The Skinny

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: A coalition of 115 small biz owners has entered the fray over the city's proposition to hike the sales tax by a half-cent to raise money for transportation, which voters will decide on May 21.

The mostly midtown merchants, who announced formation of the Tucson Association for the Preservation of Small Business last week, primarily own operations in the Grant/Campbell and Grant/Kolb/Tanque Verde corridors. That's where the city plans to build two of those nifty grade-separated intersections that allow one street to tunnel beneath another. The merchants complain the plan is too expensive and won't do much to alleviate congestion beyond the bottlenecks. They're also reasonably concerned that the construction process will drive away their customers, killing their businesses. Plus, some of 'em worry that increasing the sales tax within city limits will give outfits outside Tucson an increased advantage.

The morning daily, continuing its campaign to dismiss all opponents of the sales-tax hike as goofballs and morons, disgracefully buried this legitimate story on page 2 of the metro section. We're sure they'll have helpful makeover tips in the biz sections for these guys once work crews make it nigh impossible for shoppers to reach their doors.

Star reporter Susanna Cañizo raced to grab a quote from Pete Zimmerman, political consultant to Let's Go Tucson, the political laundromat for the stuccodollars supporting the proposition. Zimmerman cheerfully dismissed the business owners as cranks who are against any road improvements.

Sorry, Pete, but members of the coalition stressed their support for road improvements with a number of comments that Cañizo ignored when she penned her account. They just don't think the plan to blow more than $25 million an intersection on tunnels every couple of years for the next half-century is the smartest way to improve our immediate transportation congestion.

PICTURE IMPERFECT: If you're a likely voter, you probably got a mailer last week from the aforementioned Pete Zimmerman of Let's Go Tucson, telling you how bad congestion is and how the streets will run red with blood if voters don't approve the sales tax.

The propaganda piece included a series of supposedly time-lapsed photos, showing the view from a camera allegedly tracking conditions at an intersection from 5:14 to 5:48 on March 23, 2002. Take a close look: rather than show us a real demonstration of traffic congestion, Zimmerman's crew just used the same photo nine times. And, we'd point out, the reason traffic in the photo seemed backed up in the first place was because road construction had closed down a lane of traffic. If this thing passes, we'll see plenty of in that in the future. No congestion relief there, gang.

The brochure also promised the city would soon put up cameras at red lights because Tucson is the fourth-deadliest city for deaths related to collisions resulting from boobs who run red lights. So how many people died in such collisions last year? According to TPD, just two--and that was down from three the year before.

Phony photos and stale statistics aside, we're amused by the names of the folks who financed this thing: Legendary Land Speculator Don Diamond, whose far-flung projects helped create this mess in the first place, and auto dealer Jim Click, who profits mightily off the lack of transportation alternatives in our town.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN COURT: Former lawmaker John Kromko, that lovable opponent of the sales tax election, has filed a second lawsuit against the city's proposition.

This time, Kromko is complaining about the $626,952 the city spent on behalf of "educating" the community through March 6. (We don't know how much they've spent since then, but we've seen a bunch of TV ads during the news.)

"They're trying to influence the outcome of the election and that's clearly against the law," says attorney Ed Kahn, who is representing Kromko.

Kahn is due in court today, Thursday, April 25. He says he'll ask Superior Court Judge Ted Borek to halt the city's publicity campaign.

"We want to stop them from doing it," says Kahn. "Pull back all the pamphlets they have out and cut out the TV commercials. Secondarily, after we achieve that, we'll see about relief against them for spending the money."

Kromko's first lawsuit against the city alleged that officials were violating the city charter's Neighborhood Protection Amendment by not allowing voters to approve or reject those wack grade-separated intersections in the proposal.

In that case, Borek ruled that the election could go ahead, but Kromko could return after the vote to challenge whether voters properly approved the intersections.

