The Skinny

TOP DOG: Bob Walkup has been mayor of Tucson for a little over a year. There are but two things one can definitively say of him. He ain't his opponent Molly McKasson, and he ain't his supporter, former Mayor George Miller, although the more conservative a Republican you are, the harder it is to tell.

Walkup was elected over McKasson a little over a year ago by a coalition of regular Republicans and "pro-business" Democrats in a campaign they themselves described as "anybody but Molly." She was handed a tough primary, which ate up much of her resources, and then whacked by an independent committee led by defecting Demos. The co-chair of that operation was former County Assessor Steve Emerine, currently the PR guy for SAHBA (which gives you a subtle hint as to which businesses they were most concerned about--the Growth Lobby).

Walkup was further aided by a nearly insane move by water advocate Bob Beaudry, who, having won on the water issue in two consecutive elections, decided to keep going until he lost. He did--and helped take McKasson down with him.

The dynamics made Walkup one of the luckiest politicians in local history, as he was elected mayor without ever taking a stand on much of anything. More than a year later, he still hasn't. And some more critical observers, beyond the editorial hacks at the two dailies who both endorsed him, have discovered that the reason for that is simple. He takes no stands because he has none. This is a pol who brings new meaning to the term "empty suit."

America is presently cursed with a couple of generations worth of gutless mushmouths in both major parties who haven't noticed that "moderation" is a method, not a philosophy, and that "compromise" is something that sometimes occurs at the end of the political process, and is not the process itself. Walkup is just another boatload of smiles in search of an agenda.

His state-of-the-city message was long on platitude and short on specifics. His call for better daycare bordered on the bizarre, as that is basically a responsibility of the state, and further exemplified how today's politicians fake concern by referring to problems outside their own jurisdiction--like daycare for mayors. But it makes you sound warm and fuzzy and the rubes on the Star OpEd Page slobber over it.

Walkup also called for sales and gas tax hikes, which the city is basically powerless to implement. While jacking up almost any tax that satisfies more growth-caused infrastructure needs is A-OK with his Growth Lobby backers, the GOP types tend to get nervous when you reach for their wallets.

They could easily join in revolt some of the other supporters Walkup has crapped on since his election. Many gun owners are livid that he supplied the necessary fourth vote for a de facto gun show ban at TCC and are even more livid about his refusal to even let them explain to him why that was what he was actually doing. And opponents of the restaurant smoking ban who went to the mat for him have also been left high and dry.

Walkup is gaining a bad reputation for isolation and failure to return phone calls. His major gift to City Hall, besides a $90,000 remodeling job, has been to tighten security and demand a reason from any citizen/subject who dares to enter the building. As a former corporate executive, he doesn't quite seem to grasp that no, Virginia, government is not a business and you don't run it that way.

As long as he can keep the Growth Lobby types happy, he won't draw any well-financed opposition, but a lot can happen in the next couple of years. He's about one more bail-out or liberal utterance away from drawing a real Republican primary opponent next time, and that could set him up for the same scenario that befell McKasson.

One thing's for sure. While he ain't McKasson or Miller, he sure as hell isn't Lew Murphy, either.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: To get a jumpstart on the competition, Ward 6 Republican Councilman Fred Ronstadt launched his bid for a second term last March, almost 20 months before the city's general election. By the end of 2000, Ronstadt had collected $11,234 in contributions from 100 donors.

Among the usual suspects giving money to the candidate were billboard magnate Karl Eller, legendary land speculator Don Diamond and heavyweight attorney S.L. Schorr.

Proving once again that the ruling majority on the council is one big happy nonpartisan family, Neil West (husband of Democratic Councilmember Carol West) wrote Ronstadt a $100 check. Sending in $150 each were Branwyn and Lee Walker, the daughter and son-in-law of Democratic Councilwoman Shirley Scott. The Scotts are evidently a close family, since the kids list the parents' home address as their own.

