ronstadt defeated Hughes in the November general election.)

McKasson is also in tune with voters who have repeatedly supported the Water Consumer Protection Act. She firmly opposes direct delivery of CAP water and says she would explore central well field recharge projects and support selling CAP water to mines and farms to stop industry's use of groundwater in the regional aquifer.

"We should put the same brainpower into recharge as we're currently putting into getting around it," McKasson says. "There's no question that's what's going on."

McKasson's political machine is a mix of professionals and hippies who are doing a lot of door-to-door footwork on the campaign. Some neighbors good-naturedly noted in March that on some Saturdays they couldn't find parking on the East Fourth Street block they share with McKasson when the crush of volunteers descended with petition work.

One of McKasson's closest campaign strategists is Carolyn Campbell, a Green Party environmental activist who served as an aide to McKasson several years after she gave up a similar post in legendary former Congressman Mo Udall's office. Currently a key player in the development of Pima County's ambitious Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, Campbell brings vital links to environmental constituency.

Campbell also connects McKasson with Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva, a Democrat who says he will endorse McKasson this week. Although he hasn't yet formally endorsed McKasson, Grijalva has been talking with the campaign. Grijalva's backing could help push voters to turn out on the south side, where none of the candidates has strong connections. McKasson, through her two terms on the Council, also had good working relations with Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, a Democrat who also represents the southside.

With her base firmly in place, McKasson has crafted a message that speaks to fighting poverty and reinvesting in inner-city neighborhoods. She talks about building "sustainability" in Tucson, but she insists it's not a buzzword for her campaign.

"It's one of those words that sounds awfully trendy, like it's the solution to all our problems," McKasson says. "I don't think so at all. But I think the concepts it embraces are real good, which is a belief that by more engagement of the community in quality-of-life issues, you are really going to increase your economic, your environmental and your social well-being. I think that's at the heart of it."

McKasson is making a populist pitch by talking about taking care of people first and foremost: "People are very important. It's not about how the stock market is doing. How well are people doing in their lives? Government can't -- shouldn't -- interfere with that or have much to do with that, but if the environment is set wrong, if the water's not good, if the air's polluted, if people are making cruddy wages and the government is going in the direction of subsidizing things that don't improve that, then you need a new way of planning."

In interviews and public appearances, she rattles off grim truths that strip the shine from Tucson's apparent robust economy: 20 percent of the community lives below the federal poverty level (with a layer of working poverty on top of that); Arizona ranks third in the nation for wages; Pima County has the fastest growing gap between rich and poor. Those unhappy numbers lie behind many of the community's problems, from high crime rates to a heavy reliance on social services.

"We're getting poorer at a very rapid rate here," bemoans McKasson. "Most of the growth in working poverty is in families with one parent. Single moms working for $6.50, $7 an hour. That's $14,000 a year without health insurance. You can't make it."

During her stint on the Council, McKasson met with Greater Tucson Economic Council officials to push them to recruit higher-wage jobs and employment training. One GTEC Board member remembers that McKasson was too idealistic, but acknowledges that she was also a quick study.

McKasson was the first Council member to push for a policy that contractors with the city be forced to pay their employees an elevated "livable wage." That proposal, sent to die a slow death in a subcommittee during her tenure, has since returned to the Council in recent weeks. McKasson says she'd support a version that forces contractors to pay their employees $8 an hour while working on city jobs, but she's quick to add that it will be more symbolic than substantive. More measures are needed, particularly job training, but McKasson admits she doesn't have a "silver bullet" to solve the poverty problem.

McKasson's often longwinded style sometimes made it hard for her to find allies. Some Council colleagues and many city officials, from the manager's office down, appeared annoyed when McKasson asked budget, transportation and development questions in public at Council meetings.

In one telling incident in 1990, Richard Moreno, then the powerful fire chief, literally brushed aside the hand of a human resource official who tried to show him the name of the woman McKasson was recommending for appointment to the Civil Service Commission. Moreno's gruff bravado drew lots of yuks. And his message was clear. He was too big and too entrenched to give a damn what the blond councilwoman was doing. Trapped by his own screw-ups, including his bungled response to leaking fuel tanks and contamination in a southside neighborhood, Moreno went into retirement long before McKasson's first term was over.

