The Skinny

NATTERING NEWSHOLE ALMANAC: It's March and local news media attention turns to... well, how boring March is. Chief among the seasonal coverage clichés in the upcoming days will be the annual St. Paddy's Day don't-drink-and-drive admonitions. Apparently there's a new crop of drunken dickheads every year whose behavior is somehow miraculously altered because of the media's one- or two-day binge on this issue. Right. Like stupid drunks read newspapers or watch TV news and adjust their pathetic problem drinking accordingly.

We're tired of the usual horrible-mangled-wreck file footage and the tearful interviews with people whose loved ones were butchered by blotto drivers. Yes, it's a serious problem, but hey, it's all been done to, well, to death.

And it's boring to watch the cops talk about all the drunk stops they're going to make, and then to read the next morning about all the drunks they did or didn't catch. We just don't care any more, and we certainly don't feel any safer on the streets.

Instead, we hope this year some enterprising news assignments editor will convince the bean counters in control to stage an amusing and colorful St. Paddy's Day Puke Fest. For a refreshing change, let's see the worst offenders puking in their own laps, all over their shoes, or simply blowing chunks on a friend. Isn't that what most drinking to excess is really all about?

The U.S. Forest Service will begin setting fires this month, in an effort to reduce the brushfire danger closer to the summer months. At least this pointless exercise serves to create jobs -- both in government and media. No doubt we'll see plenty of news-chopper shots -- and never mind that it happens every year.

So does NCAA basketball tourney time. As usual, we'll undoubtedly see the "one last game for the seniors" story. Yawn.

And don't forget that other predictable sports extravaganza, spring training. Perhaps it's time to confess that nobody in this town really gives a rat's ass about professional baseball -- we're all just pretending in order to boost the all-important tourist industry, thus allowing Aunt Minnie to keep her rewarding toilet-cleaning job down at the Ramada for another highly profitable year. Whee!

Gasoline prices will be heading up, of course, just as heads will be going up for the Davis-Monthan Air Show, which happens every two years or so and elicits the same dull coverage from the press. Hint to The Arizona Daily Star: Instead of the usual Blue Angels Remember Their Recently Crashed Comrade stuff -- or worse, the Limp-Dick Reporter Flies With The Blue Angels story -- we'd pay big bucks to see Star Publisher Jane Amari get an ejection-seat ride, preferably not involving a parachute. (Yes, as a matter of fact we do speak for all of the Star's long-suffering reporters.)

The UA spring-break-party-at-Rocky Point? Nah, let's skip it this go-'round, OK? There's only so much time in a year, and the less we read or hear about college students acting stupid, the better off we'll all be. (We might change our minds if full frontal nudity were involved in the coverage.)

On the opposite end of the scale, we'll likely be seeing or reading about local science fair winners from the latest crop of junior-high geniuses. It's "good news," the kind Jane Amari has promised us loyal Star readers, much like a burger magnate promises free cheese with every warmed-over cow puck. But let's insist on some honest coverage this year, OK? Forget about the kids -- make the reporters go interview the real winners, those over-achieving parents who've worked and slaved to come up with those great ideas to pass off as their kids' own, the parents who've struggled with all those computer graphing programs to create the perfect display worthy of the Dry As Toast Particle Physic Journal.

Despite our town's lazy media, you parental sci-fair schmucks don't fool us one bit. So there.

BET LINDA WON'T CONTRIBUTE: Tucson City Councilman Fred Ronstadt's support of big boxes at El Con has fueled speculation that he will face an opponent in next year's Ward 6 Republican Party primary. Ronstadt isn't sitting idly by waiting for that just to happen.

Some time ago, Ronstadt inquired if he could begin raising funds for a re-election campaign more than 12 months in advance of election day. Previous city policy had not allowed that.

But based on Ronstadt's inquiry, Assistant City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin determined recently that "if the incumbent intends to run for re-election to the same office, the incumbent's receipt of contributions prior to the final year of the term being served would not violate" state law.

Look for Ronstadt to get out early in raising the big campaign bucks, trying to scare off potential primary opponents. He may need them. Many of those folks who live around El Con are still steaming.

SHOCKED AND APPALLED: Chalk up one more disaster for historic preservation in development-mad Tucson.

This time, the historic building in question is not to be bulldozed, but it may be taken out of public circulation. Tucson Electric Power has set its sights on the Manning House, a sprawling El Presidio mansion built in 1907. The gigantic utility is hoping to take advantage of bankruptcy re-organization proceedings to wrench the building out of the hands of small business owner Colleen Concannon.

