The Skinny

DEMOCRATIC DEBACLE: The GOP slate overcame a 3-to-2 voter registration advantage over the Democrats to sweep the contested races in Tuesday's election.

Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt just eased past Democratic challenger Gayle Hartmann by 3 percentage points, while Kathleen Dunbar beat Democrat Paula Aboud by about 4 percentage points to pick up an open seat in Ward 3. (Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman picked up around 4 percent in the race.)

How did the outnumbered Republicans pull off the victory?

To begin with, Ronstadt had the advantage of incumbency and that royal family name. Dunbar, meanwhile, was a slick candidate, particularly compared to Aboud.

Secondly, Republicans outspent Democrats, probably by about 2 to 1. (Final numbers won't be available until December.) The candidates on both sides were limited to spending $80,000 each, but the GOP slate got a lot of help from both the county and state branches of the Republican Party, while the local Democratic Party did relatively little to boost their team.

Then throw in the sleazy negative blitz against Aboud in the last week of the campaign by Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, an independent campaign committee fueled by the Growth Lobby dollars of Don Diamond, Jim Click, Karl Eller and the gang at the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, among others.

Keep in mind that media coverage pretty much sucked as well. Although the Star's Joe Salkowski filed regular stories from the campaign trail, the Citizen's Michael LaFleur was clearly out of his league. But then, who cares much about the press? Nobody reads newspapers anymore anyway. People get their news from TV stations, which all but ignored the contests.

The negative attack on Aboud briefly woke the sleepyheads at KVOA, who sent Sandy Rathbun out to do a piece on the negative campaign. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Aboud looked awful in the piece. And then Rathbun didn't even bother to pick up a campaign finance report that would have told her--and KVOA viewers--the identity of the heavy hitters behind Citizens for a Better Tomorrow. Could that have been because KVOA didn't want to alienate big advertisers like Jim Click?

The negative ads didn't do much to boost turnout, which also sucked, with about four out 10 voters bothering to go the polls. City elections typically have low turnout, coming as they do in off years when there's no big presidential or gubernatorial race at the top of the ballot. This year, there wasn't even a compelling ballot issue like the water wars that piqued interested through the 1990s.

Still, the Democratic candidates actually managed to win on election day--but it wasn't enough to overcome the tremendous advantage Republicans racked up in early voting. And until Democrats get themselves more organized, they're going to take a beating in local elections.

STEALTH DIAMOND: It doesn't take much for legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond to fly under the Arizona Daily Star's radar screen. The Star ran a cute piece out of the Colorado Springs Gazette last week about a part of the Banning-Lewis Ranch, a huge spread that Colorado Springs annexed as part of wildly speculative development deal in 1988. Cowpokes run cattle on 5,000 acres, nearly a fifth of the ranch's size.

Not a mention in the Star on how Diamond was a player there, along with his sometime pal and partner, Frank Aries, another (though lesser) legendary land speculator of Tucson. It was Aries who held a lot of paper on the desert that Pima County nearly bought for a giant landfill east of Tucson International Airport.

Diamond could have had some terrific brands up there to go along with those for another of his ranches, the Rocking K east of Tucson. But as his shootouts over the Rocking K with the Board of Supervisors neared, Diamond bailed on Aries' bad Banning-Lewis deal. The Donald walked into Southwest Savings one day, asked what it would take to get out of Banning-Lewis, and then wrote a check for $13 million. Smart move. Southwest crashed with the other S&Ls and there were lots of pesky investigators going over their real estate deals.

HAVE THE FEDS DRINK IT: After years of dumping on southside residents, medical and federal authorities are finally waking up to the fact that TCE (trichloroethylene), a nasty solvent that the military and Hughes dumped for decades, is a carcinogen. It killed and maimed thousands on the southside whose drinking water was contaminated.

A recent story about the recognition of TCE's dangers was puzzling for only one reason. Raúl Grijalva, the Democratic chairman of the Board of Supervisors and a congressional aspirant, told the Daily Star that the declaration validated the county's funding of a TCE medical clinic at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center and that critics of that funding would be silenced.

The criticism, Raúl, was not that the county and state funded the clinic. The criticism came for the mismanagement of the clinic, the petty political turf battles in which Grijalva and his crew were players, and the lack of accountability in the operation of the clinic. Grijalva misread that valid criticism as attacks on the clinic's funding.

