Three’s Company

Trio of eastsiders vying for city council in Ward 4

Republican Michael Hicks, Green Cara Bissell and Democrat Nikki Lee want to be your next city council member.
Republican Michael Hicks, Green Cara Bissell and Democrat Nikki Lee want to be your next city council member.
With Democrat Shirley Scott giving up her City Council seat after six terms, three candidates are vying to replace her in southeast side Ward 4.

This year, voters will choose between Democrat Nikki Lee, who introduced herself to voters in an unsuccessful bid for the Arizona Legislature last year; Republican Michael Hicks, who served eight years on the Tucson Unified School District board before losing the general election in 2018; and Green Party candidate Cara Bissell, a retired New York City school teacher.

Lee, like many other Tucson residents, found herself setting down roots in the city via Davis-Monthan. The Air Force veteran grew up in rural Illinois, and knew from a young age she wanted to work in the tech industry.

Her love of computers led her to a career in Information Technology, and she served in Missouri and South Korea before coming to Tucson 16 years ago.

"When you get out of the Air Force they ask you if you want to go back to your home of record, and I didn't want to go anywhere else," Lee said. "I loved Tucson and I wanted to stay here and start a family."

Despite her connection to the city, one thing she did struggle with in Tucson was a lack of good job opportunities. Even with her experience, Lee had to commute elsewhere and work remotely before she found a job in the city.

"It left me wanting to create a better future for Tucson's children," she said. "I want to support efforts to create a diversified economy so we have a range of different job opportunities."

Lee applauds the work of Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the current council for making Tucson a more business-friendly community to outside companies. While she hopes to be Tucson's "ambassador to the tech industry," Lee also wants to help generate more jobs in trade, hospitality and other sectors.

"I want to improve the process that people have to go to get their business started," she said. "I want to make their interaction with the city as efficient as possible."

To encourage more people to take advantage of public transportation, Lee wants to see city government try to connect Sun Tran routes in a more efficient way for getting people across town, especially in Ward 4, where businesses and homes are spread out, making residents vehicle-dependent.

Regarding the upcoming Proposition 205, also known as the sanctuary city initiative, Lee falls in line with other Tucson Democrats who say they believe in the spirit of the initiative, but can't ignore its potential consequences.

"The potential loss of a lot of state-shared revenue funds, which would impact our ability to deliver services—we can't ignore that risk," she said. "But whatever the voters decide to do, I will stand with them and defend them."

As for the Tucson Police Department, Lee says they're doing "innovative" work to address their high response times for non-emergency calls, but it is still a matter of getting more officers to join the force.

As the youngest person in the race, Lee believes she can represent Tucson as a place that millennials from out of town want to move to and invest their time in.

"I'm a millennial and Tucson has been toward the bottom of the list of cities millenials want to come to," she said. "I want to use this role to show millenials that Tucson is a great place to live, work and play and be that example for the generation I'm a part of."

Lee's major opponent is former Tucson Unified School District Board president Michael Hicks, who has been looking to run for city council for the last two and a half years.

"I just saw the things that were going on within the City of Tucson that I felt was not working properly," Hicks said. "Like my foster father, I love this town and I want to see this town prosper and grow and I want to see it become an economic development community."

Hicks' foster father, Lew Murphy, was elected as Mayor of Tucson four times, serving for 16 years from 1971 to 1987. He believes the experience of watching Murphy conduct himself as mayor and collaborate with others is something he would bring to the table as well.

"I started off in TUSD in turmoil and I ended up being the president of the board and being able to get the board to function and get things done," he said. "I did a lot of things in TUSD that benefited students, staff and teachers."

Hicks believes the best way to promote the success of local small businesses (which he says are the backbone of Tucson) is to streamline the city's permitting services.

"They'll have eight people coming in on one particular part of that development and they all say different things," Hick said. "It's frustrating for people who want to build their businesses. We need to deal with permitting processes."

Like other candidates, Hicks acknowledges the low number of police officers in the city's force. He says it's "appalling," and would like to prioritize hiring more officers if elected. His goal is to have at least 1,200 sworn police officers by the end of his first year in office.

"I'm not in favor of raising taxes to do that," Hicks said. "I believe we have the funding already, we just have to go through our budget."

On city transportation, Hicks wants to see more foresight in planning road projects. He believes the city doesn't plan or prioritize their funding for roads in the most effective way.

As the director of Management Information Systems at Sun Tran, Hicks feels the bus system is great and works well, but suggests that the city could start buying smaller buses and have more circulators to make the routes more efficient. He also wishes the Sun Link streetcar was built to travel down Broadway Boulevard, instead of being isolated to the downtown area.

Hicks opposes Prop 205, because he believes Tucson is already an immigrant-friendly city and the risks associated with the initiative are too high.

"I can tell you I'm going to vote 'no' and I hope it fails," Hicks said. "There's already a bill in the state legislature that will take our money if it passes. They have the ability to take away $115 million. This city cannot thrive, we're going to shrivel up and die if this passes."

Cara Bissell, the Green Party candidate, is the only candidate in the race to enthusiastically support Prop 205. She says it's the direction a majority of people in Tucson want to go, and that public officials should respond to and follow grassroots movements happening in their communities.

"Prop. 205 is a moral issue," she said. "Steve Kozachik has said don't make it a personal issue, make it an issue of the black-and-white facts in the case, and if you do that, you're throwing the people that are dealing with family separations under the bus."

She says the initiative is not a referendum on the city's police department. Bissell believes the police are doing a great job, but there needs to be improvement. She notes that there are fewer than 800 police officers in the city right now and the city needs more cops on the street.

Bissell wants to see the council increase transparency with homeowners in an area that's facing a new development, especially in the downtown area where new high-rises are popping up.

Commenting on the recent Benedictine Monastery rezoning, Bissell notes that oftentimes, constructive conversations between residents and developers just don't happen.

She believes pressure from the community, in the form of writing letters and calling elected representatives, is the way to go.

"We have to be out there going to the corporations, explaining our positions and how we want to have the moral high ground, how can we work together to solve this, to be more loving and more ethical within that frame," she said.

Early ballots for the general election will be mailed out beginning Thursday, Oct. 10. The general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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