by Jim Nintzel
Despite what you may have heard on the radio, Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich is not opening a restaurant in Louisiana.
“I’m not opening a restaurant in New Orleans and I don’t live there or own any property there,” says Uhlich, whose second term on the Tucson City Council comes to an end in 2013.
The New Orleans restaurant rumor was a big topic of discussion on the morning radio show of right-wing provocateur Garret Lewis.
Uhlich, who has not yet said whether she’ll seek re-election to the Ward 3 seat, has been doing some work in the New Orleans area—and she says she has been doing that for years.
Uhlich heads up the Center for Economic Integrity, a non-profit organization she founded after leaving her job running the Primavera Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to helping Pima County’s homeless.
The Center for Economic Integrity’s work, which has included battling payday lenders, is focused in the Southwest.
But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Uhlich was contacted by the philanthropic Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
“They wanted to come up with a strategy so that local people in the Gulf region were hired into jobs as the area rebuilt from the hurricane,” Uhlich says. “So I have been working in the Gulf region, under the auspices of the non-profit, since 2005 or 2006.”
Uhlich says the main thrust of her Louisiana work is creating non-profit staffing organizations similar to Primavera Works, which is designed to find job placement for day laborers and other workers. Primavera Works was launched as an alternative to other temp staffing companies that were hiring people but then charging them fees and otherwise nickel-and-diming them before cashing their checks.
“It’s a way to make sure that people who might otherwise not be able to get work can get past whatever barriers there are to get the job,” Uhich says. “In New Orleans, there was real concern that Labor Ready and a lot of other organizations were opening up shop and it was not clear that it would be local residents who would benefit from all the jobs that resulted from the rebuilding.”
Uhlich says she’s been working with three groups in the Gulf region and “the business that is opening is actually a couple of non-profit staffing companies modeled after Primavera Works. The good news is that … they’ve been open for some time now to serve the disadvantaged workers in the region.”
Uhlich isn’t sure where the rumor about opening a restaurant came from, but she says that one of the non-profits she works with, Catholic Charities, has been running a non-profit restaurant for some time.
“I ain’t no chef, that’s for sure,” she says with a laugh.
State Sen. Frank Antenori, who lost his bid for reelection last month after redistricting put him in a competitive district, started the restaurant rumor with a call to Lewis’ show.
He said the call was inspired by hearing Lewis read the bios of council members on the air, including a reference to job creation, “and I called in, jokingly, and said she’s doing such a good job of it, she decided to go open up a restaurant in New Orleans and is helping create jobs in New Orleans. It was a sarcastic comment. … He took it and ran with and said she’s spending more time in New Orleans than in Tucson. She’s creating more jobs in New Orleans than she is in Tucson.”
Uhlich expects that Lewis is attempting to “portray is as I don’t really live here and I’m missing a lot of meetings and not paying attention to Tucson.”
Uhlich did miss the last council meeting, but it was because she was visiting her father in Michigan.
Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, a Republican who has clashed with Antenori in the past, says the outgoing state senator and morning radio host are barking up the wrong tree in complaining that Uhlich has been missing council meetings.
“Nobody on the council, including the mayor, has any problem at all with Karin’s attendance record,” Kozachik says. “Everybody has to miss a day from time to time and she is doing an exemplary job of being at the council meeting, participating and providing quality input. So whatever Mr. Lewis and Mr. Antenori are alleging are inventions of their alleged minds.”