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The Ward 6 Pack

Councilman Steve Kozachik faces Republican and Green challengers as he seeks a third term.

Danyelle Khmara Oct 19, 2017 1:00 AM

Council Member Steve Kozachik is fighting to keep his spot as Tucson City Council's Ward 6 representative.

But he's not doing it the traditional way, with flyers and mass-produced signs. Instead he's hand-painting yard signs and playing his guitar at dive bars and house parties.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, in between meeting with constituent groups and working on his newsletter, the councilman was spray painting signs in a garage, using a stencil of a David Fitzsimmons' caricature, which the council member has framed on a wall in the Ward 6 office.

Each sign is a little different, and Kozachik has made hundreds. He's made so many, he comes into work smelling like spray paint. He says the signs are a way of not taking himself too seriously.

He's asking his supporters to give money they would have donated to his campaign to a nonprofit they support instead. That's thousands of dollars that will go to charity rather than a bunch of glossy flyers that will end up in the trash, he says. He feels more comfortable with that.

"People say take the money out of politics, so that's what I'm doing," Kozachik said at a Tucson City Council candidates forum, on Oct. 11, at the YWCA. "I'm going to continue to defend Tucson values. Without taking money though, I'm not beholden to anybody. A free thinker, I'm going to study the issues and come up with common-sense answers the way I have for the last eight years."

Kozachik may not be fundraising, but he is actively campaigning, doing forums every night, interviewing with all the local news outlets and entertaining at events. On Oct. 16, he brought his guitar down to neighborhood dive bar The Mint to work on relationship building with his constituents. Perhaps a song or two with political undertones slipped into his set.

Kozachik's two challengers, Green Party candidate Mike Cease and Republican candidate Mariano Rodriguez, say Kozachik and the rest of the city council have not done enough to turn Tucson into a thriving city. But their methods on how to get there could hardly be more different.

Kozachik was first elected to City Council as a Republican in 2009, before becoming a Democrat in 2013.

"I can't even begin to imagine standing up and supporting anything Trump is doing right now," Kozachik said in an interview with the Tucson Weekly. "I left the Republican Party not because I left them, but because they left me."

And since Trump became president, Kozachik has demonstrated his opposition in small but meaningful ways, like holding a rally in support of refugees after Trump passed his first travel ban and arranging the creation of the "Be Kind" mosaic in City Hall, which was unveiled days after the neo-nazi march in Charlottesville.

Some of the accomplishments he brought up at the Oct. 11 forum are partnering with Rio Nuevo on revitalizing downtown, attracting more than $500 million in private sector investments, passing Prop 101 to fund road repair and public safety, a development agreement that added 1,900 local jobs at Raytheon and structurally balancing the city budget from a $44 million fiscal deficit in 2008.

Continuing to bring in new jobs is one of his priorities, as is water security and core services: police, fire, roads and parks.

Rodriguez is an architect who's lived in Tucson for 30 years. He received national attention during the presidential campaign for being an immigrant who supports Trump, appearing with his wife on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

Born in Mexico City, Rodriguez moved to the U.S. when he was 9 years old to live with his aunt and uncle. The process of obtaining a student visa took his family a year. When he was 16, they adopted him and considered him their own son. But even though his aunt and uncle were U.S. citizens, Rodriguez's only option at the time was to keep renewing his student visa every two years.

He often visited Mexico with his aunt and uncle. And one time, when returning into the U.S., an immigration official told Rodriguez that as long as he was a student, he didn't need to continue renewing his visa. Rodriguez took the official's word, and it wasn't until his junior year of college that he found out the information was bogus.

An agent told Rodriguez's aunt, also from Mexico City, that the only way they could fight the deportation was by getting an attorney, making sure to inform her that it would be very expensive.

Rodriguez remembers his aunt's impassioned response. "We can afford it," she said. "My husband is a doctor, and we will do whatever it takes to keep my son here."

A judge ruled that he could finish college but on a compressed schedule. Rodriguez had to get special permission to take on extra credits, and when he finished he had to self-deport. He didn't know how long it would take to get home to the U.S., but in four months' time, Rodriguez was back into the country on a work visa.

Despite Rodriguez's problems, he believes in the immigration system because, ultimately, it worked for him. In 2008, he became a U.S. citizen. And despite Trump's rocky start and low ratings, Rodriguez thinks still believes in him and believes in his wall.

