Defending Grijalva

To the Editor,

Elected officials are fair game for media interest. However, criticisms of these officials should be based on legitimate issues of public import, and a modicum of effort should be made to put things in context and historical perspective.

Lately it seems that The Weekly is focused on putting County Supervisor Raúl Grijalva in a bad light and on glorifying TUSD School Board member Rosalie Lopez. This is puzzling. Grijalva has been a very effective advocate and productive legislator during his 20-plus years of public service. In contrast, Lopez has no track record to speak of. Moreover, some of the criticisms of Grijalva in The Weekly are unfair and bereft of historical perspective. In the interests of full disclosure (and historical perspective): I grew up politically with Raúl during the civil-rights era. We were in the trenches and fought many battles together, and we are friends.

The Skinny recently asserted that Grijalva has had no meaningful opposition in his political career. Raúl Grijalva is a history maker in our community and is one of our people's true heroes. While in his 20s Grijalva took on the educational and political establishment in Tucson, first as a civil rights activist and then as a school board candidate. Those elections were structured such that it was virtually guaranteed that a person of color could not win a seat on the board. Resistance to change by those in power was fierce and nasty. Grijalva took these folks on -- in court and at the ballot box -- and won, making the election system truly democratic. This opened the door for the many others who followed, including, ironically enough, Lopez.

Those of us on the receiving end of the exclusionary policies of those days have a profound appreciation of the formidable opposition Grijalva took on -- and we respect him greatly for it. Once on the school board (and also on the Board of Supervisors), those opponents continued to go after him. So, to suggest that Grijalva has had no opposition in his career is historically plain wrong.

In what seems to be a snide manner The Skinny also notes that Grijalva was known as "Ralph" in high school. Again, those of us who were at the receiving end of the educational system's racism know why this is so, and it is not a trivial matter. Grijalva and I -- and our contemporaries -- were integral parts what educators referred to as "The Mexican Problem": because we were of Mexican descent, we were not real "Americans." Among other things, our "foreign-ness" was evident in our names -- Raúl, Salomón, Mercedes, Francisca, etc. As part of a campaign to "Americanize" us, teachers unilaterally changed our names: Raúl and Rafael became Ralph, Francisca became Francis, and so on. Once a teacher "re-named" us we were not allowed to use our real names again, at least not in school. To avoid being beaten or punished for using our real names (which were in Spanish, an "illegal" language in the schools), we used our "American" names in school. Criticizing Grijalva, or holding him responsible even obliquely, for the racist behavior of the teachers and the school system goes beyond the pale of legitimate political jabs.

Also beyond the pale is the insinuation that Grijalva, in order to satisfy his own political desires, is quashing his daughter's political ambitions. The Skinny asserts that Grijalva is discouraging his daughter Adelita from running for the TUSD School Board so as to "avoid any conflict or confusion" (presumably in the voting public's mind) because he will be seeking re-election at the same time. No evidence is provided that such discouragement actually occurred. Apart from that, what The Weekly insinuates does not make sense. Having served the public for over 20 years, Grijalva is a very high-profile and well-known person. I seriously doubt that he believes that his track record and his high visibility will be overshadowed by his daughter's candidacy for the school board. I am certain that Grijalva has faith that voters are smart enough to be able to ascertain that Raúl Grijalva and Adelita Grijalva are two different persons. The daughters of state Sen. Peter Rios and of County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom both ran, successfully, for public office while their fathers were incumbents; in so doing they did not precipitate widespread "conflict and confusion" among voters. The only purpose this Skinny reference seems to serve is to put Grijalva in a bad light.

By no means do I imply that Grijalva is immune from criticism or media interest. I simply argue that such commentary should be tempered by fairness and embedded in some reasonable context, and not only as it affects Grijalva but also all the other victims of The Skinny.

-- Salomón R. Baldenegro

Editor's note: Sal, you are an icon defended by both The Skinny and Grijalva. But calm down. You may be damn proud of what Grijalva has done, but he truly has never been challenged. He has cruised to three terms on the Board of Supervisors. Does anybody even remember the names of the stiffs who were put up to run against him? You'll recognize only one, Luis Gonzales, whose campaign was aborted by faulty petitions in 1992. Four years earlier, in 1988, the nobodies consisted of Joe Ditzhazy, Ken Vernon and Herb Osborn. And in 1996, Grijalva trampled the put-up Susan Casteloes. Secondly, the issue about crowding the ballot with Grijalvas and confusion if Adelita were to run for the TUSD board came not from Skinny speculation but from Raul Grijalva himself, during an interview on January 3 in the conference room just around the corner from Grijalva's top-floor county office.

Neighborhood Watch

To the Editor,

A January 13 article in the Arizona Business Gazette included the following quotation: "We're shell-shocked at the cards we've been dealt," said mall co-owner Foster Kivil.

This confirms the suspicion that has developed from watching El Con Mall for the past seven years. Seven years ago it was a slightly seedy but neighborly retail mall with such interesting shops as a bank, fabric store, three restaurants and Cele Peterson. A tasteful remodel could have made it an attractive, successful mall. Instead, most of these tenants went away to make room for The Pavilion, a food court and post office. Then these attractions went away to allow months of demolition and construction of a big ugly theater.

It is not the deal that is at fault, it is the way the hand is played.

The city should not allow the mall to reduce property values in the adjacent neighborhoods and quality of life over a large area of central Tucson by introducing noisy, air polluting, 24-hour warehouse operations with storage of flammable, toxic and environmentally hazardous chemicals. Such operations as outdoor operation of fork-lift trucks and mass storage of paints and chemicals should require a mile of separation from residential areas, not hundreds of feet. The proposed mitigation measures are completely inadequate. Dodge Boulevard should be closed to protect the neighborhood and the Fifth/Sixth Street corridor from the traffic and other impacts of the mall. The proposed agreement, resolution 18489, to be considered by mayor and council on January 24, would also hamper the city's ability to deal with any future round of "improvements."

It would be a very bad business deal for the city to lose millions of dollars in assessed valuation in the adjacent residential neighborhoods just to pursue sales tax revenue for Rio Nuevo, most of which would be relocated from other retail outlets in the city. Also lost would be the quality of life in the neighborhoods which is a major carrot for attracting high-paying businesses.

The mall must be required to find appropriate retail, services or residential tenants. Big box stores are just not in the cards for this site.

-- Robert Samuels

Awash In The Past

To the Editor,

It seems that the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn anything from history! Take a look next time you pass the Rillito River at Swan Road. Back in 1983, I was standing in two feet of water right where all those new homes are being built. Will any of our tax dollars foot the bill when those poor homeowners get wet? Maybe the developers have set up a super fund just in case it rains again to offset the water damage? Yeah, right!

Another thing that has been on my mind is that every time a pet goes postal on a child and we want to kill the pet because it's a danger and a threat to others, the pet lovers start to bellyache. Well, let's give those pets the same rights we give ourselves, and the next time a pet rips a child's face off, simply send it to jail for attempted murder and child abuse. And the next time someone's toddler mutilates a pit bull... I bet everyone would be watching their pets and children a little closer.

-- Dana Powers

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