The Next Raúl

Supervisors will choose from 12 applicants for Grijalva's seat. Whomever is selected will have to win at the polls this fall.

The Board of Supervisors will have an opportunity next week that comes, on average, only once every 6.75 years: jumping ahead of the electorate to choose one of its own. Twelve people applied by the Tuesday deadline to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Raúl Grijalva.

Among the four most recent board appointments, beginning in 1975, have been musical chairs, a sleeper, an anointing and an odds-on favorite disguised as a dark horse.

There is no clear frontrunner to replace Grijalva, the Democrat who bolted just one-quarter of the way through his fourth term to run for Congress.

What is clear is that Democrats Dan Eckstrom and Sharon Bronson and Republicans Ray Carroll and Ann Day will neither play a tune for musical chairs or perform an anointing. Indeed, Raul Grijalva has backed off his initial strong backing of Chicano activist Salomon Baldenegro--support that came in the months before Grijalva made official his well-known plans to seek ascension. Now Grijalva is staying out of the way.

That means no repeat of Eckstrom's appointment on a Monday in May 1988, a slick and uncontested deal made possible because of the subtle and never-boastful strength of the late Sam Lena. Offered a job handling the Tucson office for his friend then-Gov. Rose Mofford, Lena walked the Friday before his former colleagues voted unanimously to ratify his anointing of Eckstrom. That was the way Lena, the son of Sicilian immigrants, wanted it.

There was no muss, no fuss and Eckstrom has reigned, most often without primary or general election opposition, in South Side District 2 ever since.

Lena himself had taken his chair on the Board of Supervisors in 1975. He had won re-election to the state Senate, but the death of his first wife and other family concerns prompted Lena to not take the oath for the new Senate term and instead seek a supervisors seat. That vacancy was created by Jim Murphy's decision to operate his considerable political base from the bureaucracy as an assistant county manager. Tom Moore was named to the Senate seat and Lena's son took a political appointment to the Tucson Convention Center board where Moore once sat. South Side political rivals were infuriated yet incapable of quick response.

Supervisors in 1984 were forced to select a Republican to represent District 4, covering the East Side and Green Valley, when the state resign-to-run law finally caught Conrad Joyner after his disastrous run for Congress. Insurance man Pat Lopez was a Republican loyalist, but so lacked a base that funeral home and cemetery executive Reg Morrison bounced him in 1984.

Carroll, a Chicago Democrat-turned Tucson Country Club Republican, grabbed the same job in 1997 by appointment after John Even died of cancer just four months into his term.

The Carroll appointment had none of the Lena grace or effect. Candidates spoke at two show-and-tell forums, much like one the League of Women Voters has scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, in the Board of Supervisors hearing room, 130 W. Congress St. That session begins at 6 p.m., 15 hours before Grijalva's former colleagues are set to vote on his replacement.

Democrat Grijalva joined Republican Mike Boyd in May 1997 in supporting Carroll, whose commercial real estate career had stagnated at Grubb & Ellis. Godoshian, then in her fifth month as clerk, broke the tie, voting with Grijalva and Boyd when Bronson and Eckstrom dissented.

Boyd tried twice to nominate Even's wife, Brenda, then a controversial member of the Tucson Unified School District board. He also failed to get a second on a motion for Barbara Huffstetler, John Even's bright aide.

Eckstrom's move to fill the seat with David Garber, an independent real estate broker with an impressive record of community and government service including as an aide to legendary Arizona Senator Carl Hayden, also was blocked by Grijalva, Boyd and Godoshian.

RICHARD ELIAS IS A paradox as a frontrunner. He is head of the county's Community Reinvestment program and a former housing official with Chicanos por la Causa. His brother, Albert, is transportation director for the city. But it is their father, Albert Elias, at Old Pueblo Printers, who is known by nearly every politician and countless non-profit groups for his work on South Stone Avenue.

Elias, pleasant and unassuming, is close to Grijalva but has impressed Eckstrom with his work on low-income and affordable housing. The political appointment would essentially be a lateral move in salary with supervisor pay at $54,600.

Irma Yepez-Perez, an aide to former West Side Councilman Bruce Wheeler, a Democrat, leads the list of women vying for the job. District 5, which stretches from the Tucson Mountains through Sam Hughes and includes a panhandle on the South Side, is predominantly Mexican-American. Rudy Bejarano, the man Wheeler defeated in 1987, also wants Grijalva's job.

Neither Carolyn Campbell, one of former Councilwoman Molly McKasson's aides, and a leading backer of the Grijalva-fueled Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, or Bronson ally Anne Graham-Bergin, a lawyer, applied to fill the vacancy. But Helen Wilson, a West Side environmental activist, applied, as did John Crow, a retired University of Arizona political scientist and now a lawyer.

County sources say that Bronson's demand that a woman succeed Grijalva cloak her intentions to support Paul Eckerstrom, an assistant attorney general who handled the bogus-prescription plea agreement last year of Dr. Charles Blanck, Grijalva's personal physician and a popular internist at Kino Community Hospital.

Frank Felix, a former state senator and University of Arizona bureaucrat, has said that he will run for the seat regardless of the appointment outcome. He and Alex Rodriguez, a Wells Fargo official who also worked at the Pentagon, are splitting support from the elite, what Mexican-American observers are calling la crema.

Grijalva has insisted that he needs aide Ruben Reyes on his congressional campaign, but Reyes also is in the hunt for the District 5 job.