He thinks it would help cut back on drug trafficking, although the data shows that the majority of illegal drugs are snuck through ports of entry. Rodriguez also hopes that a wall would deter people wanting to enter the U.S. from making the treacherous desert trek.

Regardless of background and political affiliations, all Tucsonans basically want the same thing, Rodriguez told the crowd at the Oct. 11 forum. He doesn't like the way Tucson is being run, and said he finally decided to "get off the couch" and do something about it.

"The money that we, as Tucsonans, earn is spent sometimes frivolously, and that has been going on for many years," he said.

Rodriguez thinks the city needs a fund to maintain roads on a more regular basis and to find more efficient ways to do it. He also wants more funding for police and fire departments, a higher-quality job force and better retention of college graduates. He'd consider privatizing Reid Park Zoo to create more revenue.

Police and fire are allocated about $263.9 million out of the city's 2017/18 general fund of $492.1 million, for a total of almost 54 percent of the general fund going to public safety.

In 2009, Kozachik pushed for $5 million to go toward road repair. The next year, he pushed for 5 percent of the transportation budget to go to roads. In both cases, he couldn't get a second vote. He's also gaining support in his pitch that the Regional Transportation Authority include road repair when they reauthorize in 2025.

Kozachik voted against asking voters to approve Prop 409 in 2012 to bond for $100 million for Tucson's roads because he didn't think voters would approve it, but he was cautiously optimistic when they did. And in May, voters passed Prop 101, which will bring in an addition $100 million for road repair and capital investments for public safety over the next five years.

Rodriguez suggested that Tucson start putting some of the abandoned buildings around town to use and perhaps create police substations out of them.

He also said Raytheon has hundreds of job opening they can't fill locally because Tucson lacks an adequate workforce, and students graduating from the University of Arizona are unprepared or unwilling to fill those jobs. He would like to see local schools at the college and K-12 level add more programs to prepare students for high-skill jobs like those at Raytheon.

Kozachik believes in retaining and attracting a millennial workforce, in part, with events directed toward young professionals, like last week's TENWEST Festival. He's also working with Visit Tucson, to which the city gives financial support, and Creative Tucson, the city's media outlet, to get a booth at Austin, Texas' huge conference and festival South by Southwest in order to appeal to business leaders and young up-and-comers that Tucson may be the place for them.

Cease has quite a different plan to retain college grads and grow the local economy. He calls it A Green New Deal. It would shift job-growth focus away from bringing in national firms to growing our local sustainability sector.

"We're going to create fair-wage, meaningful work to address the issues of environmental sustainability in the form of energy conservation, solar energy, renewable, water conservation and water harvesting," he said at the forum.

Cease's plan includes moving Tucson toward 100 percent solar energy, creating a $15 minimum wage in the city limits, enhancing public transit and divesting from corporations like Wells Fargo, who invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Rodriguez said that while he thinks solar makes sense in this region, implementing it citywide is not realistic.

"Solar is not as efficient, and it also costs more money," he said. "It's a great idea, but people saying that we need to provide it as a city, I think is a bad statement because it's not the city's responsibility to actually put solar around town on everybody's rooftops."

The city has solar panels on city buildings throughout town that satisfy 12 percent of the city's electricity needs, and the council will continue to add more, said Kozachik. He said the installations pay for themselves over time.

Cease's Green New Deal starts with a realignment of budget priorities, to move money away from corporation incentives to incentives for local businesses in the sustainability sector. The New Deal would provide no-interest loans and subsidies to households for putting in solar energy and water harvesting installations.

Another component is new zoning regulation that would require environmentally sustainable criteria for new developments, which would drive the jobs part of the plan. Those same standards would apply for outside businesses looking to move to Tucson.

"The Green Party—we're a movement of social justice change," he said. "I'm here to bring substantive change with a movement behind it. We can get enough votes to pass this legislation, these ordinances, at the local level."

Cease is betting that public pressure would convince the rest of a city council that has been very supportive of luring in outside corporations and the economic boost that comes along with it. He also believes in adopting a Sanctuary City ordinance, something the mayor and council have said puts Tucson at risk of retribution from the federal government.

Rodriguez would likely face just as much opposition if elected to what is now an all-Democrat council. But like Cease, he hopes public pressure will move the council to get behind more conservative policies.

"It's probably going to be an uphill battle," he said. "I think a lot of people in Tucson need to find out what the council is currently doing."