HE'D MAKE A GREAT WAL-MART GREETER! After 14 years of rolicking fun and good humor, not to mention journalistic excellence, perky Arizona Daily Star executive editor Steve Auslander, the man who always has a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips for everyone, is going on to even more rewarding challenges.

And if you believe the preceding sentence, you're obviously a zombie-like Star reader. Furthermore, your woeful lack of knowledge about what's really happening in this community is just what the powers that be are counting on for their continued enrichment at your expense.

Whether those same powers will miss Auslander's sour and withdrawn reign over "Southern Arizona's largest newsgathering organization," as he liked to call the Star -- apparently out of some desperate psychological need to equate size with quality -- remains to be seen.

But as one top city official who often finds himself on the side of the taxpayers and ordinary citizens said when he heard the news of Auslander's ouster: "Thank God. Finally. Thank God." Or, as a former Star staffer remarked: "How could they have let that go on for so damn long?"

We couldn't have said it better.

Unfortunately, the talk around the newsroom is that Auslander and his longtime managing editor, Bobbie Jo Buel, lacked the muscle to implement changes recommended by a "newspaper doctor," a supposed expert on what makes perky, readable content in this age of supposedly stiff competition from TV and, increasingly, the World Wide Web.

Reportedly, by failing to fully implement the "doctor's" orders, Auslander and Buel failed to boost the Star's circulation to levels satisfactory to the fat cats at Pulitzer central in St. Louis -- people who wouldn't know a decent newspaper if it bit them on their pampered patooties.

Buel has been whining privately to various pals around town that the Pulitzer folks don't seem to understand how much of the Star's meager resources must be devoted to its flashy new tabloidal entertainment fishwrap, ¡Caliente! Largest newsgathering organization, indeed.

But despite their lackluster performances in the Star's top spots, it's unfair to place sole blame on Auslander and Buel for the newspaper's utter dullness and dismal mediocrity. Pulitzer's limits on space for news stories and the corporation's tight grip on slots and salaries for reporters, even as it sucks $100 million or more in revenues out of this town every year, have got to be the chief reasons nobody feels especially eager to beat the bushes every morning in search of a daily dose of the dulls. Especially when a subscription costs an alarming $150 a year.

The Star reported last week that someone named Jane Armari will be top dog at the morning rag come November. Armari has the usual boring journalistic management credentials, including her latest stint at a Gannett newspaper.

Gannett is to newspapers as McDonald's is to restaurant food. Those of you who remember reading the Tucson Citizen know what a Gannett paper is like. (Yes, we know the Citizen is still being published, thanks to that ridiculous Newspaper Preservation Act passed by Congress years and years ago at the late Mo Udall's behest, but we don't know anybody who actually reads the Citizen these days.)

We found it amusing that Armari's dry, corporate journalistic cowflop, as quoted in the Star, included this one: "I like tough journalism. We believe in using the Freedom of Information Act to sue when we don't get what we need."

Duh, Ms. Publisher/Executive Editor. Any cub reporter should be able to invoke the Act. We'd be far happier if the Star and its underpaid cubbies simply stopped averting their eyes when things happen around here. Fancy lawyers and corporate PR pabulum are poor fuel for real journalism. The beast prefers brains and guts.

As for Auslander, his career at the helm of the sludge scow he's customized to his dull gray specifications over the years appears to be winding down. The paper reports he'll remain at the Star in an "unspecified role."

Perhaps they'll keep him in a fancy cabinet, like the corpse of good old Jeremy Bentham. Perhaps they'll haul him out on special occasions to frighten the flocks of young journalism graduates they seem to bring in each season, only to chew them up and spit them out in a few short years.

CROSS CURRENTS: GOP mayoral candidate Bob Walkup has been touting his Democratic supporters throughout his campaign -- and for good reason: Given the Democrats' voter registration advantage, Walkup will need Democrats to cross over for him to win.