Struggling with dwindling tax revenues and deficits that led bond rating agencies to downgrade the city's bonds nine years ago, Council members would grandstand by ordering unspecified cuts.

McKasson went further. Though not frequently successful in her first term, she would do more than simply ask the manager to make cuts. She would outline dollar amounts, departments or programs, and give details on what she thought could be shifted from one program to another.

Just before taking a seat in front of a small but interested group of southside District 10 Democrats at the Knights of Columbus recently, McKasson acknowledged that fundraising was her personal weakness. Unlike most seasoned candidates, McKasson's timidity surfaces when it's time to ask for money. As of May 31, she'd raised a respectable $22,689, and says she's preparing a report that brings that to $36,000. That amount will be doubled by the city's matching-funds program.

Still, McKasson is trying to run a lean primary campaign, conserving her resources for the general election, where she'll face a well-funded Bob Walkup if she can win the nomination.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM MAY give McKasson an edge, but neither she nor her work is cherished by all members of the Democratic Party. "Molly thinks very narrowly in terms of neighborhoods and environmental issues, and doesn't really have an overall perspective of what's good for Tucson, in my opinion," says Steve Emerine, a former county assessor and a former editor at The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen who is active in Democratic politics. "She certainly means well and her position certainly needs to be articulated, but I think businesses both inside and outside the city would see that as a real signal to avoid starting new activities or expanding activity in Tucson...

"The labor segment of the Democratic Party and the small business segment of the Democratic Party, to those folks jobs and the economy are very important," Emerine adds. "Molly and some of her allies give the appearance, at least, that isn't important. What's important is my neighborhood street, my mesquite tree, and things like that. It's a very small picture rather than the bigger picture of what's good for the entire community."

A former spokesman at the UA who is now a public relations consultant, Emerine has not been pleased by McKasson's votes on transportation, especially those that constrict traffic. He also has been an opponent of the current Council's move to shut off access to El Con Mall from East Fifth Street.

Emerine sees Bolding as the most credible challenger to McKasson. The 58-year-old Bolding certainly has her own pedigree in Tucson politics. A former journalism teacher at Palo Verde High School, she served as Gov. Bruce Babbitt's chief Southern Arizona aide for eight years, ending when he left office in 1986.

Bolding then led a real-estate and growth financed civic planning group, Tucson Tomorrow, and was briefly in private business before joining TEP. She is on leave from her job as consumer affairs director for the utility. She's served on numerous boards, including the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, although she didn't include that affiliation on her campaign literature.

Bolding leaves little doubt about her position on the political spectrum: "I am, probably in all regards, in many regards, kind of a moderate and a conciliatory person who brings disparate groups together," Bolding says. "I'm kind of in the middle geographically, in the middle economically, in the middle philosophically. I've had a lot of different experience that I kind of bring to the office. Not just government and teaching and media, but some business experience."

At the same time she's courting the moderate establishment, Bolding is portraying herself as an outsider who can bring common sense to a Council that's off-track. Even her campaign slogan -- "It's your Tucson, too!" -- is designed to reach out to mainstream voters who feel disenfranchised by recent neighborhood and water politics. Bolding has repeatedly complained through the campaign that narrow interests often force decisions that are detrimental to the community as a whole.

Bolding says she decided to run because, "I don't think we're doing everything we should be to be the kind of city we should be. Maybe just not doing well, or as well as they should be, the things they say or we say we're doing as a city. I think we aren't making infill as productive or effective as it should be. We're not revitalizing our downtown. We say we want to do this, but we're not making it happen. We're not focusing carefully on bringing in new jobs. And when we do make a determination about the kinds of jobs that are right about this community, then we don't get them."

Bolding wouldn't significantly change the Council's current water policy. She supports the Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) and Tucson Water's current $2 million Ambassador project delivering a blend of recharged CAP and groundwater to about 80 households. She's skeptical that a recharge project could succeed in the city's central waterways and sees too many obstacles to pushing industry to use CAP water.

Aside from promising to bring people together, however, Bolding has been reluctant to stake out much of her platform. Sometimes she stays vague by invoking a line she says she learned in Babbitt's office: "There are good arguments on all sides of a question."

