The Skinny

THE EMERGENCY CARE SHUFFLE: We're disappointed to see that local government didn't step up to help bail out the Tucson Medical Center trauma center, which is now scheduled to close at the end of the year. We think it's important to keep this kind of vital service operational; a few million bucks isn't too much to ask from the City of Tucson and Pima County, two governments that now spend about $2 billion a year between them, some of it on pork and even more on low-priority items.

But when the Tucson City Council was set to discuss the topic on September 17, something strange was happening at emergency rooms throughout this valley. Skinny sources tell us emergency patients carried by ambulance were being routed to Pima County's Kino Community Hospital. The practice apparently did not extend to walk-ins or patients who arrived otherwise, and didn't involve full closure of those centers and others at St. Mary's and St. Joseph's, but the message to both major local governments was both subtle and clear.

This attempt to send the hint to local governments at the expense of some patients leads us to another point. Time for UMC and TMC to cut back some of their pork--and they could start with overpaid lobbyists, PR flacks and whoever dreamed up this type of extortion.

SPATE OF HATE: We all were shocked when an ignorant nutjob killed an innocent Sikh while on a shooting spree in Maricopa County. We're nearly as concerned by the massive over-reaction by law enforcement.

Considering the depth of feeling in America against the perps of the reprehensible September 11 terrorist attacks, American reaction to Middle Easterners has, in general, been moderate. Just as Americans have been generally untouched by real terrorism up until now, they have forgotten the real lynch-mob ethnic bigotry we once saw against blacks.

We sincerely hope that Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano isn't just grabbing headlines for her gubernatorial bid next year when she promises to crack down on "hate crimes" to the extent that those who use "ethnic epithets" will receive a visit from the police to determine if they are dangerous. We also hope that anybody who believes in civil liberties will also duly note her behavior the next time her name is on a ballot, along with the other pols who jump on this fascist bandwagon, like County Attorneys Rick Romley and Barbara LaWall.

Whoa, folks. Your zealous quest against racial and ethnic bigotry just crossed the line. We need to remind you that the First Amendment covers more than the "press freedoms" the Star cherished when it endorsed this move editorially. Freedom of speech includes "hate" and "ethnic epithets" and making room for the dorks who hop around in Klan hoods and wear swastikas. It's the messy part of freedom, and you don't get to send the cops to hardass them for it, regardless of how repulsive they are.

As someone once said, the First Amendment isn't just about letting Girl Scouts sell cookies, it's about letting Nazis march in Skokie. Napolitano, Romley and LaWall need to pay attention. And the ACLU needs to quit looking for Christmas displays and become relevant again.

SPEAKING OF TOLERANCE: The Iranian Association of Tucson is sponsoring a blood drive from 2 to 8 p.m. this Monday, October 1 at the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road. The association has also collected $10,000 to donate to relief efforts in New York City.

DOLLAR DANCE: As we predicted, the south-central Ward 5 battle between Councilmember Steve Leal and challenger Jesse Lugo broke the six-figure margin in campaign spending.

Leal, who defeated Lugo by roughly 20 percentage points among the 3,112 voters who cast a ballot in the Ward 5 Democratic primary, spent $55,509 on his campaign, according to recently filed campaign finance reports covering activity through September 17. More than $17,000 of that total was spent in the last three weeks of the campaign. Leal raised a total of $75,216, including $35,345 in matching funds through the city's publicly funded campaign program.

Lugo outspent Leal, dropping $60,561 on his campaign, with more than $30,000 spent in the final three weeks. Lugo raised a total of $69,387, including $26,156 in public matching funds.

The total spent in Ward 5 won't be known until October 11, when the independent campaign committees Tucsonans for Alert Government (a Growth Lobby front backing Lugo) and Tucsonans for Excellence in Government (a labor front backing Leal) file their next reports. We suspect both those campaigns spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 apiece.

Over in Ward 3, where Paula Aboud defeated Vicki Hart 3 to 1 in a Democratic primary that saw 2,102 people vote, the spending was much more restrained because the Democrats ran low-budget races. Hart outspent Aboud, dumping $15,642 into her campaign. She had raised $19,475, including $9,580 in matching funds.

Aboud had raised $22,570, including $8,801 in public matching funds. She spent $9,300 on her primary campaign, leaving her with about $13,270 going into the citywide general election against Kathleen Dunbar, who has a titanic fundraising advantage.

Dunbar had raised $79,143, including $38,267 in matching funds. She had spent $12,687, leaving her with $66,486 going into the general campaign.

Green Party candidate Ted O'Neill, who dropped out of the race last week to boost Aboud's chances against Dunbar, raised a total of $5,336 and qualified for matching funds, which requires candidates to collect a minimum of 200 contributions of $10 or more from city residents. His withdrawal from the race makes him ineligible to receive the funds, according to city staff. (In his story on O'Neill's departure from the race last week, Tucson Citizen City Hall reporter Michael LaFleur revealed that the city's matching-fund program, which has been in place since 1987, was a "by-product" of the state Clean Elections program approved by voters in 1998.)

Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman, who remains in the Ward 3 race, had raised $5,070 and has yet to qualify for matching funds.

Over in midtown Ward 6, where neither candidate faced a primary fight, Councilmember Fred Ronstadt had raised $89,738, which is more than the roughly $80,000 he can spend on his campaign. He has received $40,041 in city matching funds. Ronstadt had already spent nearly $25,000, leaving him with about $55,000 to spend on his campaign.

Ronstadt's Democratic opponent, Gayle Hartmann, is ready to match Ronstadt's spending. She had raised more than $82,000, including $39,520 in matching funds, and had spent just $11,744, leaving her with more than $68,000 she can still spend before election day.

FIELD OF DREAMS: We hear Jay Zucker, the enthusiastic owner of the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders baseball club, is reaching out to the City of Tucson to discuss the possibility of moving the team back to Hi Corbett Field.

When previous owner Martin Stone moved the franchise to the newly built Tucson Electric Park on Ajo Way near Kino Boulevard, we thought he was making a colossal blunder. The new location, combined with Stone's inability to understand his fan base, has resulted in a big drop in attendance.

Since buying the club a couple of years back, Zucker has worked overtime to boost attendance. He gave away tickets on Monday nights, got rid of parking fees and built a playland for kids on the field's perimeter. But people still aren't heading for the ballpark.

So Zucker is now considering returning to midtown's Hi Corbett Field, where the team, then the Tucson Toros, drew huge crowds in the early to mid-'90s. We're sure Pima County administrators, who have complained for years about losing money on the Sidewinders, would be happy to let Zucker out of the lease.

We'd be happy to see the club back at Hi Corbett as well. We hope the city can find a way to make it happen without a taxpayer subsidy, which would be difficult to justify in these tight economic times.

We suggest the city find a way to expand the Rio Nuevo improvement district to include the ballpark. Surely there's enough pork in that project to support our local ballclub.

TUCSON'S STILL AN ESTES HOME TOWN: The same Board of Supervisors that's pushing the controversial Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan last week rewarded desert blader 'n' grader Bill Estes, allowing him an exception to the ordinance that protects hillsides so he could build a 6,000-square-foot palace.

All five supes went along, including the presumed enviros, and not a word came from Greenie leaders like Carolyn Campbell and Roger Carpenter.

The supes claim to have had their reasons, but the irony of their actions has not escaped us.

Meantime, on the other end of town, planner and one-time winner of the TW's Best Fixer award Carl Winters was getting shot down for trying to get a client a gas station on a five-acre site at Cortaro Farms and Camino de Oeste in the heart of pygmy owl country.

The political posing and righteous indignation presented by some board members at Winters' admittedly shaky proposal contrasts with the smooth dive taken for Estes a few minutes before. That didn't escape us, either.

TALKING BASURA: Leonard Basurto, the longtime teacher/bureaucrat who heads bilingual ed at Tucson Unified School District, is feeling unappreciated. He'll get back at all of them. Basurto has let it out that he intends to run for the TUSD board next year. He'll have to resign from his lucrative post to run for the unpaid position. But after feeling slighted by TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz, Basurto thinks it's worth it. We can't wait for that campaign, when Leonard and his wife go around in their matching suits pecking for votes.

Basurto won't be the first miffed TUSD bureaucrat to want to run things on the board. Mary Belle McCorkle, now in her third term on the board (or is that her third term as shadow superintendent?), also wanted to settle some scores. Now she wants to have her name emblazoned on one of the two new schools TUSD is building on the west side. Tacky.

Paz, meanwhile, needs to show some guts or brains and independence. Hey, Stan, do you really think that McCorkle and Joel Ireland are so craven that they would seek to fire you, a local Mexican-American hero, in just your second year?

Paz wants mo' money. He's got a house to build on that nifty 1.8-acre Bear Canyon lot for which he paid $100,000. We like the view, too. But Stan, tell those meddlers to take a hike.

EL REY DEL MUNDO: Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll and his new best friend, Democratic Board of Supes Chair Raúl Grijalva, dipped into Mexico on a recent goodwill mission. In meetings with local, state and federal officials, Ray was eager to show that he's The Man. At one session, he dropped names of so many Mexican big shots that the host grew weary. "Why," the host wondered, "are you then wasting your time on me?"

STORMING SANTA RITA: You'll never read it in the dailies, which are swooning over coach Jeff Scurran and his new football team at Pima Community College. We'll repeat: We think junior college football is a good thing for Tucson. Good for the kids, that is. But what about the trashing that Santa Rita High School is taking? With Scurran, ever the pitchman, crying all over town about his lack of facilities, TUSD has surrendered Santa Rita. And Scurran's Storm is living up to its name, trashing the locker rooms and leaving a big mess in its wake. Don't look for TUSD to get properly reimbursed. This is, after all, a Scurran show.