Renegade Democrats Steve Emerine, a former journalist and county assessor, and Judy Abrams, a former aide to former Sen. Dennis DeConcini and wife of developer Stan Abrams, have formed an independent campaign committee, Tucsonans for Responsible Leadership: Democrats for Walkup. It appears Abrams has roped in DeConcini to endorse Walkup; popular Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is also expected to join the team.

The balance of the committee consists of folks who seem to regularly pop up whenever a Republican needs to appear to have broad support. Most of the names were on Demos for Hull, Demos for Symington, and probably Demos for Dewey. Their most singular characteristic would seem to be the failure to pick a winner in a Demo primary, a problem they share with DeConcini and Dupnik.

Democratic candidate Molly McKasson struck back with a list of former Republican candidates and office holders who support her, most of whom won their primaries. These included former City Councilman and County Supervisor Conrad Joyner; current Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson Chairwoman Ann Holden, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 3 council seat in 1993; Citizens for Tax Relief founder and 1983 Ward 1 council nominee Bill Heusiler; George Borozan, who was the mayoral nominee in 1991 and former chairman of the State Tax Appeals Board; Tortolita Council member Kathy Franzi; and Rex Waite, another former county assessor and GOP county chair.

Part of the GOP crossover is driven by issues, particularly growth and water -- the same issues that are drawing Growth Lobby Democrats to Walkup. And part of it is resentment to the country club GOP types who are running Walkup's campaign and have tried to cram him down everybody's throat as the Great White Hope. They're viewed as arrogant by a lot of Republicans who know little about Walkup and like him less when they discover that he supported Mayor George Miller (which makes it kinda hard to invoke "party loyalty" for his candidacy).

But the most interesting endorsement wasn't the Arizona Daily Star's support of Walkup, which insiders expected (and which ends any pretense that issues come before ad profits). It was the National Rifle Association's endorsement of Libertarian Ed Kahn. This was clear payback for Walkup, who was pandering to gun advocates until he was quizzed publicly, at which point he proceeded to backtrack on the impression he was clearly trying to make. Walkup's camp is claiming that they didn't really care about what the NRA did, but that's pure crap -- they were trying to head off the Kahn move up until it happened, according to our NRA sources. Walkup was caught in the most bush-league move a candidate can make: trying to be on both sides of an issue group. They really resent it, be they gun nuts or tree huggers or campaign-finance types, as he has discovered.

CASH FLOW: Last week, car dealer Jim Click vowed to spend a million bucks to defeat Prop 200, the water proposition that would strengthen the Water Consumer Protection Act and limit use of CAP water. According to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the city, he's well on his way.

As of the end of last month, Click's group, Coalition for an Adequate Water Supply, had raised $461,145 -- and $307,045 of that came in big chunks from 49 contributors between August 19 and September 27.

Contributions of $25,000 came from Diamond Ventures, Holmes Tuttle Ford, billboard baron Karl Eller, Pulte Home Corporation, Cottonwood Properties Inc. and Compass Bank. Fairfield Green Valley was good for another $20,000 and the Ashton Company kicked in $15,000. Canoa Development Inc wrote a check for $10,000, as did Royal Automotive and Tom Quebedeaux.

Meanwhile, car dealer Bob Beaudry has continued his single-handed support for Prop 200. Radio Bob's Citizens Alliance for Water Security Political Action Committee reported receiving a total of $199,500 from the Citizens Alliance for Water Security.

INTRODUCING HIS ALTER EGO, BOB DIALUP: Virgin politico Bob Walkup may be big business' sweet-talking gift to Tucson, but he's sure making himself out to be a pain in the ass to local residents. Twice in the same day last week, one of our Skinny stalwarts reports, the Walkup machine -- literally -- called his house with a recorded message direct from Bob-o, beseeching loyal followers to vote early.

We thought that mechanized form of aural annoyance was outlawed awhile back. Or are Republicans now allowed to commit low crimes and misdemeanors even before they're in office? And what does it say of Walkup, the man, if he's willing to stoop to the sleaziest form of advertising imaginable to get a few votes?

Walkup and his greedhead growth backers must think very little of ordinary Tucson citizens to disturb them at home in this tacky manner.

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