The Power of No

How Steve Kozachik knocked off Nina Trasoff and other post-election musings

When did Ward 6 City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff realize she was going to lose her re-election bid to Republican Steve Kozachik?

It was right around 11 p.m. on Election Day. Trasoff—who started out behind her GOP challenger when early-ballot results were released, but then took a lead as the first Election Day votes were counted—was studying results that showed her lead had dropped to about 600 votes.

She realized that a quarter of the precincts had yet to report—and most of them were from the eastside, where Republicans had pushed turnout.

"I'm toast," said Trasoff, who ended up losing by 1,728 votes.

Trasoff became the first incumbent Democrat to lose a Tucson City Council race since Republican Roy Laos beat Democrat Rudy Castro in 1977.

So how did Kozachik knock her out of office?

Kozachik busted ass and, in many ways, used the same playbook that Trasoff used against Republican Fred Ronstadt when she beat him by 30 percentage points in 2005. He tore into her over Rio Nuevo, just as she had complained about the slow pace of downtown redevelopment under Ronstadt's tenure. He blasted her for raising taxes, just as she had blasted Ronstadt for raising the garbage fee. He griped that the city was cooking the books and playing a "shell game" with the budget, a complaint that Trasoff leveled while on the campaign trail four years ago.

It hardly helped that Trasoff had alienated some of her own base. In downtown, she was the chief champion of a complex development agreement with Rialto block owners Scott Stiteler and Don Martin, which brought her into a fight with the Rialto Theatre Foundation before the deal collapsed earlier this year.

She was embarrassed again one week before the election, when she attended a press conference with Stiteler to announce that Kwang C. An, of Sakura fame, was opening a new downtown restaurant and sports bar. The conference was interrupted by a salon owner who complained that after 14 years of sticking it out on Congress Street, he was being kicked to the curb—transforming what was supposed to be good downtown news into a public-relations disaster.

On top of that, Kozachik had help from the state and county branches of the Republican Party, who used money from auto dealer Jim Click to bring in Maricopa-based consultant Nathan Sproul to target voters and boost turnout. Meanwhile, Democrats were dumping resources into the campaign against Prop 200 that could have otherwise gone to help their candidates.

Combine that with the anti-incumbency mood, and you have the perfect storm to take down Trasoff.

Why wasn't Democratic incumbent Karin Uhlich swept away, too?

She nearly was. Uhlich, who beat Republican incumbent Kathleen Dunbar by 23 percentage points four years ago, hung on to the Ward 3 seat by just 195 votes—about as narrow of a margin as you can get.

Perhaps some Democrats were willing to cross over for Kozachik, but decided that voting for one Republican was enough. (She also had the smarts to side with our friends at the Rialto earlier this year.)

Why did the Public Safety First initiative go down so hard, with seven out of 10 voters rejecting it?

Democrats were pretty excited about beating Proposition 200, especially since their polling showed that it was supported by nearly 60 percent of the voters back in September.

Prop 200 was a lousy idea that suffered the death of a thousand cuts. The opposition from the left was predictable, but once the business community—including the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Pima Alliance and the Arizona Multihousing Association—came out against Prop 200, it was doomed. That overcame support from the police and fire unions, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the Tucson Association of Realtors.

The initiative was always planned as a way to get GOP voters to the polls; it's too bad that the cops and firefighters allowed themselves to be used.

We would hope that the dues-paying members of the Tucson Association of Realtors would have some hard questions for association bigshot Bill Arnold about why he poured so much of their money into a political campaign that created the idea that Tucson is a crime-ridden nightmare of a city where no one in their right mind would buy a house. That can't help home sales.

What was the deal with turnout?

One out of three voters—33.5 percent—cast a ballot. While that doesn't seem high, it's pretty spectacular for an off-year election—particularly one following a presidential election year that saw a considerable swelling of the voter rolls.

In the old days, when the city of Tucson ran its own elections, we'd have a ward-by-ward breakdown of voting, and we could tell you, for example, whether Kozachik won his own ward. Those numbers are not available to us yet, but we'll do some crunching for next week's issue.

For the first time, early ballots went out automatically to all the city voters on the county's Permanent Early Voter List. How many of them sent back ballots?

A total of 68,571 early ballots were requested, and 45,127 came back in, for a return rate of 66 percent. That's the lowest return rate on record, primarily because many of those voters who got on the list to cast ballots in 2008 didn't care about the city election.

What about the Tucson Unified School District override?

Props 401 and 402 got crushed! After coming within 2,000 votes of passing one year ago, TUSD saw 60 percent of the voters reject this year's propositions.

We credit that to general economic uneasiness, amplified by all the talk of "no" on Prop 200 that was in the air. So when real-estate agents have trouble selling houses because of TUSD's troubled schools, they can thank themselves and Bill Arnold.

What does this mean for the future of the city of Tucson?

Well, Trasoff's mayoral campaign is finished. Uhlich, who harbors mayoral ambitions, has some obvious weaknesses. Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott, who wasn't on the ballot, may be emerging as the strongest potential mayoral candidate of them all at this point.

But all the rules go out the window if the state law pushed by Sen. Jonathan Paton remains in place, and the city goes to nonpartisan elections. Stay tuned!

Comments (5)

Add a comment

Add a Comment