Despite those sketchy stands, Bolding has more dollars than any other candidate in the race. Her contributions reached $45,380 as of last month -- a total that's doubled with the city's matching-funds program. That treasury will allow her to create a slick campaign that will include television and radio spots.

Larry Hecker, the Tucson attorney who is co-chairman of Bolding's campaign and Babbitt's former chief of staff, said the contributions can be attributed mostly to Bolding. Because of her community and political work, Hecker says, Bolding was able to bring in money simply by cruising through her Rolodex.

Bolding is tapping her Washington connections in her run for mayor. Babbitt, the secretary of the Interior, has already contributed the maximum amount to her campaign and was due in town this week for a boost-the-troops reception for Bolding and her crew at El Charro. And Fred Duval, a 1972 Tucson High grad and political pro who recently left his White House job, has been available to Bolding for criticism and direction.

How will that cut with Tucson voters? Local environmentalists want Babbitt's blessing and federal money for Pima County's ambitious Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. But many voters weren't around when Babbitt was in office. He had loyalists, but also strong opposition within the old guard of the Democratic Party, including those from the camp of the late Sam Lena. And an Indian-gaming and political contribution scandal still haunts Babbitt.

Asked to zero in on what needs to change in city government, Bolding falls back to her experience in customer relations at TEP. "City employees are here to serve the public," Bolding says. "I believe the mayor and council from the very top have to set an example for expecting that services are delivered in a timely fashion, cheerfully, and that we're there to help the public work through the system. Not to set up roadblocks and trip them up in some way."

She lays blame for a host of city problems -- the CAP fiasco, downtown doldrums, stalled delivery of city services and the like -- to a lack of political will on the part of the Council.

"I don't think there's any lack of vision about what people want," Bolding says. "I just don't think there's a concentrated, effective effort to achieve those things once there's a consensus. There's not the political will."

Bolding also says Miller and the Council are responsible for allowing the direct delivery of CAP water to continue when it was clearly a disaster.

"I think the council is too trusting of staff and you have to ask good questions," says Bolding. "My journalism training has been most important. It taught me there is more than one side to a story."

Listen to Bolding's harsh criticism of the Council, and you'd think she was running against George Miller. But Miller has endorsed Bolding over his longtime Council ally, Janet Marcus.

Miller attended a candidates forum hosted by the Nucleus Club of the county Democratic Party and brushes aside Bolding's criticism.

"It's perfectly normal," Miller says. "I'd be a damn fool if I thought everything we'd done in the last years was perfect."

As for McKasson, Miller says: "All I could hear from Molly was stuff about having a vision."

IF YOU´RE LOOKING for the real outsider in the race, Pat Darcy says it´s him -- not Bolding, despite her claim to the title, or McKasson, and certainly not Councilwoman Marcus. Of Bolding, Darcy says: "She´s just as much an insider as they are, really." He's right -- if you're looking for somebody who has little practical experience in government administration, he's your man.

Darcy, 49, has worked hard on the city Parks Commission, but he's been disheartened by what he sees as the ability of small but vocal groups to persuade the Council from developing new parks and recreation facilities that include ball fields. As a coach, he repeats the oft-told stories of the long travel and crowded conditions Little Leaguers and soccer players face. His wife teaches for the Tucson Unified School District.

The son of a former FBI agent who also worked for Hughes and the UA, Darcy is a straightforward candidate with rough edges. He talks of how his family moved here from Ohio when he was young to be in a dry, salubrious climate for an asthmatic sister. He talks about how the key support structure for kids -- i.e., family -- is missing. He illustrates, often with the clarity of a regular family man, the personal troubles caused by a detached Council's actions.

On the stump with the group of Democrats, Darcy often shares anecdotes of another Tucson with McKasson. Darcy graduated from Rincon High School, where he was a star ballplayer, in 1968. He signed a professional contract that's nowhere near what today's athletes command, even taking into account inflation. Though his most famous pitch may have been the one Carlton Fisk blasted out of Fenway Park in Game Six of the 1975 World Series, Darcy's Cincinnati Reds won the final game. He doesn't brag, but is engaging in personal talks and on his weekly radio sports show. Sitting in his office at CB Richard Ellis Commercial Real Estate in midtown, Darcy laughs about what ballplayers were paid then. His highest salary was $45,000 a year. "But back then," he notes good-naturedly, "you could buy a car for $3,000."

