The Skinny

HOLIER THAN THOU: Political reporters from our favorite morning paper were eager to bow before the all-powerful Pima County Interfaith Council when the council admonished candidates and their groupies to stem the hits on the opposition. Of course the council didn't have much to say about the pieces attacking state Sen. Elaine Richardson, Raúl Grijalva's key opponent in the Democratic race for Congress in District 7.

One, childishly depicting Richardson as a witch on a broom, was shamelessly phony and illegal. Purportedly from the Honesty in Govt. Committee, this mailer bore the address, 1900 E. Speedway, of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel--the old Plaza International.

They were none too pleased to get a stack of them returned and equally unamused to be falsely tied to the political hit. The hotel property is listed in county property records as owned by Sundt Plaza LLC, which is headed by a Marijohn Sundt. She is in the mountains and her local number has been disconnected. But she will no doubt be surprised to learn that her hotel property address was used in a political mailer.

A separate mailing went to 2,200 high-propensity voters from Tucsonans for the Sonoran Desert, a group that set up shop for this election but one that its leaders hope to sustain. It uses rearranged soundbites that Grijalva's camp gathered from Richardson, who has in fact made misstatements on the stump. But at least there is a real person behind this mailer. Steven J. August, an assistant attorney general for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Janet Napolitano, is the group's treasurer.

Some of the material was laughably classic Grijalva. Although Grijalva has sopped up big contributions from engineers and contractors who benefited from controversial county contracts as well as from the Growth Lobby, the piece targeted Richardson money from developers.

What this group ignores, as do so many others, is that Grijalva was so needy that he took $1,000 from Yoram Levy, the development functionary and son-in-law to Legendary Land Speculator Donald R. Diamond. Not that the Don wanted to see Raúl win; he was putting his weight behind Richardson.

The real fun in the CD7 race didn't get started until the final week. Jesus Romo, the civil rights leader who impressed nearly everyone with his under-funded but straight campaign, tried to engage his old pal Raúl, with peculiar results.

Romo attempted to tag Grijalva by talking about the FBI probe of county contracts and Raúl's tattered relationship with Salomon Baldenegro, who, according to Romo, is the "icon" of the Tucson Chicano rights movement.

"Where is our friend Salomon?" Romo asked at a Mexican-American student coalition forum at the University of Arizona. "Why is he not supporting Raúl Grijalva? It is because Raul lied to him."

Baldenegro was ubiquitous before he was screwed out of the supe appointment. He lobbied, fought and effectively persuaded the state redistricting committee to carve a territory--CD 7--that would launch a Mexican-American to Congress. He had Grijalva in mind. Aside from his column in the Tucson Citizen and in Spanish-language papers, Sal has been nowhere during the campaign.

His hope for appointment to succeed Grijalva on the Board of Supervisors was torpedoed by Grijalva, who privately badmouthed Sal to Democratic supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Sharon Bronson.

Grijalva, at the UA forum, fidgeted and made obscene Mexican/Mediterranean gestures. He said Romo was "desperate," not just in the election but to "defend his own glass house." Huh?

Backstage, Grijalva, according to Romo and rival candidate Luis Gonzales, lunged at Romo, threatening that he'd best watch out at home or on the street, Gonzales said.

Romo, a lawyer toughened by his work in the fields and battles for farm workers, wisely left. He later filed a complaint with UA police.

Grijalva denied making the threat, but he told another political insider that he would face his wrath the day after the election. "We've got video," Grijalva told the man. Video?

But back to PCIC, whose members squealed loudest about the hits on Richard Elias, anointed in February by Grijalva and Eckstrom and locked in a tough battle with Frank Felix to defend the Grijalva seat.

And those hits, from two independent campaign committees--It Takes a Village and Comite del Barrio Unido--came fast and furiously. The biggest whopper, landing in most mailboxes on Saturday afternoon, plaintively cried out: "Where have you gone, Raúl Grijalva?" It accused Elias of selling out Grijalva's legacy by accepting contributions from "the sprawl industry." We can't wait to see the names of the greens and homeboys who paid for this attempt to befuddle voters about Elias, who was wrapped warmly in Grijalva's coattails throughout the campaign. (Check back with us in mid-October, after campaign reports are due.)