THE BLOOM IS OFF; SO'S THE MERIT: Leave it to a politician to make jackasses out of the fat boys at The Skinny. Not long after we praised Gov. Jane Dee Hull for some recent appointments to the Superior Court bench, Lady Jane screws up Big Time by caving into inordinate and wholly inappropriate pressure from "Pompadour" Pete Rios to remove Tucson defense lawyer Stanton Bloom from the Pima County Commission on Trial Court Appointments.

Bloom has been a devoted, conscientious, fair, bright and honest member of the Pima County commission that forwarded names to Hull for appointment to bench. He took the job seriously. He didn't brag about it, didn't swagger about it and never talked or whispered about it.

Bloom's great sin was that he represented Ernesto Raya, the young and mentally limited Tucsonan who is in the slammer for killing Santiago Rios in April 1999. Santiago Rios was the brother of Pete Rios, the Democratic state senator from Hayden. Santiago didn't deserve to be murdered and his family didn't deserve the anguish. But Pete Rios, the political hack (he lost to Hull in the 1994 race for secretary of state and sees himself as a state or national leader), has misbehaved ever since Bloom was appointed to do his job representing Raya.

Rios lectured Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields and inappropriately injected his position on the Judiciary Committee. When that didn't work, he waited for Bloom's reappointment to resurface. Then he leaned on colleagues and traded chits with Lady Jane, a Republican in her final year.

Bloom is, without any pretense, what he is: a tough defense lawyer. Raya was hardly his worst or most notable client. Bloom also represented Christopher "Bo" Huerstel, convicted in the Pizza Hut killings and goofball former Democratic Assessor Alan Lang at the Board of Supervisors' waste-of-money, McCarthyesque hearings in 1994. In 1987, he represented at considerable personal peril The Devil, Frank Jarvis Atwood, on Death Row for the 1984 murder of Vicki Lynn Hoskinson. Bloom is a guy some find easy to hate until they find themselves losing their rights.

This is, as Bloom would be the first to say, bigger than Bloom. Lady Jane's capitulation to Rios is an affront to the supposed "merit selection" that Pima and Maricopa counties use to select judges. The 13 other counties still work the old-fashioned and, as this case shows, more upfront method of electing judges.

All of it reminds us of a memorable fusillade from political hit man Emil Franzi when someone like Rios exerted raw political power in a supposed above-politics movement like merit selection. "Good!" Franzi thundered. "Let's just do it in the open. And losers leave town."

TWO YEARS IS PROBABLY TOO LONG: In their infinite wisdom (and desire to keep the jobs they do so well), the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would extend their terms of office to four years in both houses. The proposal was clearly motivated both to circumvent term limits, which let them stay in the office they now how hold for only eight years, and to allow them to hide even further from their constituents. The bozos who voted for this one tell us with a straight face that it will enable them to concentrate on doing a better job instead of being forced to campaign every two years.

Message for our state legislators. Facing the voters for approval is part of your job, probably the biggest one. It is called accountability. If the voters don't like you in that job, you're out. It's the American way.

Lengthening your terms is anti-democratic and strikes at the core of representative government. Only a couple of other states do this now, such as West Virginia, which hardly qualifies as a paragon of civic virtue.

The Senate thankfully killed the bill this week.

WAREHOUSE WORRIES: Shortly after The Weekly reported on downtown Tucson's warehouse arts district ("Building Blocks,' March 28), we heard that an official with the Arizona Department of Transportation announced that if the artists couldn't bring the buildings up to code, they'd be evicted.

Alarmed by that prospect and fearing that the city and state were laying the groundwork to kick 'em out to make it easier to build the much-maligned final mile of the Aviation Parkway, the artists mobilized to plan to appear en masse at last Monday's city council meeting.

When word of the plan leaked, city staff went into action, calling an emergency sit-down with the artists last Saturday. Rio Nuevo maestros John Jones and John Updike, along with an official with the Tucson Fire Department, said all the right things.

But some artists remain skeptical, worried that the state will play Bad Cop and evict 'em before Good Cop Tucson takes title to the warehouses.

Given that the city can find few folks willing to invest private dollars in downtown, it doesn't make much sense to drive out the few people who are succeeding in a redevelopment project.

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