Operating as Manning House LLC, Concannon bought the building for $2.19 million back in 1997. The old mansion had been chopped up into offices, and Concannon meticulously restored the place to its former glories, which include spectacular wood paneling and an elegant ballroom. Her first venture in the place, Hugo O'Conor's, an upscale restaurant named for Tucson's Irish founder, failed. In September 1998, Concannon filed for Chapter 11 reorganization protection and kept plugging. She switched business plans and started up a banquet business, hiring the place out for weddings and private parties. She did her bit for community service too, hitting the news last fall by offering a last-minute venue for a quinceañera that had been jeopardized when its other location was ruled off limits by the fire department.

TEP's current building on St. Mary's, foisted on the historic El Presidio neighborhood some years ago, is an architectural monstrosity that ranks as one of the ugliest buildings in Tucson. Its architectural tastes having apparently evolved, TEP now wants to unload the St. Mary's building and move its execs into tony offices in the Manning House. Since it's a creditor of Manning House LLC, the electric company legally can offer its own reorganization plan to the bankruptcy court. Its deep pockets, filled by the electricity bill payments of you and me, allow it to entice the creditors with more money than Concannon can possibly offer.

A hearing is set before U.S. Bankruptcy Court for April 27 in Phoenix. If TEP wins this sordid David-and-Goliath struggle, Concannon is out of a job and the Manning House goes back out of public circulation. Future small business owners will be loathe to invest in downtown or to restore historic treasures, knowing that big corporations can swoop in and appropriate all their hard work. And Tucsonans, still reeling from the disastrous city wheeling and dealing at El Con Mall, are once again hit by the message that in this town, big money almost always wins.

BILLBOARD BUMS: Tucson-area state representatives who recently voted in favor of the special-interest party package known as HB2559, the Billboard Bill, deserve a public pants-down spanking.

These cheap political hacks -- Kathleen "Corporate" Dunbar, Steve "Up My Sleeve" Huffman, Lou-Ann "Grease My Hand" Preble, Dan "I'm Your Man" Schottel and Bill "The Shill" McGibbon, all Republicans -- have now gone on record as valuing visual blight and business as usual -- even when it's illegal -- over community concerns.

These people are nothing more than pinheaded corporate shills masquerading as lawmakers. They were part of the narrow majority in the House that passed the Billboard Bill 31-22 late last week.

Is it merely coincidence that Huffman was seen dining with a billboard lobbyist before his dumb-ass vote on this matter? We sort of half-wonder what pile of putrid crud he'd vote for if lobbyists for something like Dog Barf Foods, Inc. were to try plying him with liquor and floozies.

Republicans from other parts of the state seem to understand what's wrong with this piece-of-crap legislation, but Republicans from the most affected community -- the Tucson area -- apparently do not.

For one thing, this disgusting hunk of steaming head cheese protects all billboards in violation of city codes, although billboard lobbyists claim it doesn't. Quite simply, they lie.

If the state Senate kills this exercise in special-interest butt-licking, Tucson residents can expect to see 100 billboards in violation of our city code go poof, leaving more blue sky and mountain views for all of us to enjoy. Even the Tucson City Council, frequent handmaiden for the worst sorts of special interests, voted 7-0 to oppose HB2559, so that should tell you something.

Kudos to Tucson-area reps Andy Nichols, Marion Pickens, Sally Gonzales, Herschella Horton and Debora Norris, who voted against the sleazy billboard industry's cynical power play.

For too long now, Arizona state government has been the playground for big-bucks business bullies who demand -- and get -- special treatment from the often less-than-stellar intellects who make our state laws. Yeah, we know it's called the "legislative process," and even rich guys should have a say in our democracy, but when a monied minority holds sway over an entire community, even groups of communities as in this on-going billboard battle, something is horribly, horribly wrong.

Billboards are a sign -- pun intended -- of something badly out of kilter in our community and our state. The state Senate should do the right thing and kill HB2559.

BRING BACK GATOR WRESTLING: We liked The Arizona Daily Star's Jack Magruder better when he had that edge. Like when he stormed the UA practice field to smack a football player who lied to Magruder (and readers) about his adventures wrestling alligators. That was way back in the mid-'80s. Now Jack gets to write about the exaggerated millions and millions and millions of dollars spring training will bring to Tucson.

The Star's banner story on February 17 had to embarrass Jack. The Star failed to mention just what taxpayers had to do to get the Rockies to Hi Corbett ($9 million -- and we hear they now want a parking garage) and the Diamondbacks and White Sox to the Kino Sports Complex (another $36 million). And the tourist taxes -- $3.50-per-car rental, 1 percent on the hotel bill, and 50-cents-a-night RV tax -- ain't cutting it. Local folks are still paying a subsidy from the county's property-tax-supported general fund. A real gator story.

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