Early Workouts

Mayoral Candidates Are Warming Up For The Upcoming Political Season

By Chris Limberis

THE BIG NEWS in the mayoral race last week: Mayor George Miller dumped his old dependable partner, Councilwoman Janet Marcus, for an attractive trophy candidate, Betsy Bolding.

Miller, who is stepping down after eight years as mayor and 14 years as the Ward 3 Councilman, endorsed Bolding about two weeks after he told the Democrats of Greater Tucson that he would evaluate each candidate with particular emphasis on their party credentials. Bolding was head of the Tucson office for Gov. Bruce Babbitt until he left office in 1986.

It's no secret that Miller isn't fond of the Democratic front-runner, former Ward 6 Councilwoman Molly McKasson. Political insiders say Miller endorsed Bolding because he doesn't think Marcus can beat McKasson in the September 7 Democratic primary.

Currents But will Miller's endorsement count for much? His track record is spotty. Two years ago, Miller supported appointed incumbent Ward 3 Michael Crawford, who was upset in the Democratic primary by Jerry Anderson. Miller also campaigned against the Water Consumer Protection Act in 1995, which was passed by 57 percent of the voters, and campaigned on behalf of the water law's repeal in 1997, which was rejected by 61 percent of the voters.

Miller's Democratic predecessor, Tom Volgy, stayed out of the primary when he gave up the mayor's office in 1991.

In Tucson elections, "You don't anoint," says Volgy, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona. "But equally important, there are no coattails in Tucson. People much bigger than me knew that. Mo Udall got burned and Bruce Babbitt didn't have any coattails."

Supervisor Raul Grijalva, a third-term Democrat who toyed with the idea of running for mayor, agrees that there "are no coattails." Grijalva effectively showed that in his first campaign in 1988 when he chased off a challenge from then-state Sen. Jaime Gutierrez, who was backed by and eased out of the District 5 Board of Supes race by then-U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini.

Endorsements also run the risk of angering Tucson voters, Volgy says.

There's little doubt, however, that Marcus, initially elected as an advocate for neighborhoods and the environment, clung to Miller's coattails in her re-election drives in 1991 and 1995. Marcus trailed in her own northeast Ward 2 in both campaigns. In 1991, she nearly lost her seat to Paul Marsh, the Republican who would go on to serve a troubled term on the Board of Supervisors. Marcus won that year by only 1,351 votes. Four years ago, she had less difficulty with Rick Grinnell, a Republican who is making a second run in Ward 2 against Marcus's former aide, Carol West, a Democrat.

Marcus hung tight with Miller, providing the mayor with critical votes on most issues, including water. Rare splits included the struggle that ousted Tom Wilson from the city manager's office six years ago and the decision--riding on Marcus' swing vote--to close the three northside entrance roads to El Con Mall.

Marcus had hoped for Miller's endorsement, after delaying her own mayoral announcement to await his re-election decision. His decision seems to have deflated Marcus's campaign, which already suffers from a lack of energy. But even those who have been cool to Marcus commend her for walking door-to-door in Barrio Hollywood and other neighborhoods.

Miller says he is "not trying to run anybody down," although his well-known antipathy toward McKasson developed during her two terms on City Council from midtown Ward 6.

"Obviously Betsy and I don't agree on everything but I felt that we need somebody who is strong on social services and can deal with the whole community," Miller says. "Because if you don't recognize the business community and if you can't deal with them and negotiate with them, then it's just all talk."

Bolding, director of consumer affairs for Tucson Electric Power, was clearly buoyed by Miller's move. But as she positioned herself as the moderate outsider who's good for business, she also labored through an appearance before the Democrats of Greater Tucson. That culminated in her clumsy handling of a predictable but necessary question from a party loyalist on whether Bolding would support the Democratic nominee if she does not win the primary.

The last time there was a crowded Democratic mayoral primary, in 1991, the candidates responded without hesitation that they support the nominee. But Bolding, in a long line of answers that contained the promise to "look" at issues, said that she would "look closely" to determine whether she could support the eventual nominee. "I would hope to be able to," she said.

At the Democratic luncheon, Bolding pledged to "listen to all sides of those difficult issues" such as Tucson Water's repeated mistakes in delivering Central Arizona Project water. On the current pilot project to serve volunteers with blended CAP water and groundwater, Bolding added: "As I said, we need to look at all sides and look at all solutions."

On the proposed development of the city's moribund Rio Nuevo property, Bolding said she and others "have to first look at the way those things tie into downtown as we know it."

THAT LOOK-AND-see strategy was on display with several candidates later in the week, at an evening forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Tucson Alliance.

The early forum itself seemed like spring training for the seven candidates who participated: Democrats Bolding, Marcus, McKasson and Emily Machala; Republican Bob Walkup; and independents Val Romero and Mike Fleishman. Libertarian Ed Kahn did not join the others. Not all these candidates will make the ballot, but this was a chance to take a few swings at questions in front of a small audience whose members were already aligned. Under the format, each candidate answered three questions put to them alone, with no time allotted for rebuttal from the others.

Walkup, a former Hughes-Raytheon executive who will face the eventual Democratic nominee in the November 2 general election, has warned about "analysis paralysis" since his campaign kicked off in February. At the same time, Walkup has dodged specific water questions. And he said at the forum that he couldn't say whether he supported a proposal for a new City Hall because he lacked "sufficient information."

In stark contrast, McKasson is clearly staking out positions even to the odd questions that the forum's organizers managed to deliver to all candidates in advance except McKasson.

McKasson drew one that instructed her to assume the water issue were solved and then discuss other "impediments to Tucson's success."

McKasson firmly refused to make that assumption, then added: "The water issue will be resolved when there is leadership that respects the people. People vote and the leadership goes around them. That's not the kind of leadership that we want in this community at all. People will vote again. I am of a mind to support Proposition 200 and aggressively do everything we can to use that (CAP) water in other ways.... The people voted. They do not want direct delivery" of CAP.

Meanwhile, another potential Democratic candidate, Pat Darcy, remained out of the lineup. A commercial real-estate agent and former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Darcy has been promising an announcement for weeks.

Miller and Volgy say time is about up for Darcy, who has yet to emerge from the bullpen, even as the June 24 nominating petition deadline looms.

Miller says the theory that Darcy is the moderate businessman who will appeal to voters who are turned off by the three leading women candidates is "nonsense." TW

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