The Skinny

DA WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: The big-time battle for the Ward 5 Tucson City Council seat came to an end this week, after candidates and their various supporters broke the six-figure threshold in campaign spending, while a flurry on last-minutes hit from both sides.

When all the votes were finally counted, the Growth Lobby was unable to pull off its hit on Councilman Steve Leal, who easily held off a challenge from Jesse Lugo. Leal took a 17-point lead when early ballots were released and never looked back, winning with 59 percent of the vote.

Election day capped a week of cheap shots from independent operators on both sides. First came the unions, with an incomprehensible hit piece on Lugo that looked as though it had been illustrated by R. Crumb. Then came the Growth Lobby, with a mailer that featured a photo of Leal snoozing at a council meeting earlier this year. In the end, Ward 5 Democrats liked Sleepy better than Dopey.

While final campaign reports won't be available for a few weeks, you can figure that Leal spent at least $38,000 and Lugo spent a minimum of $31,000. Meanwhile, the unions spent more than $13,000 backing Leal and we're guessing the Growth Lobby, through its independent campaign committee, spent at least $15,000. That's a lot of money spread among 3,002 voters.

Over in north-central Ward 3, Paula Aboud easily topped Vicki Hart in the Democratic primary. Aboud, who had landed the all-important neighborhood support, captured more than 75 percent of the vote. Turnout was abysmal, with only 2,072 people voting in the Democratic primary. Both candidates kept spending to minimum, partly because they had an eye on the November 6 general election and partly because they had lagged in fundraising efforts.

Aboud will now face Republican Kathleen Dunbar, Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Green Ted O'Neill in the citywide general election.

Despite the Democrats' big voter-registration edge, Aboud has a tough road ahead. Dunbar, who picked up 720 votes in a non-contested primary, is clearly running a high-speed, well funded campaign. These women don't like each other much, which will make for some lively campaign catfights between now and November 6.

WHAT A PARTY! With the dust settling in the wake of the city primary, candidates are gearing up for November's general election. Political parties are also laying plans to boost their candidates.

The Republican Party has undoubtedly done extensive polling and is geared up for an aggressive early voting and phone bank campaign to support candidates Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronsdadt.

What have Democratic Party leaders been doing to get ready for the general election? They've been discussing moving their headquarters.

At a recent acrimonious meeting of Demo officials, they discussed the proposed move from their present building on Broadway Boulevard to a space at 3242 E. Speedway. The new location is almost three times as big and the monthly rent of $2,384 about four times what the group is paying now.

Pointing out that the party is constantly strapped for cash, some in attendance wanted to try fundraising before signing a lease. Others called the present location a "dump" and "rat hole" and argued the party needed to relocate.

At first, those in favor of moving the headquarters narrowly prevailed. Bitter debate ensued, with opponents of the move calling volunteers who wouldn't use the present location "bejeweled dowagers," while supporters of the relocation made snide comments about the work ethic of people on the other side. By the end of the evening, the vote was reversed, so party headquarters will stay put for now.

But some supporters still hold out hope that they'll soon be in nicer digs. Party officials have received a pledge for a $30,000 donation, which might make the new location more financially attractive.

That $30K, however, would only cover a small percentage of the total costs of the new building. As someone at last week's meeting pointed out, the price of the new location, including increased operating expenses, would mean Democrats would have to raise more than $40,000 annually in each of the next six years above current commitments. In August, local Dems brought in a whopping $315 in contributions.

While waiting for the resolution of this controversial issue, party officials are starting to talk about what they might be able to do to help their candidates in the general election. The Republicans, meanwhile, have long known what they'll be doing in the next few months. That organizational difference just might be what is needed to elect both Ronstadt and Dunbar.

NO FARE: Shortly after the start of the 1997 Sun Tran strike, pro-union Mayor George Miller and most of the members of the Tucson City Council made it clear that there would be no hiring of "replacements," there wouldn't be any routes operated by management personnel, and the council would get involved in settling the dispute. Taking that stand helped end the walkout within one week.

