The Skinny

FEEL THE POWER: We were glad to see Joe Salkowski's correction in Monday's paper about the federal Empowerment Zone that the Star's Paola Banchero touted for the local pols. Of course, the Star didn't call it a correction, but Salkowski wrote that "media reports spread the misconception that Tucson would split a whopping $17 billion in federal funds with seven other cities." Turns out the local share might be $600 million--if that.

The morning whopper has treated the story as a big deal for the local economy, neglecting to point out that most of the bucks will go to businesses that already employ people living in the zone. This is a federal giveaway to the corporate sector, including Raytheon and businesses in Park Place Mall, Williams Centre and the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park.

When all is said and done, few new jobs will have been created that wouldn't have been created anyway. And few of the truly needy living in the zone will get those jobs, since they don't have the education or experience to qualify for them or the wherewithal to commute to them if they did.

But the corporate execs who pocket the federal bucks may spread some of that cash around town, so it will trickle down. Stick your tongue out. Maybe you'll catch a drop.

BUMP IN THE ROAD: Short of calling in Tucson cops to shoot the business owners who attended with less-than-lethal munitions, newly elected City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar's first town hall could scarcely have gone worse last week.

Holding a town hall to talk about the city's proposed half-cent transportation sales tax just a block from the proposed Grant/Campbell grade-separated intersection might not have been the smartest political move. The event brought out about 100 pissed-off citizens who fear the grade-separated intersections will destroy the businesses in their midtown neighborhoods, along with bus boosters who want to see more money spent on transit.

Dunbar says she expected about 20 people to turn out, but by 6 p.m., a good half-hour before the event was scheduled to start, the room was already filling with unhappy constituents.

The morning daily's account failed to capture the heated exchanges between city transportation staffers and the opponents of the sales tax. Star roadrunner Susanna Cañizo dutifully had one opponent note her reasons for opposing the project and then had a supporter explaining why she liked the proposal. Cañizo didn't bother to tell readers that the supporter, Ann Charles, was one of Dunbar's key campaign strategists in last November's election

The Citizen's Michael Lafleur did a much better job, even revealing that one of the sales-tax supporters he quoted, Benny White, was the husband of another member of Dunbar's campaign team. Anybody see a pattern with sales-tax supporters at the open house?

The opposition had many questions for Transportation Department staffers Jim Glock and Albert Elias, who faced the hostile crowd without losing their cool.

Dunbar kept her composure for most of the meeting, although during one rough moment she warned that she was shutting down the meeting if her heard "one more outburst." The threat brought bursts of laughter from the crowd, with some wondering aloud if recess would be canceled as well.

With Dunbar vetting the questions, many queries went unanswered, including an inquiry about how much money the city is spending on its "education campaign," the Transportation Improvement and Traffic Congestion Reduction Plan, or, as we call it around the office, TITCRAP. City officials say those numbers will be available later this week.

But it was Councilwoman Dunbar's husband, Dick Dunbar, who gave the most honest answer to the question. Dick spent the evening standing in the audience and heckling small-business concerns and bus advocates. When the question of how much money the city was spending on TITCRAP came up, Dick Dunbar shouted one of the most honest answers of the night: "Whatever it takes to pass the thing!"

ANOTHER ROADSIDE ATTRACTION: It's not exactly Fox Celebrity Boxing, but if you missed out on the Ward 3 town hall, there's another event next week.

On Wednesday, March 20, the Ward 3 Neighbors organization will host a debate on the plan from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Woods Memorial Library, 3455 N. First Ave. On hand in support of the sales tax will be George Miller, former mayor and Ward 3 councilman, and Dale Calvert, chair of Tucson's Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee. In opposition are former lawmaker John Kromko and Enough! chairwoman Debbie Jordan, who owns the Suds Your Duds laundromat at Grant and Campbell.

HONEYMOONERS: Richard Elias, the Democrat appointed February 26 to be the new Raúl Grijalva, is ubiquitous on his accelerated honeymoon in the District 5 office he will have to defend in a special primary election in September.

He put his cheery grill in with City Councilman Steve Leal at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center in a ceremony honoring women last week. And he got bumped up in the supervisors' rotation to throw out the first pitch of the Diamondbacks-White Sox game on March 3. Democrat Dan Eckstrom made the call to get Elias inserted for that spring training game, the annual Pima County charity event. (Republican Sugar Ray Carroll also pitched--an embarrassing fit--to get to toss a first ball at a game and the honor was given to his son Shane.)

The District 5 office went deep green last week with Elias' appointment, or ratification, of Keith Bagwell as his top aide. Bagwell, longtime environmental reporter who fled the mismanagement at the Arizona Daily Star a couple of years ago, gives Elias instant green credibility. He will be paid at the annual rate of $55,000. Tony Davis has got to be wondering.

Bagwell, 51, grew up in Phoenix and joined the Star in 1986. He is an absolute ideologue, a dedicated liberal who protests military action in Afghanistan, the death penalty and rapacious development. He is professional, dignified and not given to the malicious game-playing enjoyed by Grijalva's staff. That will be a welcome change that will help the District 5's advocacy of environmental issues. And Bagwell doesn't just regurgitate. He actually understands the science of ecology. He and his wife, Carolyn Trowbridge, a nurse and fellow longtime protester, live in Armory Park in Eckstrom's District 2.

Bagwell, who filled in as the Weekly editor for about a month last spring, also knows other county departments. In his last downtown tour for the Star he covered Superior Courts. He did an excellent job exposing some of the missteps and goofed-up prosecutions orchestrated by County Attorney Barbara LaWall, a Democrat. He also was no fan of county Waste Water Management, Development Services, Transportation and some functions with Environmental Quality. How that plays out, particularly at budget time this summer, will be most interesting.

In another slot, Elias has Andrea Altamirano, who has served as an aide in county Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry's office since she was a kid. She is bright, talented and has a sense of humor. Her pay jumped to $47,840.

CHILDREN'S CRUSADE: Bob Walkup and his Republican City Council flank of Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronstadt want to jack up sales taxes to pay for questionable transportation improvements. They're wrestling with a tight budget that promises to cut services and eat into the city's reserve funds.

Still, Walkup was close to handing the heavily subsidized Tucson Children's Museum $20,070 last week to cover salaries while the building--the city's old Carnegie Library in Armory Park--undergoes heating and air conditioning overhaul.

This is Walkup's baby, or rather, his wife's. Beth Walkup was a Children's Museum big shot until wisely stepping aside when he charged City Hall. He and his handlers on the city staff buried this item on the consent agenda, hoping no one would see the 34 percent increase in direct subsidy. The scent was too strong for several council offices and City Manager James Keene yanked it off the agenda just in time.

Kommander Keene will give it another shot next week. Vice Mayor Carol West, a Democrat trying hard to suit up as a Walkup Republican, has given the odd argument that the temporary closure of the Children's Museum is the city's fault and therefore the money for salaries should be approved as a sort of penalty. Ha.

The Children's Museum uses the stately old Carnegie for $1 a year. The $58,500 in taxpayer money the city gives the Children's Museum comes from the $1.2 million in doled out to outside agencies this year for cultural enrichment. It might be a great investment, but it's surely the type that Fat Freddy Ronstadt rails against. Sounds like the Children's Museum should hit up Raytheon or other companies within the new Empowerment Zone.

The additional bailout is also to cover costs to advertise the closure. The Skinny will do it for free.

Museum bosses also should try hitting up the county, which already has provided $24,875 and which has none of the financial problems confronting the city.

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