Ward 3 will have a new council member by the end of 2017. Karin Uhlich, the Democrat who has represented the north-central ward for 12 years, announced last year that she wouldn't seek reelection.
Ward 3's roughly 18,000 Democrats and 12,000 independent voters will choose between three Democrats in the Aug. 29 primary: Paul Durham, a former corporate attorney who now spends his time as an advocate for solar energy and youth cycling; Tom Trondal, a business owner who has been active in the nonprofit sector; and Felicia Chew, a schoolteacher who served on the city's Citizens Police Review Board. The winner of the primary will face independent candidate Gary Watson in the November general election; no Republican candidate filed to run.
All the voters eligible to vote in the race will be mailed ballots this week. They can return the ballot in the mail or drop it off with city officials on or before Aug. 29.
The three candidates agree on many things. All of them want a more robust bus system, better outreach to Ward 3 neighborhoods and good jobs for Tucsonans.
But they split on some key issues. When it comes to the plan to widen Grant Road to six lanes between Stone Avenue and Swan Road, Tronsdal says he agrees with the plan approved by voters, although he acknowledges that it will create hardships for some of the businesses on Grant Road.
"We need more thoroughfares, especially as the city has grown, stretching from I-10 across town," Tronsdal says. "The hard part is, any sort of progress with transportation requires sacrifice by some people and it's an awful trade off. ... Once Grant Road becomes better, that will be great, and you want new business to come in after the project is completed."
Durham says the need to widen Grant Road springs from the decision to not build freeways in Tucson.
"As a result of a decision not to build freeways, the city is dependent on major arterials for much of its auto traffic and car and truck traffic and we do need to recognize that fact and what we need to develop is an efficient surface street network," Durham says.
While he's concerned about some of the details of the Grant Road plan—such as the city's decision to not build sound walls in residential areas—he says at least the city is using rubberized asphalt to quiet the sounds of traffic. And the rebuilt Grant Road "will become more bicycle friendly—it could hardly be less."
But Chew has a different vision: Widening the road but keeping traffic restricted to two lanes in each direction, which the other lanes dedicated to bikes and pedestrians.
"Ideally, what I would love to see is a place where we don't have as many cars so we don't need six lanes just for car traffic but we have a lane for bicycles, so one of those lanes becomes just a bicycle back-and-forth lane," Chew says. "And then even one of the lanes is pedestrian friendly. Now some people may be saying that's only a pipe dream, but that's where change comes from, when we start having those discussions."
They also split on the two initiatives on the November ballot that would hike sales taxes.
The first one, Strong Start Tucson, would increase the sales tax by a half-cent to raise an estimated $50 million annually to fund preschool for Tucson kids. The proposition has the support of many early childhood education advocates, but some critics say the details in the proposition are too vague and too much money—up to 8 percent a year, or an estimated $4 million—could be spent on administrative expenses. Strong Start Tucson proponents say that money will help cover the administrative costs of running the program, as well the costs to the city and state of collecting the tax.
Durham says he has yet to decide how he will vote on the proposal. He acknowledges the need for better preschool opportunities for kids—"It's how you level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots"—but he is concerned about how much of the proposal relies on a future committee to hammer out details about what a high-quality preschool is and how the money will be distributed.
Tronsdal agrees there's a need for better preschool opportunities, but he's also concerned about how Strong Start Tucson is structured. Affording childcare is "a struggle for everybody and giving all working families the ability to have more choice is great," he says. "But this is not the best way to do it. I have a lot of reservations because when you change the city charter, it will become nearly impossible to reverse. I would rather see a pilot program implemented, followed by a five-year renewable plan, to increase access to early childhood education. As well, I have a lot of concerns about how the money is going to be distributed."
But Chew is all in on the proposal.
She says after conversations with the initiative's backers, she is convinced the money will be well spent and the programs will be good for kids and their parents.
"People in poverty, they can't afford (childcare)," Chew says. "So we really need to level the playing field."
Likewise, Tronsdal says a proposition on the November ballot to hike the sales tax by one-tenth of a cent to fund improvements at the zoo is the wrong way to go.
"I love the zoo," Tronsdal says. "However, a sales tax just for the zoo is not the best policy for the city of Tucson right now."
Durham also has high praise for the zoo, but says he questions "funding our parks one by one. I don't think that's a good idea. I would rather see us come up with a comprehensive plan for improving our parks citywide or regionwide. I think that's a better way to go."
Chew says she's in favor of the sales tax for the zoo. "You're looking at pennies," she says. "And when you look at what the zoo provides for our community, how it's a kind of tourist attraction for folks to come to the zoo, we need to invest in the zoo."
If your home's legacy meant a difference in the election, Paul Durham would have a leg up. Durham lives in the late Tucson mayor George Miller's old home, just a magical stone's throw from the enchanted fairyland known as the Valley of the Moon on Allen Road, just south of the Rillito River off Country Club Road.