Darcy's first real civic involvement came with his appointment a decade ago to the city's Baseball Task Force. A quiet committee that loosely worked with major league spring training was thrust into high gear in 1991 when the Cleveland Indians announced that the 1992 season would be their last at Hi Corbett Field. Mayor Tom Volgy, a Democrat, quickly appointed Darcy to a slightly altered committee to seek a replacement.

Volgy's pick was a good one. Darcy was effective without being a blowhard like others on the task force. Unlike the promoters who landed the city and county in costly contracts first for the Colorado Rockies and then for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, Darcy was candid and didn't overplay Tucson's hand.

But Darcy was bitter that the Council and county did not put the new spring training complex (also used by the AAA Sidewinders) downtown at Rio Nuevo South, or even in a warehouse district. Darcy talked long and hard in 1995 and 1996 that the complex, opened last year on the county's Kino Sports Park property on the southside on East Ajo Way, was vital to the rebirth of downtown. Despite some back and forth by the Council and the Board of Supervisors, the decision to put the stadium and practice fields was cemented when in 1992 the county began spending revenues from a special tax on car rentals -- revenues limited to spring training facilities -- on the East Ajo site.

But if voters think Darcy is moving off the subject, they are mistaken. He uses it now to explain his entry into politics.

His consistency sometimes backfires. At an intimate gathering of District 10 Democrats last month at the Knights of Columbus, Darcy joined the candidates' chorus in bemoaning the prisons, dumps and pollution sources pushed on the southside. After gaining some momentum with influential elected officials and politically active citizens in the audience like state Sen. Victor Soltero and his brother John, state Reps. Ramon Valadez and Sally Ann Gonzales and Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, Darcy went on his baseball jag, complaining that the county's showcase, the Kino Veterans Memorial Park and its Tucson Electric Park, should have been built downtown.

Darcy has one word for the stadium decision: "fiasco."

"I'm thinking: what's going on here with the city?" Darcy asks. "Where's the leadership?"

Darcy, whose brother-in-law Martin Willett is the deputy county administrator, says he has a most basic motivation for running.

"The biggest problem is being proud of Tucson again," he says. "You can look at it, the biggest problem is the water, economic development, transportation, which all really goes under economic development, I think. But it comes down to, when you're talking to people, it's like: nothing's going to happen here. We don't get things done here. We're just drifting. When you're talking to people, they're telling me, 'Just do something. Just do something.' "

Darcy's criticism of the city's downtown plans is not limited to the baseball stadium. While at an annual commercial real estate convention in Las Vegas two years ago, he rode a shuttle with a principal of the Daystar Co., a bidder on the initial Rio Nuevo project. Darcy represented the California company, whose plan for the downtown parcel was recently rejected by the City Manager's Office and the Council in favor of a complex and controversial plan that draws state and city sales tax revenue from El Con and Park Mall to support civic projects downtown.

Darcy complains Rio Nuevo is symptomatic of Tucson's reputation to outside developers: "You know, it's Tucson, we're going to spend a lot of time and a lot of money and nothing's going to happen."

Leadership, or the lack of it, is Darcy's central theme. But when it comes to Tucson's water supply, which is arguably the most critical issue facing the city, Darcy's idea of leadership is tossing the problem to somebody else. He says he supports the creation of a water board made up of representatives from mines, farms, golf courses, local water companies and the environmental community to set Tucson's water policy.

"I'm not a hydrologist. I've heard some of the candidates say things, and you talk to hydrologists, and they say, 'Well, I don't know if that's true or not or whatever.' It's the same old Tucson. You've got one group here. You've got another group over here. You've got one group in the middle saying, 'I wonder who's telling the truth here? What's actually happening here?' I don't know."

Darcy says the city can't limit itself to "just recharging groundwater. You've got to use other options, too. Whether it's blending of CAP, or maybe some direct delivery. Tucson Waster hasn't done a good job. I think this program they have (the Ambassador program, testing blended water) is just for publicity. You spend a lot of money where they bring the trucks in. That's not real life at all."

Although he was mentioned repeatedly as a candidate for city office or for the Board of Supervisors throughout the 1990s, Darcy hasn't worked campaigns or built much of a political machine. His mayoral campaign was late getting off the ground. Last-minute professional help filled his nominating petitions. So close was that effort that he didn't think it was right to take contributions until it was clear his name would be on the ballot.

