Political Birth

He's never voted in a muni election, but Armando Rios Jr. says he's found the light in politics.

Political virgin Armando Rios Jr. has been coached well enough to expect shocks and shots as he campaigns for City Council.

He was alternately relieved and unimpressed to learn last week that all The Weekly wanted to ask him about was his failure to pay deeply discounted property taxes on his $200,000 Tucson Mountains foothills home; a now-satisfied lien filed against him by his former neighborhood association; and an abysmal voting record in which Rios has failed to cast a ballot in nine city elections since he registered for the first time in January 1988.

"It's a fact. You've got the records. There is nothing juicy. There is no juicy excuse or reason," Rios said.

Rios has reason to expect worse. A former independent who signed up with the Republicans last October, Rios is challenging two-term Ward 1 Councilman José Ibarra, a Democrat who shows no hesitation to target opponents with a variety of gutter attacks.

Political observers in and out of the westside ward say Ibarra would not have survived a Democratic primary rematch with Irma Yepez-Perez, who chose not to run when her husband received a union job offer in California that he could not refuse. Ibarra, who is buttressed by the Democrats' 3-2 voter registration advantage in the citywide general election, has already shopped around Rios' old and well-disclosed drunk-driving arrest.

Rios, 34, also has reason to be less than impressed with Tucson media. Although he fully disclosed his DUI to the Arizona Daily Star's newest political reporter, the Star misled readers more than a month later by claiming it uncovered the DUI through its own research.

A representative for athletes, Rios worked for Tucson attorney and sports agent Burt Kinerk before focusing on his main job as a business rep for Sean Elliott, the former University of Arizona and San Antonio Spurs basketball player.

With a $39,400 down payment, Rios bought a $193,800 home on Montage Vista Drive, west of Greasewood Park and the Pima Community College West Campus.

He was nearly three months delinquent on an artificially low property tax payment of $404.04. He paid that bill and $21.55 in interest on Feb. 24, records show. The second half of the tax payment became delinquent May 1.

"It's an oversight," Rios said. An oversight he said comes from a lack of clarity with his mortgage company, Nova Home Loans, whose star performer, Jon Volpe--a legendary student and athlete at Amphi High School and Stanford University--was a Rios client during his professional football career.

Rios said when he received a late notice last year, he took steps to have the taxes wrapped into his mortgage. It fell through a crack, and now, Rios said, he will make sure it is remedied.

The tax bill Rios is slow to handle is about one-third of what it should be. But that is the fault of the Pima County Assessor's office, which was slow to pick up the house and valued the property for the current tax year as a vacant lot worth $31,818. Rios will face a tax bill of between $2,400 and $2,500 next year after the assessor's officer adjusted the taxable value of his property to $183,420.

Before moving to his Montage Vista home, Rios was in a town home on Palo Dulce Drive, northwest of Grant and Silverbell roads. County records show that he stayed current on his property taxes there. Ibarra, according to county records, rents a town home nearby.

Unfazed about the impact that the late taxes would have on his campaign, Rios said the matters were the same encountered by "everyday people.

"You confront them with honesty and move on," he said.

Rios vows to "solve problems and not play politics." But he's scarcely been a player in politics in even the most fundamental task of voting.

Rios, who attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., for three semesters after graduating from Tucson High School, signed up to vote on Jan. 19, 1988. He registered independent on West Linden Street and sat out his first presidential election (Bush over Dukakis) in 1988.

County records show that he voted in the 1990 runoff election that put J. Fife Symington III in the governor's office and then voted in the general elections in 1992, 1994 and 1996.

He kept his West Linden Street voter address for 10 years after his 1991 move to Palo Dulce Drive. Rios skipped the 1998 and 2000 elections but voted in the general election last November, a month after he changed his registration to Republican and noted his new Montage Vista address.

Rios did not vote in the mayoral election in 1999 pitting Bob Walkup against Molly McKasson. In fact, Rios was a zero in the seven City Council and three mayoral elections since he registered to vote. He also did not vote in the 1994 city bond election.

And while Rios acknowledges on the stump that transportation is a critical issue that needs a fix, he also sat out the high-visibility special election in May 2002 when city voters crushed both a transportation plan and its proposed funding source, a half-cent sales tax increase.

Rios says he cannot cite work for Elliott or travel--or really anything--as justification for blanking out elections on city candidates and matters that he now proclaims an interest.

It wasn't until Democrats Steve Leal, Jerry Anderson and Ibarra walked out of a council meeting in early 2000, to embarrass Walkup and strip him of a quorum to block a vote, that Rios took notice.

He says was offended by the tactic. He considered it monumentally disrespectful. But he could not remember that it was done to block Walkup's purported compromise on El Con Mall redevelopment.

"The light came on for me." Rios says. "I hope it goes on for others. I want to encourage others."

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