Tucson City Councilman Paul Durham threw an unexpected twist into this year's City Council races when he announced he would be calling it quits in the final year of his first term.
"Representing the constituents of Ward 3 has been a profound privilege," Durham wrote in his letter of resignation last week. "However, in order to attend to personal matters, I am now compelled to resign from my position as the Ward 3 councilmember prior to the expiration of my term."
Durham's last day in office will be March 1.
Durham had previously taken a leave of absence from the council job in September 2020 to focus on caring for his husband, who has been suffering from cancer. He had returned to attend some meetings in December.
Mayor Regina Romero has called a March 1 special council meeting and proposed appointing former Ward 3 Councilmember Karin Uhlich to the job.
Uhlich served three terms on the council between 2005 and 2017, when she decided against seeking reelection.
"Karin has previously been elected by the residents of Ward 3, knows the neighborhoods, understands city government, and can step into the role without a learning curve, which is particularly valuable during these unprecedented times," Romero said in a prepared statement.
Durham said he was on board with the plan.
"Karin knows the issues facing Ward 3, and will be able to step in and work with my staff to ensure the continuity of services," Durham said.
Uhlich moved out of Ward 3 during her final term in office, but she said last week that she has since moved back into the ward.
Uhlich told the Weekly she would not seek election to the Ward 3 seat later this year.
But not every council member is on board with the plan to hand the office to Uhlich. Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik says he's heard from other people who may be interested in the gig and thinks the city should follow its previous practice of accepting applications for the job.
Former Ward 3 Councilman Michael Crawford, an attorney who held the Ward 3 seat for a couple of years in the 1990s, told the Weekly he would be interested in the job, assuming the council opens the door to applications as it has in the past. Crawford said he might consider running for the Ward 3 seat.
Community activist Bonnie Poulos, who has been active with the Campus Farm Neighborhood Association as well as serving on a variety of city boards such as the Charter Review Committee and Tucson Planning Commission, is also interested in being appointed to serve out Durham's term, but said she would not run for the seat.
"The move to appoint past Ward 3 councilmember Karin Uhlich is understandable, but I think it would be refreshing to have new ideas from someone who does not have future political aspirations," Poulos said. "And someone who has spent time and energy learning why we make the decisions that we do and being a part of the citizen voice in those decisions.
Meanwhile, a couple of Democrats are interested in running for the job later this year.
Kevin Dahl, the senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, filed paperwork earlier this week to run for the seat.
"Paul has been an excellent Council representative for the residents of Ward 3," Dahl said. "I supported him when he sought the seat, and now I am supporting him in the difficult decision that he has made to step down."
Dahl, who has also headed up the Tucson Audubon Society and Native Seeds/SEARCH, has already lined up an endorsement from Congressman Raul Grijalva and local environmental queenpin Carolyn Campbell.
He said he'd also be interested in an appointment to the seat, but he understands that council members may be looking for someone who isn't going to run for the seat and if that's the case, he's more interested in campaigning for a full term.
Meanwhile, Juan Padres, who ran against Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson in the 2020 primary, announced on Facebook that he's launching a campaign for the job.
"I fully understand the problems and challenges that Ward 3 faces, and look forward to working tirelessly to address them," Padres said. "My campaign platform will be very similar to the one I ran on last time, making poverty the number one issue that needs to be addressed in our community, especially in the wake of this devastating pandemic."
A primary election for the Ward 3 seat was already set for Aug. 3, with the general election to follow on Nov. 2.
Besides Ward 3, Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik and Ward 5 Councilman Richard Fimbres are also up for reelection this year.
Fimbres filed paperwork indicating he was seeking a fourth term last month. Last week, he sent around an email announcing his intention and laying out a number of his accomplishments.
Kozachik told The Weekly he was holding off on making an announcement until he learned whether the city will actually be having an election this year.
The question of this year's election remains up in the air because state lawmakers are still trying to force the city of Tucson to move its election to the same even-year cycle that most elections in Arizona take place. If that happens, city elections would take place the same years as presidential and midterm elections.
Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have been trying without success for some time to force the city to move its election cycle. The latest effort involved a law requiring the city to move its election if the percentage of voters participating in an odd-year city election was significantly less than the percentage who participate in even-year presidential and midterm elections.
Attorneys for the city and the state recently argued before the Arizona Supreme Court whether the state could force the city to move its election. That decision is expected soon, according to City Attorney Mike Rankin.
If the election happens this year, it remains to be seen whether Republicans can stir up candidates to run for any of the council seats. Candidates for council seats must file their nominating petitions by April 5, so the clock is ticking. So far, we haven't heard any rumors of GOP candidates and new Pima County Republican Party chair Shelley Kais did not respond to our email asking if she was aware of anyone planning a campaign this year.
But Pima County isn't exactly friendly territory to GOP candidates these days. Only one Republican won countywide last year, Treasurer Beth Ford, who was first elected in 2000.
The city of Tucson is even more hostile territory for Republicans, with roughly 136,000 registered Democrats and 64,000 registered Republicans, with about 91,000 voters registered outside the two big parties.
This column has been corrected to note that attorney Michael Crawford might be interested in running for the Ward 3 seat.