Virgin Territory

Both Paula Aboud and Vicki Hart are making their first run for public office.

If you were asked which City Council candidate has wrestled a ho on the set of the Jerry Springer show, your first guess probably wouldn't be Democrat Vicki Hart.

Hart wasn't onstage battling the ho for the affections of hubby Greg, or anything like that. She was in the studio audience with her parents, visiting son A.J. in Chicago, where he had landed an internship with Springer's telecircus. The onstage action got out of hand and a ho ended up tumbling into the laps of Hart's parents. She had to put her black-belt Tae Kwon Do training into action and break up the tussle.

But that's nothing compared to the fight Hart currently finds herself in as she campaigns against Paula Aboud in next month's Ward 3 Democratic primary.

There are a lot of similarities between Hart and Aboud. Both are Tucson natives, born with a year-and-a-half of each other. Both live in midtown, off a busy stretch of Campbell Avenue between Grant and Prince roads. Both support the city's ban on smoking in restaurants. Both support the city's living-wage ordinance, which mandates that companies that contract with the city pay employees at least $8 an hour. Both support the council's recent efforts to force background checks on private transactions at gun shows at the Tucson Convention Center. Both support the council's decision to withhold funding from the Boy Scouts because the organization bans gay leaders and troops. Both say they'd take a hard line in negotiating with Eller Media in the corporation's fight against the city's billboard regulations.

And both say they didn't intend to get into the race to serve Ward 3 on the Tucson City Council. But when Councilman Jerry Anderson announced last March that his first term would also be his last, both stepped up to embark their first political campaigns.

They may share many positions, but the two candidates have very different political and personal backgrounds. Hart, who turns 53 on primary election day, left town after graduating from Rincon High to earn her B.A. in social sciences at California's Sacramento State College. She returned to Tucson to attend the UA, picking up her M.S. in rehabilitation counseling in 1975. Early in her career, she worked in alcohol and drug counseling; in recent years, she's worked a variety of jobs, including freelance reporting for the Tucson Weekly. Hart also has a long history of volunteer work on behalf of such organizations as the Community Food Bank and the Amphi School District. She currently co-chairs her neighborhood association and represents Ward 3 on the Citizens' Police Advisory Review Board.

Hart is best known as an advocate for crime victims, culminating with her current post of vice president of Homicide Survivors, a group dedicated to working with grieving families who have lost a loved one to violence. Following the acquittal of Mark Alan Austin, who killed his estranged wife in 1989, Hart played a key role in the lobbying effort for reform of Arizona's insanity defense.

Hart's victims' rights work has brought her in close orbit with the Pima County Attorney's Office. When former County Attorney Steve Neely stepped down in 1996, Hart worked Barbara LaWall's successful campaign. LaWall, who won re-election last year, has repaid the favor by giving her a contract worth nearly $25,000 a year since 1999 to put out newsletters for her office.

Running for council, says Hart, "is sort of a natural progression from where I've been going for such a long time."

Opponent Paula Aboud is a third-generation Tucsonan. Her pioneer grandfather split his time between Tucson and mining communities around Superior, working as a shopkeeper, saloon owner and entrepreneur. Her father, John Aboud, was a Tucson attorney for six decades; three of her siblings, brothers John Jr. and Mike and sister Shelley, still practice law in town.

The 51-year-old Aboud took a different path. After graduating from Tucson High in 1968, she earned a degree in English from the University of Arizona in 1972. She taught for six years at Rincon High and one year at Sabino High before leaving Tucson in 1984 for Maine, where she got involved in state politics.

Aboud returned to Tucson in 1992 and hooked up with a coalition of neighborhood associations. "I came back looking for that same grassroots sense of politics and I found it in neighborhood politics," Aboud says.

IF YOU LOOK hard, you can find areas of disagreement between the candidates. They split over the question of charging a fee for residential garbage collection to fund an estimated $48 million clean-up of contaminated landfills. Aboud says she wouldn't support a garbage fee, but she might support a "closed-end" dedicated tax down the road. Hart hasn't ruled out a garbage fee. "I'm not opposed," Hart says. "I don't know how much." She thinks any fee should be on a sliding scale to help low-income people.

When it comes to the knottier questions facing the city, neither candidate has easy answers. When they talk about transportation, for example, both candidates say the city needs a lot of improvement, but they're sketchy about the details.

"I'm not hearing ideas, I'm not hearing solutions, I'm not hearing recommendations," Aboud says. "It's obvious we've got a shortfall in the transportation department. So where's the leadership?"

The leadership, in this case, isn't coming from Aboud. She sidesteps questions about specific transportation improvements. She favors creating a new committee of citizens to make transportation decisions, right down to hiring a new transportation director for the city. Asked how'd she'd spend a potential $40 million a year if voters approve a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation, Aboud has no agenda. Instead, she questions whether the city needs the additional dollars.

Hart is more inclined to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax. "I feel like we have to look into that," she says. "I'm not saying I'm absolutely for it yet, but I know we have to look into it. We might have to sacrifice to make things better. We're playing catch-up right now." But she's also vague about how'd she'd spend the money.

Both say they support public transit, but neither sees a dramatic increase in service as an answer to Tucson's transportation puzzle.

"I would like to pretend that everybody wants to ride the bus and we're going to be able to fix it that way," Hart says. "I don't think that's going to happen. So I think we are going to do some of those major, major things."

