The Final Stretch

Tucson's Mayoral Race Is Nearing The Finish.

IN THE SUMMER of 1997, Stan Abrams was quietly planning to develop 14 vacant acres on downtown's eastern edge into a 250-unit apartment complex.

Abrams has considerable political clout, so it's no surprise that Mayor George Miller would send a letter of support to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Abrams hoped would finance the project.

Abrams also had the support of the city's Office of Economic Development. It didn't hurt that at the time, his son Ted Abrams was chief aide to Councilman Michael Crawford (who would lose the Ward 3 seat to Jerry Anderson in the Democratic primary later that year). Ted Abrams and Crawford were both working closely with the OED staff on various downtown development projects, and lobbying the press on the importance of more housing downtown.

But while Stan Abrams worked the back rooms, there was one group of people who weren't aware of his plans -- the people living next door to the proposed development, in the historic Armory Park neighborhood.

About two decades ago, Armory Park was the first Tucson neighborhood to achieve historic designation in order to prevent homes from demolition for a planned freeway. Since that time, the property owners have worked to restore Armory Park's charming homes. They've raised money through bake sales and home tours, and used the funds to plant trees and install speedbumps. The hard work has led to a significant rise in property values in the rebounding neighborhood.

Armory Park residents are proud of their sweat equity, and sensitive to anything that would disrupt the tranquility they've worked so hard to create. So when word of Abrams' plans leaked to the neighborhood association, they turned to the Council offices of Molly McKasson.

McKasson quickly called a meeting with Abrams, the neighborhood association and several city staffers, including representatives from OED. With steely resolve, McKasson stared Abrams down and made it clear that the developer would have to work with Armory Park residents, not behind their backs.

A few weeks later, on the same night Crawford lost his Council seat, Abrams faced a hostile group of Armory Park residents who told him in no uncertain terms that they didn't want 250 apartments plopped next door without any consideration for the impact on their neighborhood.

After a few more negotiating sessions with Armory Park's leadership, Abrams abandoned the project.

Today, developer John Wesley Miller, working with the neighborhood association, is building 99 homes on the 14-acre lot, borrowing sustainable building techniques from Civano. When Miller made his pitch to Armory Park residents earlier this year, he was greeted with applause.

THE STORY ILLUSTRATES why Democrat Molly McKasson has such a strong base in Tucson neighborhoods, which have been building political clout in recent years. That base helped her pick up a 12-point win over her nearest challenger, TEP exec Betsy Bolding, in September's four-way Democratic primary.

McKasson, famous for the many town halls she held during her eight years on the Council, isn't the type of elected official who would dash off a letter to help a developer in his quest to use taxpayer-backed dollars to dump an apartment complex on top of a historic neighborhood.

Even her critics say the 52-year-old McKasson's sincerity and integrity is unassailable. McKasson, who grew up in Tucson, has never lost a race since she entered city politics a decade ago.

She now faces her toughest race, against Republican Bob Walkup and Libertarian Ed Kahn on the November 2 ballot. The 63-year-old Kahn has mostly been playing the role of court jester at debates (although he did pick up an endorsement from the NRA after Walkup criticized the group in a newspaper article), but Walkup is a well-funded candidate who has assembled a slick campaign.

The Armory Park tale also goes a long way toward explaining why guys like Stan Abrams are fiercely campaigning against McKasson.

A Democrat who frequently crosses party lines -- he also led Democrats for Symington, for instance -- Abrams has been one of Walkup's most vocal advocates. Abrams, who once had a business partnership with Walkup developing an electric car, is championing Walkup on the radio and rallying organizations to Walkup's side. His wife Judy Abrams has formed an independent campaign committee, Tucsonans for Responsible Leadership, which plans to aid the Walkup effort.

It's no wonder Tucson 30 types are drooling over the 62-year-old Walkup. A former Hughes exec who's been in Tucson since the mid-'80s, Walkup "speaks the language of business," as he puts it. Bright and engaging, he's helped efforts to keep Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson; he's served on the Greater Tucson Economic Council, and worked with southside schoolchildren in a program at Hughes.

Walkup says he's running for mayor because "it was an opportunity to take a leadership role as Tucson turned into the new century'. I think I have the skill and the experience to be able to help Tucson be a great community."

Walkup is making a bid to become the first Republican mayor of Tucson since Lew Murphy gave up the post in 1987. Republicans have had a tough time in city elections since then; only one GOP candidate, Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt, has won a race in the last dozen years.

The Democrats draw their strength from Tucson's lopsided voter registration figures: 103,706 Democrats, 65,053 Republicans, 4,110 Libertarians and 33,052 voters not associated with those parties.

