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Disquiet on the Eastern Front

Ward 2 City Council: Democrat Rodney Glassman takes on Republican Lori Oien

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Back in her late teens, Lori Oien saddled up on her horse and chased after a kid she believed had robbed her parents' house. A few days earlier, a burglar had lifted, among other things, her mother's engagement ring.

She managed to corner the suspect and warned him that the horse might trample him if he tried to run. Instead of trying to escape, he broke down and confessed, revealing he'd already pawned the ring. The police arrested the burglar, while the family eventually recovered the ring.

It wasn't Oien's last taste of law-enforcement--she's now married to a state trooper and has been a leader in efforts against drunk driving--but she says it illustrates her "take-charge" attitude: "I'm not afraid to jump in and get things done."

But the 48-year-old Republican is having a much harder time corralling Democrat Rodney Glassman, her opponent in the race to replace retiring Carol West in the eastside Ward 2 City Council seat that voters will decide Nov. 6.

Glassman, the 29-year-old law student who moved to Tucson about 10 years ago, has a number of advantages in the race, beginning with voter-registration numbers. Republicans are not only outnumbered by Democrats, but by independent voters as well. And the current political atmosphere hardly favors the GOP, even at the local level.

When it comes to major issues facing the city, Oien and Glassman don't have many areas of disagreement. Both oppose Proposition 200, the mixture of a garbage-tax repeal and water restrictions, on the November ballot. Both say the city's trash fee is necessary, although Glassman frequently complains that the previous City Council was insensitive regarding the manner in which it implemented the fee. Both say they support the city's "sustainability plan," which is steadily adding more cops and firefighters and fixing long-neglected streets.

On the campaign trail, Glassman is a spigot of ideas: Developers should include plumbing systems that recover "graywater"--water that's used in washing machines and other household activities that can do double-duty in irrigation--in new homes; commercial development should be required to harvest rain water; the city should invest in vans that volunteers could drive to help seniors get around town.

Oien, who has been active in her neighborhood association, has focused more on the important task of supporting law enforcement, suggesting that the bed tax that currently supports arts funding should instead be directed to public safety. She worries that Glassman's proposal to open up schoolyards as parks after classes are done for the day would create problems with vandalism and stranger danger.

Oien also warns the city is spending too much--although she has no idea what she'd cut besides waste in every department. "These are not significant cuts, but when you start making lots of little cuts all around, it can certainly add up."

Glassman's City Council campaign is the culmination of years of effort to develop a political network. He has worked for both Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva and Republican restaurateur Bob McMahon, created a nonprofit foundation to raise money for children's charities and frequently sought the spotlight, whether through singing the national anthem at UA basketball games or putting his picture on a billboard declaring his love for a girlfriend. (The relationship later fizzled.)

Glassman has tapped his vast social circle to outdo Oien on the fundraising front, which is especially impressive given that he limited individual contributions to $20. Glassman raised more than $45,897, which has been matched by $45,877 in public dollars under the city's matching-funds program. He still had $60,000 in the bank at the end of September.

Oien, by contrast, had raised about $40,000, including about $16,000 in matching funds.

Recognizing that she is the underdog in the race, Oien has gone on the attack, drawing attention to environmental issues faced by Glassman's family's farming enterprise in California. Glassman, who enjoys considerable financial support from the business, has shrugged off the criticism.

"I'm saddened that my opponent has chosen to focus on my immigrant grandfather's business in California as opposed to creating a dialogue on issues that are facing the city of Tucson," Glassman says.

Glassman points to the wide range of support his campaign has received. He touts endorsements from the Sierra Club as well as the Tucson Association of Realtors, and from labor unions to the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

"We're proud of all the neighborhood activists and environmentalists and other members of the community who have chosen to support us," Glassman says.

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