Hart thinks the city could improve traffic flow with bus pull-outs and right-hand turn lanes, quickly. "We can start with the simple stuff," she says.

Aboud says the city should push for more carpooling and offer downtown city workers free bus passes, along with building more sidewalks and bike paths.

Both candidates support transportation impact fees for new development on the city's fringe, although they shy away from hard numbers.

Hart says transportation is a vital issue, but she puts it behind crime and safety. Despite her ties to law enforcement, Hart has been critical of the Tucson Police Department in the past and stresses the need for civilian oversight of the police department. "There needs to be outside review of the police department," she says. "I'm absolutely convinced of that."

She's critical of the police operation during the Fourth Avenue riot that followed the UA basketball team's loss in the NCAA championship last April.

"They had untrained officers out there, which is very unfortunate," Hart says. "I don't feel they were ready."

Aboud also cites a lack of training, although she stops short of saying police over-reacted. "The police did the best that they could with the training that they had," Aboud says. "I think more could have been done in preparation. I don't want to blame anybody, but I think that problem would not have existed if the citizens had acted responsibly. I'm sorry the police are coming out on the short side of it."

Aboud says the city's growing pains are her top issue.

"Every time an election comes up, I try to sense what's the cutting edge," Aboud says. "And the cutting edge right now is do we want to turn the city over to developers? From what I get out there, people don't want that. They like Tucson. They came here because they liked what it was."

IN TUCSON'S ROUGH-and-tumble politics, the question of growth is about as "cutting edge" as disco--the first time around. Still, Aboud has identified the issue that often prevails in Democratic city primaries.

The two candidates are battling for the hearts and minds of 13,294 Democrats in Ward 3, along with another 6,538 Independent voters who can cast a ballot in the primary. Only a small percentage are likely to turn out to vote. In the hard-fought 1997 primary, only 852 Democrats went to the polls; in the 1999 mayoral primary, 3,992 people voted. If this year mirrors that level of turnout, Hart and Aboud will be fighting for roughly 4,000 voters.

The trick, as always, is identifying those voters who will turn out and landing their support. So far, despite long hours on the campaign trail, neither one has done much to let the average Ward 3 resident know there's an election underway. Campaign signs, few and far between because the council voted last year to limit their placement in the right-of-way, are just popping up. Neither candidate is running a strong early ballot effort; as of Monday, August 20, just 246 voters had requested early ballots, compared to 1,120 in Ward 5, where Councilman Steve Leal is locked in a steel-cage death match with challenger Jesse Lugo. More people--260 voters--have requested early ballots in the Ward 3 GOP primary, even though Kathleen Dunbar faces no opposition.

In recent years, primary wins have gone to the candidates who have successfully courted neighborhood coalitions. Aboud has effectively worked that constituency, grabbing endorsements from the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson and a long list of 'hood activists, including John Kromko, Bonnie Poulos and Molly McKasson, the Democratic mayoral nominee in 1999. (McKasson is particularly popular in Ward 3, where she won nearly 52 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary; second-place finisher Betsy Bolding won only 30 percent.) Aboud has also grabbed an endorsements from McKasson's longtime nemesis on the council, George Miller, who represented Ward 3 for 14 years before winning the mayor's seat in 1991, and former Ward 3 Councilman Michael Crawford, who served two years after being appointed to the seat before Anderson ousted him in the Democratic primary in 1997.

Although the city's publicly financed campaign program allows them to spend up to about $60,000 in the primary, both candidates are running meager campaigns, saving dollars for the expensive citywide general election. Both have assembled comparatively modest campaign war chests. According to her most recent report, filed on July 18, Aboud had raised $8,601. Hart filed an update on August 8 reporting $9,065 in funding. Aboud has already qualified for matching funds through the city's publicly financed campaign program, which effectively doubles her money. Hart has applied for the matching funds, which requires at least 200 contributions of at least $10 from city residents. City staff say she should be approved this week.

Whoever manages to win the primary will face a tough run in the November 6 general election against Kathleen Dunbar, a poised Republican who will have plenty of support.

The 50-year-old Dunbar narrowly lost her bid for a state senate seat last year after serving one term in the Arizona House of Representatives. Earlier this year, she set her sights on the City Council, despite the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 3-2 within the city limits. Dunbar, a savvy campaigner who has good name recognition from her legislative days, is already walking precincts with her volunteers. Way back in May, she had raised more money than the Democrats combined--$30,709--and qualified for city matching funds, which put more than $60,000 at her disposal. (Candidates agree to limit spending to roughly $80,000 in exchange for matching funds.) She can also count on help from the Republican Party.

Two minor-party candidates, Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Green Ted O'Neill, will also appear on the general election ballot. In a close election, either could play a spoiler role.

Aboud is already looking past Hart and aiming at Dunbar. She frequently takes shots at the Republican, accusing her of supporting legislation that hurt the city during her time in the legislature.

"I'm not going to give away this city to someone who doesn't have a history here, or a love of this city or a vision for Tucson," says Aboud, banging her fist on a table. "I'm not going to give it up without a fight."

Hart is less inclined to bust on Dunbar, but says her potential GOP opponent is one reason she got in the race. "I don't want the Republican to win," Hart says. "I think I can beat Kathleen Dunbar and I don't think that Paula could."