That Democratic edge means Walkup will have to draw defectors from the Democrats in order to win; while there've been some high-profile defections, most local Democratic officeholders and activists say they'll be voting for McKasson. Even current Mayor George Miller, who has hard feelings for McKasson following the eight years they served together on the Council, has not publicly campaigned for Walkup, although he has suggested he'll vote the GOP candidate.

But other Democrats are in McKasson's corner. Pima County Supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva, who both have well-oiled political machines on the city's southside, spearheaded a rally supporting McKasson and the other Democrats on the ballot earlier this month.

Former Tucson mayor Tom Volgy, also a McKasson supporter, discounts the talk of major cross-over.

"There are obviously some well-known Democrats who don't like Molly, have never liked Molly, and will not like Molly," says Volgy. "And a number of those well-known Democrats are either going to stay at home or they're going to vote for Walkup. But those are not the rank-and-file voters out there. Those are a group of well-known Democrats, of which there must be at least 100 out of tens of thousands. And I don't know where the other tens of thousands of Democrats are, but my guess is they're going to vote Democratic."

McKasson also has an appeal to Republicans. Last week, she earned the endorsement of several Republicans, including Conrad Joyner, a former councilman and county supervisor; Ann Holden, an unsuccessful candidate for the City Council in 1993; Rex Waite, a former county assessor who's also served as chairman of the Pima County Republican Party; and former television and radio personality George Borozan, who was the Republican mayoral nominee in 1991.

"I think there is an appeal to Republicans who are interested in neighborhood issues and an appeal to Republicans who are interested in environmental issues," Volgy says. "And one of the really interesting things about this community is that historically, Republicans have crossed over in large numbers. I had large numbers of crossovers on the eastside on neighborhood and environmental issues. I think we just sort of assume Republicans vote as a block, but in fact that's never been true in Tucson."

While he concedes that Walkup is an attractive candidate, Volgy is skeptical that his message of compromise will draw enough of a cross-over vote to win the race.

"What you have to do is show that your vision is better than the other person's vision about where Tucson is going, and then you can hope for Democratic and independent crossovers," says Volgy. "Molly has articulated a very clear-cut vision of where she thinks the community ought to go, and [Walkup's] articulated a vision of being able to compromise, which is good, but that's not a vision. That's a process of getting to a vision, and I don't know yet where he wants to go."

McKASSON'S TIME ON the Council has shaped her campaign. She talks about fighting poverty and reinvesting in inner-city neighborhoods to build a "sustainable" community.

"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 and Walkup share some common ground. Both support the Council's recent vote restricting the location of big-box retailers. Both reluctantly support the Rio Nuevo plan, although they're critical of its loose structure. They both oppose construction of a new City Hall.

They've found plenty of issues to disagree about as well. McKasson supports the Council's recent ordinance banning smoking in restaurants; Walkup opposes it. McKasson supports the Council's recent vote to force contractors with the city to pay a $8-an-hour "livable wage" to their employees while they are working on city jobs; Walkup is against it.

But it's the issue of growth and water where the candidates disagree the most.

Despite Tucson's rapid population growth in the last decade, Walkup says the City Council is doing too much to discourage development. "There has been a drift into an anti-business, anti-growth environment," he says. "It's very subtle, but if you talk to a lot of your businesspeople and even to neighborhoods, they have this feeling that it isn't progressive, that it isn't working together, business and neighborhoods and government, to move forward."

Walkup says the Council needs to plan "smart growth" that will pay for itself. As long as annexation is "properly done," the costs of sprawl won't fall on current residents.

"I think annexation properly done in conjunction with the owners and their approval is a reasonable thing to do, provided it's revenue neutral, that you don't end up holding the bag," says Walkup. "What I have seen of annexation to date has been appropriate, is revenue neutral, and the owners have concurred with the city. And I think that's okay, provided that we protect neighborhoods, and protect the environment in the process."

Through her second term, McKasson often argued the opposite -- that tax dollars were being spent on the city's outskirts while the inner city suffered neglect. Her experience makes her skeptical that annexations pay for themselves, especially when the city limits expand to draw in raw land. She's concerned about a current proposal to stretch the city limits south to the edge of Sahaurita by annexing 34 square miles of land.

"I don't think the timing is very good," McKasson says. "Everyone gives a lot of credence to this reinvestment and back-to-basics services stuff, and yet if we go out and annex that huge area, we're looking at a very large price tag for developing it. I don't know what kind of figures they give, but we'd have to put roads in, we'd have to put lights in. A developer isn't going to put everything in, nor is he going to take care of the need to widen or improve anything on the way out there.