TOO SLEAZY EVEN FOR TUSD: Lawyers are famous for never having a conflict of interest, but one was too much even for those who have made a killing representing rotten Tucson Unified School District in its 23-year failure to desegregate.

Laurence Marc Berlin is a member of TUSD's key deseg oversight panel, the Independent Citizens Committee. A lawyer with ties to TUSD Board member Joel T. Ireland, Berlin is far from a new addition to the ICC. As the heat began to mount on TUSD and Ireland's callous, cynical move to jack up taxes for a huge increase in desegregation spending, Berlin prepared for a media spin. He wrote up some op-ed pieces (we're still waiting for ours) and then made a bold move to seek taxpayer money to represent Maria Mendoza, an original plaintiff in the federal desegregation suit against TUSD.

Little Larry has some balls.

But even Richard Yetwin, from TUSD's collection of suits at DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, smelled this one.

For starters, as Yetwin noted in an October 29 letter to Berlin, Mendoza is no longer a named plaintiff or class representative. The time has long since passed that she had a child or family member in school to have a real interest. She has been permitted to remain involved only on an informal basis by U.S. District Judge Alfredo C. Marquez. Moreover, Yetwin noted that Marquez ordered the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to remain as counsel.

Berlin sought to represent Mendoza, whose previous counsel, the doped-up, boozed-up Michael Zavala, died in 1996.

Yetwin politely expressed concern that Berlin, as a member of the ICC, would have a conflict of interest. He would. And state law (Title 38) precludes just this type of activity by barring people who gain information only through their government appointment and position, then using that information for profit for up to one year after they leave the government job. There is clearly a bundle of confidential information that Berlin has picked up over the years through the ICC.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is working to crack down on the manipulative moves Ireland got his TUSD majority to approve this summer raising deseg and taxes. Ireland said the increase, which slammed business owners and forced everyone in the state to bail out TUSD, was a "fantasy tax increase."

Reality is about to hit. State Rep. Steve May, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held hearings in Tucson last week on the issue. No one is laughing at Ireland's joke, made worse by the fact that his Cal-Berkeley drop-out kid was on the TUSD payroll.

Ireland poisoned the well. For May and the state, it's payback time.

MEDIOCRITY OR BUST: Former Arizona Daily Star editorial writer Mark Muro, who fled the Amari regime in favor of ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, popped back up in the morning daily last Sunday with a guest commentary, "Shoes Wating to Drop."

Muro argued that Tucson needs to attract more intellectual talent or it would risk achieving mediocrity. Or, as he put it, "Tucson must soon make ambitious quality-of-life and amenity investments to attract the best workers, or risk failure in its ongoing drive to build a more prosperous high-technology economy." His specific proposals include creating "vibrant new streetscapes, top-flight schools and alluring parks and open spaces."

Sounds great to us! But Tucson is a low-wage, high-crime town with a TUSD board that can charitably be labeled as dysfunctional. It and some other local districts have crumbling inner-city schools and overcrowded classrooms. Healthcare coverage is unaffordable for many, and the local political leadership hopes to smile its way to prosperity. Given that reality, we won't reach economic Nirvana by prettying up the streets and building nice new parks.

Mediocrity looks like a goal to shoot for. When you're at the bottom of the barrel, the only way to look is up.

TRIANO, STILL DEAD: Last week's "Requiem for a Heavyweight," recapping the 1996 bombing death of Gary Lee Triano at La Paloma Country Club, talked about the late John F. Rawlinson as an old-school reporter who had experience covering such hits. As a reporter for the old Arizona Daily Star, Rawlinson was a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors team that built the Arizona Project after Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was murdered in 1976. We recall that Rawlinson was dispatched to Lake Havasu that summer to check on some low-level wiseguy. When he started the engine to his rental car, he heard an explosion and the hood flew up. He thought he was next. Alas, it was just hotter than hell and the battery blew.

The story inadvertently omitted another Star reporter who had the guts and nose to follow Triano-type stories. Ernie Heltsley cataloged everybody from bankers and developers to thugs and Mafia capos. Unparalleled in sourcing, he had them all. The Star would see Heltsley now as a politically incorrect anachronism; hell, they shunted him aside even in the 1990s. But while the Star's beat reporters had no sources to call when Triano got whacked, Heltsley did. He had beers with and shot pool with cops, ATF, FBI and federal marshals. And he could call Mafiosi when he needed to. He was the one who could call Joe Bonanno when Joe got home from an annoying stay in detention. And Mr. B. would take the call. Heltsley's is a lost art.

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