This year, Tucson has Mayor Bob Walkup, who once rode a bus as part of his campaign, and an anti-union majority on the council. Pleading poverty, they've repeatedly sidestepped opportunities to get involved, even though the issues being raised are serious.

With that lack of leadership, this strike may be a long one. It may take enough time for Sun Tran to save up sufficient money from not paying salaries to the strikers to eventually meet the demands of the drivers and mechanics at least halfway.

And don't look for bus riders to be able to put any pressure on the council to get involved in settling the strike. Most Sun Tran passengers probably don't vote, so the council majority can simply ignore the poor schmucks.

LET THE SPIN BEGIN: The City of Tucson is running TV ads pointing out transportation problems around the community and requesting people get involved in developing a plan to fix them. The ads, featuring rumpled City Manager James Keene urging "Let's Go Tucson," are the first public-relations shot to be fired in an attempt to get voters to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax next May.

While emphasizing obvious problems like traffic congestion, lack of sidewalks and long bus waits, even without a strike, the ads fail to provide a fair picture of the local transportation picture. If they did, they would also mention that:

· The region already has a transportation plan, which was adopted by the Pima Association of Governments in January. Of course, that plan calls for a county-wide quarter-cent increase in the sales tax, and devotes all of the money to mass transit.

· Tucson is proposing to waste tens of millions of dollars on the last mile of the Aviation Parkway.

· In a few months, the city will begin spending millions of dollars on widening the intersection of Grant Road and Campbell Avenue, even though that location ranked 32nd out of 34 in total length of delay at intersections throughout metropolitan Tucson last year.

· Tucson may be the only metropolitan area in Arizona that doesn't collect transportation impact fees on new home construction.

· The transportation department is throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on a "study" for Fifth/Sixth Street, while having no money to implement the proposals of the project.

One of the city's commercials ends with Keene in a small plane flying over the community. The Skinny suggests he come back down to earth, forget the spin doctoring, and look at more effective ways to use the transportation dollars the city presently has rather than talking about raising the regressive sales tax.

CREWS CONTROL: Strike-stalled Sun Tran management is well acquainted with scabs. Plucked out of her PR job at Sun Tran in 1993, Terry Garcia Crews made the ultimate wrong turn to serve as Manoj Vyas' spin mistress after Vyas executed the infamous Pima County coup ordered by Republican Supervisors Big Ed Moore, Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh. The remaking of Planet Pima cost taxpayers more than $5 million in settlements and legal bills.

For pay well above $50,000 a year, Crews tried to find her way around a county that was more stuck than a Sun Tran rider. Vyas had lopped off 13 longtime county executives and administrative assistants. Only Moore knew where even a bathroom was.

Boyd, aka the Flakey Waffleman, wanted to hire a onetime lumber company PR man who also had worked for George Deukmejian, the Republican former governor of California. Boyd's boy was blown away when it leaked that he would "tame" the Tucson press.

Garcia was an odd choice for a Republican-led government, but Moore and his followers were too busy burning through a $20 million surplus. Just two years earlier, Garcia, who has a penchant for following rotten orders, tried to bar Republican mayoral candidate George Borozan from getting to know Sun Tran riders, drivers, routes and problems while he did something out of the ordinary: He rode the bus. Garcia got further worked up when Borozan had the gall to discuss his fact-finding transit mission at a Ronstadt Transit Center press conference.

In her Pima PR job, Garcia received no calls from the main reporters covering the county. Yet she occupied an office atop County Administration and sat among the zeros, hacks and flunkies Vyas installed upon his masters' orders. She made history. Despite decades of stupidity, county leaders had been smart enough to never hire a central PR stooge.

She didn't know the difference between Rillito Race Track and the Rillito River. She knew nothing about budgets, departments, roads, zoning, taxes, landfills or health services. What else is there?

But she was pleasant enough. And one day she approached Raúl Grijalva, who, along with Democrat Dan Eckstrom, was out of the loop. Mounting their effective opposition to landfills, Kino Hospital cuts and the other Moore-Vyas chicanery, Grijalva and Eckstrom were preparing for the landfill showdown at the Sunnyside High School auditorium. Garcia actually offered Grijalva some "talking points."