Walkup disagrees with McKasson that the costs of annexing empty land tend to be a burden on existing taxpayers. "I don't think that's true. Properly planned -- and I think this is one of the issues of the last eight to 10 years -- properly planned, growth can be revenue neutral, which means that it's a balance of residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, open spaces, parks, and if you do it properly, it doesn't have to cost you."

McKasson supports concentric impact fees that rise as they move further from existing infrastructure, reaching the level of the county's impact fees on the edge of the city.

"The community, unless they're in the development business, really supports this idea," McKasson says. "They get it. They understand why we're so far behind in fixing streets, taking care of our libraries, and getting more police on the street. The community understands and would like us to address this."

Walkup opposes impact fees. "I don't support increasing taxes, and I think impact fees drive up the cost of housing," he says.

Instead of impact fees, Walkup says he would go to the Legislature and explain why they should give Pima County more transportation money. Never mind that Pima County's legislative delegation, including several Republicans, have never been able to make this happen. Walkup is certain lawmakers will bow to his will.

McKasson has her own unlikely wish list for the Legislature. She hopes to change the laws that guarantee groundwater rights to agriculture and industry. Those grandfathered rights stand in the way of McKasson's goal of preserving groundwater for people while forcing mines and farms to use CAP water.

McKasson complains that city government hasn't tried to find alternatives to using CAP water. She supports exploring exchanges with industry and experimenting with recharge in the central well fields, particularly in streambeds.

Walkup is more supportive of the city's current water policy, which calls for recharging CAP water in the Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project. Eventually, this water will be pumped back out and delivered to Tucson homes.

This year, Tucson Water launched its $2 million Ambassador program to serve a blend of recharged CAP water and groundwater to four different neighborhoods for 90-day periods to demonstrate that the blended water won't be as disastrous as the first delivery of CAP in the early '90s.

McKasson is critical of the Ambassador program, calling it an expensive PR campaign that can't be replicated with large-scale delivery.

Walkup says he supports the program. "It blends recharged CAP with Avra Valley groundwater. Also, this is a volunteer test program. In no way does my support of this small, volunteer test program mean that I want to 'make people drink CAP,' as my opponent claims."

But Tucson Water's web page says the water from the CAVSARP project will eventually be close to the quality of CAP water. "The quality of the water recovered from this project and delivered to Tucson Water customers will change over time. Initially, it will be very similar to the native groundwater. As the recharge of CAP water continues, the recovered water will become more like CAP water in terms of mineral content."

McKasson supports Proposition 200, the new water initiative that would strengthen the Water Consumer Protection Act and further restrict the use of CAP water. Walkup opposes the initiative, saying it would limit Tucson Water's options.

THROUGH THE CAMPAIGN, Walkup has tried to raise his visibility in the community. He's hammered nails at the annual Christmas in April home-repair event, marched with Congressman Jim Kolbe on Earth Day, and visited as many civic groups as he could.

Ultimately, the race may come down to one of the most basic strategies of any campaign: the get-out-the-vote effort. Both parties are helping the candidates, sending out absentee ballot requests, and both campaigns are pushing an aggressive early-voting effort. Both camps are doing their best to get voters to the polls on election day as well.

Walkup says he has thoroughly enjoyed his first campaign. "The part that makes it delightful is the grassroots part of the whole thing, which is what the campaign law has done for campaigning, by the way," says Walkup. "It pushes you out and about."

Under Tucson's system for public financing of campaigns, mayoral candidates who sign contracts with the city agreeing to limit their spending to $154,684 are eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match for the money they raise. To become eligible for the match, mayoral candidates have to receive 300 contributions of at least $10 each from city residents. Last week, both Walkup and McKasson hit the maximum contribution level.

But the Walkup camp will likely get a boost from the independent campaign committee run by Judy Abrams and Steve Emerine.

"Judy and I both felt that somebody needed to assist a Walkup victory and a McKasson/Kahn defeat, and the city's ordinances provide for that through an independent campaign committee. So we've formed a two-member independent campaign committee with a CPA as an accountant to keep all the numbers straight for us," says Emerine, who's also involved with the Pima County Business Alliance, which is working to boost turnout by erecting "Just Vote" signs around the city. Although backers insist their only motivation is to increase voter turnout, the campaign is largely made up of McKasson foes who believe that a bigger turnout accrues to Walkup.

Emerine, who supported Betsy Bolding in the primary, says McKasson focuses too much on neighborhoods at the expense of the business community.