Elias tried to fend off some of the flak with his own mailer announcing it was "Time to hear the facts". Turns out Richard is a champion! He "championed" the contract review committee, "championed" hiring of an independent consultant to review county procurement, "championed" hiring the state Auditor General to review the contracts awarded under the county's 1997 road bonds.

Slow down, champ. It was Ann Day, a Republican, who "championed" the work by the auditor general and who personally lured that office into reviewing the county road bond work. Elias and the Democratic majority actually were slow to embrace a full review of the road bonds.

But wait, the mailer had more: "Richard Elias led the way in doubling current Roadway Development Impact Fees."

Actually, although Elias says he'll support doubling impact fees, they remain at a horrifically low $1,550 per house. It was Republican Ray Carroll who said recently he was ready to double the impact fee now and without the $100,000 in consulting fees the Democratic majority wants to spend before the fees are increased.

IT'S DIRTY! IT'S CLEAN! IT'S DIRTY! We expect a few fender-benders as the Clean Elections program cuts checks to candidates who qualify for matching funds.

But the recent bungling over the Republican gubernatorial primary is more like a 21-car pile-up. First, Colleen Conner, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, announces that frontrunner Matt Salmon, the only candidate not participating in the program, has failed to properly account for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign expenses. Then she reverses herself and says the commission owes Salmon an apology. Then she takes back the apology and says Salmon's in trouble after all. And she adds that she's "confused."

No shit, Sherlock. Conner's antics boggle the mind. Unless she's dead certain, she shouldn't be talking to the press--at least on the record.

It stinks even worse when you consider that Conner's various announcements came after she huddled with Jessica Funkhouser, an aide to Secretary of State Betsey Bayless--Salmon's opponent in the primary election. And if that's not bad enough, Conner has slapped a gag order on Matt Shaffer, a deputy director at the Clean Elections Commission whose analysis vindicated the Salmon campaign. Shaffer continued to talk to the press last week, which should put him under the protection of the state whistleblower law. Cleaner government indeed.

Clean Elections hasn't been a cheap experiment; the program has doled out more than $7.3 million to candidates who qualified for the primary. If the program is going to survive, it's going to need competent leadership. From all appearances, it doesn't have it now.

BAR NONE: TUSD's goofy, misled, bungling legal beagles have a new defense mechanism. No one can criticize them, not members of the TUSD Board, not the superintendent, not the public, not the teachers, not the parents or the students, unless the critic is a member of the State Bar of Arizona. Hats off to the legal department's great protector, TUSD Board Member Joel Ireland. That's a whole new strategy to cover incompetence.

The frightful condition of TUSD legal was best summed up by board member Judy Burns in one of the many critical cases the lawyers botched this summer. "I know more about the law (in this case) than the lawyers," Burns said. "And that scares me."

SIERRA VISTA 150, TUCSON 0: The score posted by our fabulous, fabulously expensive team at the Greater Tucson Economic Council that fumbled the opportunity to land 150 good jobs from Cristek Interconnects, a key supplier to Raytheon.

GTEC was outhustled and outwitted. What makes it all the more embarrassing is that the City Council and Board of Supervisors just handed GTEC $1.04 million in taxpayers' money--no questions asked and no cuts or accountability demanded.

Tucson might have done better had GTEC's sophomore CEO Steve Weathers and GTEC Vice President John Grabo spent as much time doing their jobs as they did glad-handing and parking their butts at protracted City Council and Board of Supervisors budget meetings when their funding, from the obsequious elected officials, was never in doubt. Grabo was particularly buffoonish, having to rise at the Supes budget meeting Aug. 6 even after Democrat Dan Eckstrom had guaranteed that neither GTEC nor any other outside agency would suffer a cut.

Now some of that tax money is headed for PR work. We hear GTEC has hired an outside flack, who already informed the dailies that all interviews will be cleared through her office--and she wants the questions faxed over first. This is how they're spending our money?

Absent from the handwringing over GTEC's defeat is Pima County's and GTEC's dirty secret: huge property taxes. A business property on the tax rolls for $500,000 in Pima County pays 57 percent more than a similarly valued business in Cochise County.

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