It was an honorable but crippling strategy. Darcy now lags in funds and will have to struggle to collect the required 300 contributions of at least $10 to participate in the city's matching funds program in time for the primary.

Darcy's campaign chair is Larry Toledo, the former Pima Community College athletic director and former Pueblo High School star athlete. Toledo, who works in a video production company with his son, lost an election battle last year when he helped direct Diane Carrillo's failed bid for a seat on the Tucson Unified School District Board.

Darcy has hired Victor Gomez as his chief strategist. Although he's worked on city, county and state campaigns in the past, it's the first time Gomez has headed up a campaign.

"I thought he had a chance to win because he comes across as very honest and a family man," says Gomez, who works as a case manager at the Jackson Employment Center, a county job-training program. "This guy is an outsider. All the other candidates have been in government forever and ever, including Betsy Bolding, who's more connected than anybody who's running. This guy believes in real-life solutions. He's frustrated that the politicians, when they're trying to come up with a solution, come up with something complicated and then let's get this committee to recommend and when the committee recommends, let's send it back for another recommendation, or let's form another committee that's going to recommend again, and the process keeps going over and over, and the politicians refuse to make a decision."

Gomez admits the road to a victory is a rocky one.

"Fundraising is a problem for us," he says. "We got in kind of late. A lot of people had already committed their money somewhere else. Frankly, we're not getting as much as I was hoping. A lot of people like him, though."

Darcy concedes many voters have already committed themselves to other candidates. He's gambling on a high turnout. "There's a lot of undecided people out there too, and hopefully people that didn't vote in the past who maybe will vote now, who will say, 'Hey, this is what we need for Tucson, it's a different direction.' "

WHILE THE OTHER three candidates are running as various breeds of outsiders, three-term Councilwoman Janet Marcus is running as the consummate insider. But rather than seek a fourth term, the 64-year-old Marcus says: "I got restless. Why not take another challenge? I'm not afraid of risk."

She can speak of her 12 years with both pride of ownership and amazing detachment. On the most critical issue, water, she is amazingly detached. She speaks about the water crisis as if Tucson Water worked in complete isolation from the City Council on which she served. In speeches and forums, Marcus talks about the problems of Tucson Water without ever conceding that the City Council failed to act or failed to act quickly enough.

Asked in an interview about what the city should do with its allocation of CAP water, Marcus nearly bristled.

"You don't have to ask me that question," she said without smiling. "I have a record. And I've been very outspoken. You have to use your CAP. Otherwise, you're going to have a sinking city. We have to shut down the central well field. I mean, you have to consider the ratepayer's pocket book.''

Voters didn't seem to hold the water issues against her. She won her first re-election in 1991, prior to the CAP crisis but after struggling with other significant water problems -- such as overpumping on the northeast side. Marcus lost within her ward that year but defeated -- with the help of citywide general elections -- Republican Paul Marsh, who went on the next year to win a seat on the Board of Supervisors, where his almost blind allegiance to Ed Moore limited him to one term.

Four years ago, Marcus again lost within Ward 2 but used citywide votes to defeat Republican Rick Grinnell, who is making a second attempt against Marcus' former aide, Democrat Carol West.

Her reliance on citywide general elections has led to a major split with Miller. She voted against Miller's moves last year to amend the City Charter to institute ward elections.

Marcus grew up in Chicago and attended Wellesley, where she was part of a small but active Young Democrats organization. She and her husband, Frank, a respected and well-liked cardiologist, have lived in Tucson for 30 years.

She protested against the Vietnam War. As a member of the Tucson Mothers for Peace, she and others pushed strollers in the Tucson Rodeo Parade to protest the war. She now jokes that was probably what shut the parade off to political demonstration.

Marcus is a past president of Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona. She also worked, in what was a precursor to Arizona Common Cause, to bring sunshine to parts of state government. She and her allies pushed hard to force members of the Legislature to actually record their voice votes, and she advocated for open meetings laws and conflict of interest laws.

Marcus also worked at the precinct level for the Democrats and then, alarmed by plans to channelize her beloved Alamo Wash, jumped deeper into local politics.

