Last Thursday, Mayor Regina Romero alerted Tucsonans via Twitter she was urging City Manager Mike Ortega to revoke a permit he previously approved for pro-law enforcement group, Tucson Back the Blue, to paint in front of TPD's main headquarters.
Romero cited two homophobic and racist posts shared on the Facebook profile of Timothy Cesolini, the man who filed for the request, more than three to five years ago as the reason for the permit's revocation.
While not naming Cesolini directly, she referred to him as "an individual with known ties to white supremacist ideology" in her Twitter statement and said his group's permit requests an "effort that services to incite and divide our community, and minimizes the Black Lives Matter movement." The mayor said she was made aware of the permit request after a city employee with the transportation and mobility department "pushed it up to her office" after they discovered Cesolini's previous shared posts.
"The employee pushed it up to my office and was very concerned that the city manager's office had requested this group and individual be helped with a street mural," Romero said. "The employee found out the requestor, Tim Cesolini, had posted racist and white supremacist content on his Facebook profile he made public himself. He was practicing his First Amendment rights."
Romero said she felt the request wasn't made in support of TPD officers, but to support the message that Black Lives Matter is a "symbol of hate," a viewpoint she believes is expressed by President Donald Trump throughout his term.
"For me, it was more about the request being submitted at a time when Donald Trump is attempting to claim Black Lives Matter is a symbol of hate," Romero said. "This was about taking a stand against this happening in our city. This has nothing to do with my support of TPD officers, but I don't think they want a person like Mr. Cesolini representing them."
Cesolini declined to comment on the matter now on the advice of his attorney.
Ward 6 Councilmember Steve Kozachik believes the city could be facing a pair of lawsuits over the mayor's comments about Cesolini and revoking Tucson Back the Blue's request.
"Regina calling this guy a white supremacist," Kozachik said. "She better have proof because that is slander. To show a picture of something that's on this guy's Facebook page is probably not going to be evidence that holds up in court proving this guy belongs to a white supremacy organization."
Kozachik points out Tucson Back The Blue has been involved with numerous fundraisers that have supported TPD in the past. Most recently, the group raised money to purchase PPE for local officers out in the field and have raised money for the families of fallen officers. However, he said the group might want to rethink who is representing them.
"Tucson Back The Blue has been doing good work in the community," Kozachik said. "But they might want to consider finding another posterchild instead of some guy who has a fucking confederate flag on his Facebook page. Especially if they're asking for community support."
Regardless of who the group's spokesperson is, Kozachik thinks Tucson Back The Blue may have a legal argument their First Amendment rights were infringed upon and the city might find themselves in a lawsuit soon.
"We have a rainbow crosswalk on Fourth Avenue. We have Black Lives Matter on Stone (Avenue) and for us to say no at this point screams to be a First Amendment issue," Kozachik said. "What basis are we saying no if it's not about content? Because this is certainly not policy. Our policy says we issue permits for these things."
Kozachik also notes the city issued a special permit to paint the Black Lives Matter street mural amid the current pandemic when none are supposed to be issued during this time.
"We issued a special permit for the Black Lives Matter one at the same time we're saying because of COVID-19 we aren't issuing any special permits," Kozachik said. "We sometimes bend over backward to make these things work, but this time I think we bent a little too far in the wrong direction."
City Attorney Mike Rankin couldn't be reached for comment.
Kozachik said he is upset about the vitriol Ward 4 Nikki Lee received on social media over forwarding Tucson Back The Blue's request to City Manager Mike Ortega. Lee was just doing the job her constituents voted her into office to do, the Ward 6 councilmember said.
"Nikki was doing her job and for her to be pummeled for it is over-the-top wrong," Kozachik said. "I feel bad for her and her family because this is just totally out of control."
Lee said she wasn't familiar with the group before Cesolini made the request. A member of her staff had forwarded Cesolini's question on how to apply for a permit, which she then forwarded to the city manager, she said. Lee stands by her decision because she is trying to provide "the best service" to her constituents.
"I support that decision," Lee said. "Providing the best service to our constituents is important to me and I want to make sure the community knows if they contact the Ward 4 Council Office, they will receive a response." ■