Since he bought the house in 2009, Durham has outfitted it with solar panels—he says he produces more electricity than he uses—and a massive 10,000-gallon water tank that captures the rainfall from his rooftop.
Renewable energy is one of the central planks in Durham's campaign, which is also focused on neighborhoods, jobs and transportation.
Armed with a Stanford law degree, Durham worked as a corporate attorney and did well enough that he was able to retire to Tucson in the early 2000s. He helped former TV anchorwoman Nina Trasoff win a City Council seat in 2005. Durham served as Trasoff's chief of staff for her first year in office before leaving city politics, although he also stayed involved in Democratic politics, serving as treasurer of the Pima County Democratic Party.
He decided it was time to get back into the arena after the election of Donald Trump.
"I went into a period of shock after the election in November and as I started to come out of it, I thought about what I could do to address the bad situation we're in and decided to act locally where I know I can make a difference," Durham says.
Durham has been endorsed by his former boss Trasoff, state lawmakers Randy Friese and Andrea Dalessandro, former state lawmakers Matt Heinz and Bruce Wheeler, and Progressive Democrats of America, Tucson Chapter.
Tom Tronsdal first arrived in Tucson as a teenager. Raised by a single mom, Tronsdal attended high school—and built some lifelong friendships—at Salpointe Catholic and then earned a degree at the University of Arizona. He got a law degree at the University of Kansas, but decided being a lawyer didn't fit. He had a variety of jobs—including managing a Planet Hollywood in New Orleans—before he returned to Tucson in 2001.
Today, he's the owner of Canyon Fence Company, a small business that he purchased from the original owner, a family friend. He says his experience running Canyon Fence helps him understand the challenges that small business owners face in Tucson.
But he's in tune with the nonprofit world as well. He and his wife Amanda have a son with special needs and to raise money and awareness of neurological conditions, he founded the 5K Great Pumpkin Race. Tronsdal serves on the board of directors of the Abbie School, where his son goes to school, as well as the Arizona Center for Autism Board of Directors and the Arizona Hydrocephalus Association Board.
His experience with the city includes serving on the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Small Business Commission.
Tronsdal has been endorsed by Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who district overlaps with Ward 3. “Many candidates running for office often talk a good game about community involvement,” Bronson said in a letter that went out this week. “Not Tom—he has put his time and effort in making our community a better place to live, raise a family and work. He knows what it is like for many families struggling to make ends meet and will work hard to be their voice on the City Council.”
He’s also been endorsed by the Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Multihousing Association, Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, Pima County Constable Bennett Bernal and a collection of business owners, including Tony Terry of Gaslight Theatre, Brent Kyte of Pizza Hut Arizona, Ray Flores of El Charro restaurant and Melanie Morrison of MEB management.
"I can't change what happens in Washington, or even in Phoenix or the Board of Supervisors," Tronsdal says about his decision to run for City Council. "But I can change my neighborhood. And there isn't a neighborhood, barely a road, that in my lifetime I haven't ridden my bike on, walked on, run on or driven my car through. I know my ward backwards and forwards. And I want it to be a place where I live for the rest of my life. I remodeled my house so I'd never have to leave. This is my home. I have the opportunity to bring all these parties together, then why wouldn't I want to do it?"
Teacher Felicia Chew moved to Tucson in 2011 after working as a teacher on a New Mexico Native American reservation.
She says she got into the race because, after her years of working in education, she came to realization that "city government is kind of where we need to have processes in place to help all of the different constituents."
Chew has already quit her job teaching in TUSD because she wants to focus on being a fulltime council member.
Chew has faced some criticism because she didn't start voting in Tucson until 2015. She says she didn't cast ballots because she found politics to be too divisive and was facing troubling issues in her personal life.
She also copped to voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in last year's presidential election, saying she believed Hillary Clinton would win anyway and so she could safely cast a vote
Asked questions about transportation projects such as the Broadway widening between downtown and County Club and she launches into discussions about the important of building consensus and bringing the community together, but doesn't take a position on the project itself. "I wasn't there, so I don't know how I would have voted," she says.
She's aware of her tendency to ramble.
I've been told that people don't want a philosopher, they want someone who is going to come up with a policy," she says. "And yes, we need to come up with a policy but at the same time, we can't continue to have this fighting."
Chew landed endorsements from the current Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich this week. Uhlich said she decided to endorse Chew after watching an interview U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two of the Republicans (along with Arizona Sen. John McCain) who voted against the so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act and torpedoed, at least for now, the efforts to flush Obamacare.
"It matters having women in elected office," Uhlich wrote on Facebook. "Felicia Chew, running in Ward 3 Tucson, spoke out early for Strong Start Tucson. I respect her stand; I respect her for running; I think she would add the voice most needed on the Tucson City Council now."
Chew has also been endorsed by former state lawmaker Victoria Steele and Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams, as well as Arizona's List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice women to office, and Las Adelitas Arizona, a group of women who seek to boost turnout among female Hispanic voters.