Eckstrom, more tactful, later took Garcia up on her offer. Straightfaced, Eckstrom admitted he did need some help from Garcia.

"What bus do I take if I want to get to 12th and Ajo?" he asked. "What route is the No. 4?"

Garcia left quietly after Vyas was axed less than a year after he began and when order was restored under continuing Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry. She hooked right back up with Sun Tran.

You can hear her most mornings stumble her way through distortions and condescending slams toward Sun Tran drivers and mechanics on the John C. Scott Show. Even he is incredulous.

MORE UNION BUSTING: Oh, how the Brewster Center's management and board promised to behave after getting slapped with multiple unfair labor practice notices. Counselors and other workers at Brewster voted to organize and affiliate with the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees last spring. Management and board members pledged to the dailies and talking heads that they would abide by the rulings and the rules.

Right. They went out and hired the union-busting law firm Littler Mendelson.

Ray Figueroa, the AFSCME local rep, and Salomon Baldenegro, the Chicano activist who has been monitoring Brewster, saw it coming last month and were not amused. Both said Brewster's move to saddle up Littler Mendelson underscores the agency's continued bad faith.

SNAKEBIT: The Sunday paper carried a feature story revealing that rattlesnake bites were at an all-time high and that the snakes were more prevalent than in recent years. Herpetologists attribute the increase to wet weather and the large bulge in the rodent population.

That's true, but they missed one other prime cause--destruction of habitat.

As the bulldozers continue to grind up empty desert all over town, the critters not crushed in the process move on. But they're territorial creatures and there's not enough remaining habitat to handle both the newcomers and the old residents, so the critters move further in to already settled areas. That's why you'll find hawks and owls nesting in urban neighborhoods--and more rattlesnakes trying to make a living in people's back yards or empty spots in the middle of town.

That rattlesnake you find on your back porch is often a by-product of a construction project somewhere miles away. And as usual, those who claim to run this place will deny it and those running the major media will continue to be part of the denial.

FOREST FOR THE TREES: Now that they've sold off Tucson Mall, Cleveland's Forest City, the mall and real estate experts in the Ratner family, should also be freed from having to dump money into every political campaign in Tucson. Through its link with Dave Dolgen, formerly Forest City's main man in Tucson, the Ratners were hit up for contributions to every candidate for everything from U.S. Senate to dog catcher. In fact, the list musta included contributions from a Ratner dog or cat once.

The Ratners are a classy bunch, actually. And Dolgen, now making big money with his brother-in-law Robert Sarver, was a fine point man. He worked his deals and built what he said he was going to build. He got sidetracked by ego a couple of times in thinking he'd buy and own a congressman, first with then-Supervisor David Yetman, whom Dolgen sent on a nifty trip to Israel. Money not well spent. Now he has upgraded to former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, who is batting 0-2, but who is well-qualified and who would likely perform admirably in D.C.

CALL WAITING: The Skinny tried to contact our old buddy V at Sahuaro High and instead spent an hour trapped in the Tucson Unified School District's new Rube Goldberg phone system. First of all, the numbers for the schools aren't in the brand-new phone books we just got. But there are several numbers that simply read "Tucson Unified School District."

We tried one and got a central switchboard. We asked for Sahuaro High, tried the number they gave us and got Santa Rita High. We tried the switchboard again, got the number for Sahuaro and got a voice-mail system.

Then we tried a number that went with an address that we know to be for Palo Verde High School (1302 S. Avenida Vega). The number was 225-1000, which sounded promisingly like it was the base number for the entire district. We called that number and got Borton Elementary School. The woman who answered there was laughing, having taken dozens of misplaced calls already that day.

We went back to the switchboard and they suggested we try Larry Williams, who's in charge of high schools for TUSD. Why would we want to talk to Larry Williams? We're already hopelessly confused.

Finally, we called a friend who, by chance, had talked to V the day before. He gave us the number, we called, and got Delano Price, who walked across the hall and got V for us. Somehow the numbers had been switched.

We just wonder what would have happened if it had been an emergency.

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