By the end of last year, Ronstadt's re-election campaign had spent $6,400, with $5,000 of that going to Fred's wife and campaign treasurer, Pam Ronstadt. She runs her campaign management firm, Pillar Consulting, out of the couple's home. When Fred qualifies for city campaign matching funds, that will mean both he and his wife will be financially supported by Tucson taxpayers.

Ronstadt's only announced opponent to date, Democrat Gayle Hartmann, reported raising $2,591 by December 31. But she had loaned herself all but $100 of that amount, so she has some catching up to do.

GUBERS: While he's shying away from committing himself, Rep. Jim Kolbe is now openly eyeing a run for the governor's office in 2002. Good luck. The pool currently includes Matt Salmon, the former congressman who actually abided by his term-limits pledge and stepped down last year after six years in Washington; Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, who is now a heartbeat--or presidential appointment--away from the governor's seat; and Grant Woods, the former Arizona attorney general who's fooled around with a bunch of recent initiative campaigns.

Within that crowd, Salmon captures the conservative base, while Bayless, Woods and Kolbe split the moderate vote. Guess who wins?

The real answer is probably Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. In 1998, Napolitano watched as GOP AG candidates John Kaites and Tom McGovern beat the crap out of each other. It's probably no coincidence that after that melee, she was the only Democrat to win statewide office that year. She must be licking her chops in anticipation of the coming GOP smackdown.

RED-INK TUSD: It is hardly a surprise that the bloated, high-tax Tucson Unified School District is having to cut the spending of its fat-butted bureaucrats to avert a $10-million deficit when the fiscal year ends June 30. First, Superintendent Stan Paz inherited most of the budget plan last year from then lame-duck high-spender George Garcia. More important, this is the direct result of the laissez faire attitude of Mary Belle McCorkle, president of the TUSD Board for two years, a term that thankfully ended in January.

McCorkle, herself a former TUSD and Sunnyside Unified School District bureaucrat, repeatedly blocked her colleagues (some of whom have the fiscal sense to avoid personal bankruptcy) from asking detailed budget questions during TUSD's charade of budget review. When holes, even in TUSD's minimal review, were revealed about the lack of money for raises or for some capital projects, McCorkle would say, time and time again, something utterly useless like "Oh, they'll find the money" or "That's for the superintendent and his staff to work out." McCorkle actually believed that board work on the budget--and the necessary nitty-gritty to make sure these types of deficits are avoided--is, dare we say, the awful "M" word, micromanaging.

We elected these board members, including McCorkle (who came in third out of three in the last election), to work even on the boring money matters. We've got some suggestions. Start with that over-budget, tax-draining PR army that TUSD has built.

Carolyn Kemmeries, who succeeded McCorkle as president, should take heed from this lesson. She should not pawn off all budget decisions on unelected bureaucrats. She can use this issue to distance herself from McCorkle, who hovers over Kemmeries like an unwelcome auntie.

STUDY HALL: The first meeting on the effort to reach a compromise on the old Drachman School controversy is at 7 p.m. tonight, February 15, at Carrillo Elementary School, 440 S. Main Ave. But don't expect a settlement of the demolition dispute over the aging colossus.

The City of Tucson has decided that the board that is proposing to knock down most of the structure will run the meeting. That can't sit well with those who want to save the structure.

Meanwhile, supporters of the plan to build housing for seniors on the site insist the project can't be moved to a nearby vacant lot. They claim the change would lead the feds at Housing and Urban Development to yank the grant for the project.

Seems odd that would be the straw that breaks HUD's back. Two of the three original sponsors of that grant application now oppose the project, yet the feds still back it. And they're not making trouble over the dramatic changes in the architectural plans and the shrinking project site.

So why can't the new project be moved a few blocks? Maybe that's the kind of question that isn't supposed to be asked in trying to reach a "compromise" on this sensitive issue. But the bureaucratic doublespeak used to answer that question has some frustrated neighborhood residents considering legal action to save the old Drachman. See ya in court!

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