"I don't like her proposals for solving the transportation problem," Emerine says. "I don't think you solve the transportation problem by continuing to take four-lane streets and cut them down to two-lane streets, as she wants to do with Fifth and Sixth. I don't think you do it by putting more pedestrian crossing lights along Speedway and Broadway.

"I finally just have a concern about who can best represent the City of Tucson in dealing with the Legislature and governor and Congress and the federal agencies, big companies, sister cities and so on and it appears to me in all of those cases that Walkup would be the better choice."

Last week, Emerine said he didn't have "the foggiest idea" of how much money his committee will raise. "If we could raise $10,000 or $15,000 that would be great," he says. "We don't have a whole lot of time and I'm not sure what we could do. But whatever we do, we have no paid employees, so we'll put it into advertising."

Although as of press time, the independent committee had yet to unveil its campaign, Emerine and Abrams have come under harsh criticism from Volgy, who says it's the first time a serious independent campaign committee has emerged in city politics since voters approved the publicly funded campaign finance program in the 1980s. When Emerine and Abrams filed the paperwork for Tucsonans for Responsible Leadership with the city, Volgy blasted the effort at a press conference with McKasson. The independent campaign is a loophole which offsets the balance created by the strict campaign finance laws, says Volgy, who spearheaded the public-financing initiative in the late '80s.

"Regardless of who wins or loses, that's not what the public said we were going to do, and I think it's really important that that not happen," says Volgy. "They have the ability of outspending the two candidates combined at least two-to-one or three-to-one, and it would make a mockery out of a candidate agreeing to a spending limit and then allowing his or her friends to spend their guts out on their behalf. The only decent thing both candidates have got to do is stand up and say, no, we don't want you to do this."

Walkup has stopped short of condemning the independent campaign.

"I don't know any more about it than what I've read in the papers," Walkup says. "I do know this: They have a constitutional right to express themselves. I'd be opposed to anybody that would put an independent campaign expenditure that was in violation of the law that exists. That's an inappropriate thing to do. But frankly, I should not be abridging or becoming involved with anyone's right to do something within the law. I'm running my campaign and I'm proud of what we've done."

Volgy retorts: "That's nice, but this is more than First Amendment rights, this is countervening the wishes of the public in terms of limits on campaign spending and that's easy to stop. All you have to say to your friends is no. I've never been involved in a campaign where you tell your friends not to spend for you and they do it anyway."

Volgy doesn't deny that Tucsonans for Responsible Leadership has a right to run an independent campaign, but he does suggest voters ought to reject the effort at the ballot box.

"It's their right to do so, but it's also the right of the public to punish candidates who play that game," says Volgy. "And it's so easy to deal with. All you have to is stand up and say, 'I ask my friends not to do this,' and it's done. What's at stake here is I think even larger than who wins the election, which is the integrity of the process that the public voted for. And if you don't respect that integrity, then you will not respect the wishes of the public on anything else either."

  Kahn McKasson Walkup

Do you support direct delivery of CAP water?

No No No

Do you support the delivery of blended CAP/groundwater?

No No No

Do you support Tucson Water's Ambassador program?

No No Yes

Do you support CAVSARP?

No No Yes

Do you support Proposition 200 (1999 version)?

Yes Yes No

Do you support streambed recharge in the Rillito?

Yes Yes No

Do you support building infrastructure to sell CAP water to mines and farms?

Yes Yes Maybe

Do you support the creation of an elected Water Board to take control of Tucson Water?

No No Maybe

Do you support the creation of an appointed Water Board to take control of Tucson Water?

No No Maybe

Do you support the privatization of Tucson Water?

Yes No No

Do you support the Council's recent restrictions on big-box stores?

No Yes Yes

Do you support the Rio Nuevo ballot proposition?

No Yes Yes

Do you support the construction of a new City Hall?

No No No

Do you support banning smoking in restaurants?

No Yes No

Do you support the Council's recent vote to force contractors to pay employees an $8-an-hour "livable wage"?

No Yes No

Do you support reducing trash pickup to once a week?

No Yes No

Do you support increasing recycling service to once a week?

Yes Yes No

Do you support imposing a transportation impact fee in the city limits?

No Yes No

Do you support putting a quarter-cent sales tax measure earmarked for transportation on the ballot?

No No No

Do you support putting a half-cent sales tax measure earmarked for transportation on the ballot?

No No No

Do you support privatizing golf courses?

Yes No Maybe

Do you support continuing legal action against Casas Adobes and Tortolita?

No No No

Do you support the city's ban on guns in parks?

No Yes Maybe