Marcus was catapulted into office by another Wellesley woman, Wanda Shattuck, the doyenne of the neighborhood and environmentalist political movement.

Marcus speaks very proudly about her 12 years on the council and her committee work heading up environmental issues. She says she would work to expand the city's technology base to allow more Internet interaction with the city bureaucracy.

Marcus has faced strong criticism. A "walk in my shoes" lecture she delivered to the Board of Supervisors in 1990 over county Flood Control District spending she wanted in the city prompted a chilly response and no cooperation. The next year, her work on a city-county consolidation committee brought her insults from then-Supervisor Ed Moore, who likened Marcus' intelligence to a "stalk of celery." And then radio talk show buffoon John C. Scott said he would get off the air and leave town if Marcus won re-election in 1991. She did. He didn't.

Marcus says she is proud Tucson has risen in ratings of cities that are bicycle friendly and says chronic transportation problems can be cured not with freeways -- which she steadfastly opposes -- but with underpasses at congested intersections such as Campbell and Grant. Those types of grade-separated intersections were included in a transportation plan to be funded with a half-cent sales tax in 1990 that voters countywide smashed, 61 percent to 39 percent. She also says she is against widening Grant Road, partly because of the high cost of right-of-way acquisition.

Coming out of the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood Association, Marcus also is a champion for neighborhoods that, she says, are now the focus of the city. She says people "grow up" through neighborhood involvement on issues, and learn not only to block intrusion but when to accept appropriate development. She points to the West University Neighborhood Association, which killed some development in the 1980s, but did not stop the Marriott University Park.

As for her initial vote to close all three streets into El Con Mall from East Fifth Street, Marcus says El Con owners "needed shock treatment." It worked, she says, and she relaxed her stance to allow access on Dodge Boulevard. The issue that will determine inclusion of big box stores, such as Home Depot or Wall Mart, is traffic capacity, she says.

Marcus says that downtown is lacking the critical partner, the private sector. Asked about setbacks for downtown merchants, many of whom have fled in the last year, she downplays it as "cyclical." She is eager to see the Fox Theater reborn and says she might consider city assistance for the project, although she has less enthusiasm for helping the rebounding Rialto Theatre.

For all her experience, Marcus has never been a flashy candidate. She's always trailed her fellow Democrats on Election Day and hasn't faced a primary since her first run for office.

With Bolding drawing so many dollars from supporters who want to beat McKasson, Marcus has had trouble raising funds. Her most recent report, covering activity through May, showed she had raised only $11,183 and she has yet to qualify for matching funds. But she insists the fundraising effort is improving.

One of her campaign volunteers is Katherine Jacobson, a Foothills political activist who served as an aide to the late Iris Dewhirst, Republican Pima County supervisor from 1985 to 1988.

"I know what kind of experience Janet has and what kind of input she gathers before she makes a decision," says Jacobson. "And I think one of the things that really appeals to me is the fact that she doesn't always vote for one group every time an issue comes up. She really does vote specific to the best for that particular problem at that particular time. And that's really appealing. It means she does not have as diehard a group of supporters, because no one group will know that she will 100 percent of the time vote for them. But she will vote for the best for the community on an issue. And that appeals to me, a politician who will take risks like that."

But Marcus is having trouble finding more supporters in a race that's mostly about McKasson and her detractors, who have thrown their support behind Bolding. While she'd like to portray herself as the middle ground between the two, that is a narrow strip indeed.

Miller has certainly made his choice. When Marcus first talked to Miller about running for mayor, she told him she was willing to defer to him if Miller wanted to try for a third term.

Although some insiders say Miller initially encouraged Marcus' effort, she says Miller only promised to make the first contribution to her campaign.

"I think I misjudged things totally," says Marcus, whose relations with Miller remain civil although she's still awaiting his campaign contribution.

When he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, Miller was initially coy about his endorsement in the race. He said he would have to spend a few weeks thinking about his decision, although many insiders believe the Bolding endorsement was already a done deal.

"I was not surprised when he did (endorse Bolding) because I knew he was going to do it," Jacobson says. "He had been pretty open for about a month working to see that Betsy could get in the race. I think that he thought that perhaps Betsy would have a clearer shot at beating Molly, and that's what it's all about for George. He made a decision about who could beat Molly."

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