Trail of TU$D Contributions

Ireland rakes in collections; Rodriguez busts the bank; Burns pinches pennies

To retain the TUSD governing board seat he has held since 1989, Joel T. Ireland drained several campaign accounts of $34,960 and spent 58 cents on each of the 59,516 votes that fell his way Nov. 2.

Judy Burns also was re-elected to the TUSD board. She spent nothing to win a second term, and even with the zeros on her ledger, Burns received just a few votes less than did Ireland--six-tenths of a percentage point, to be exact.

And then came Alex Rodriguez, whose political ambition tops even Ireland's. Rodriguez, who two years ago pleaded for appointment to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, topped all spending for TUSD candidates. To win the third open seat on the five-member TUSD board, Rodriguez spent $37,985. His treasury hit $41,554, including $16,000 of his own money.

TUSD board members receive no salary.

Ireland, a 51-year-old lawyer and Episcopalian priest, also was nervous enough to spend his own money. Post-election campaign finance reports on file with the county Division of Elections show Ireland pumped $3,757 of his own money into his campaign. The reports also show the usual contributions from teachers and administrators who are beholden to Ireland--or at least his vote--for their jobs.

But it was the teacher's union, the Tucson Education Association, that wired the biggest boost for Ireland's re-election campaign. TEA's political arm dropped $6,000 into an independent political committee that went by the name of Parents for Achievement and Safe Schools. The title covered up what was clearly not a grassroots parents' movement. TEA was the sole contributor to the committee, which, with remarkable tidiness, spent every dime--and not a cent more. Such pinpoint spending is almost never seen in campaigns.

The $6,000 assist for Ireland is wrapped in secrecy. Ireland, who by law was to have no contact with the independent committee, did not return calls from the Weekly to his home, his law office or the TUSD board office. Michael and Susan Delaney, the chairman and treasurer of Parents for Achievement and Safe Schools, did not return repeated calls from the Weekly. TEA President Paul Karlowicz said the contribution was not without some controversy among TEA's political action commitee. Karlowicz said Ireland has improved since backing temporary teacher contracts six years ago.

Parents for Achievement and Safe Schools' post-election report shows heavy spending on radio advertising late in the campaign. The committee paid $2,970.75 to Citadel Broadcast Group, the operators of five Tucson radio stations. Another $1,320 went to Journal Broadcast Group, which has four Tucson radio stations. And the committee gave the John C. Scott Show $700.

The group burned off the surplus by giving Annie Foster Mackay--a TUSD counselor and one of Ireland's dearest friends--$400 for unspecified "consulting services." Mackay, 57, and her husband, Robert Mackay, frequently join Ireland for drinks after TUSD board meetings. She is paid $61,150 a year. Robert Mackay is the principal of TUSD alternative education, where Ireland's son, Aaron, was given a job three years ago. Robert Mackay, 54, is paid $86,809 a year.

The Delaneys pocketed $600.25 for their trouble, or, as the report claims, for "consulting, writing, editing, production and distribution of radio commercial."

The final $9 went to Wells Fargo for a monthly service fee.

Longtime political pollster and analyst Margaret Kenski calls it a "mystery" why a multi-term incumbent with name recognition would spend such an amount for a school board race. TUSD incumbents seem to be generally safe, she said.

"There always seem to be so much turmoil in TUSD, but it doesn't seem to have any fallout for incumbents," Kenski said.

Creation of Parents for Achievement and Safe Schools enabled TEA to evade campaign finance laws that limit contributions to candidates from political action committees to $350, the same ceiling that was applied this year to individual contributors.

The Delaneys are not typical political operatives. Susan Noyes Delaney, a 44-year-old Democrat, voted in 1994 primary and general elections and did not cast another ballot in Tucson until the 2002 general election, voter registration records show. She voted in the 2003 city general election and this year's general election. There is no Michael Delaney registered to vote at the couple's home in the 2200 block of East Water Street.

Rodriguez, a marketing manager at Raytheon, tried to win appointment to succeed Raul Grijalva on the Board of Supervisors when the Democrat retired to mount his successful first campaign for Congress in 2002. Rodriguez mostly impressed Supervisor Ann Day, who, as a Republican, was on the wrong side of the aisle from the board's Democratic majority. The post instead went to Richard Elias.

Rodriguez will keep the officially nonpartisan TUSD board full of Democrats. And, like those he will join in January, he has no children in TUSD schools. He is an establishment-backed politician who is sponsored by former homebuilder Bill Estes, Jr., and supported financially by car dealers Jim Click and his family and R.B. O'Rielly; land speculator and investor Donald R. Diamond's family; and land speculator Stanley P. Abrams.

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