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Robocall of Duty

Judith Gomez battles Shaun McClusky in the little-noticed Ward 5 Republican primary

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Sometimes, politicians work their way up from volunteering on campaigns to become the candidate themselves. Sometimes, they earn a position as an upstanding member of the community and are recruited by the Chamber of Commerce or the neighborhood associations.

And sometimes, they get a recorded phone call asking if they might want to run for office.

The two GOP candidates running for Tucson City Council Ward 5 in the Sept. 1 primary got into the race after the Pima County Republican Party randomly dialed GOP households seeking candidates.

The lack of interest among Republicans in Ward 5, where incumbent Democrat Steve Leal is stepping down after two decades on the City Council, is easy to understand. The deck is already stacked against Republicans in Tucson, given that for every seven Democrats, there are roughly four voters who identify with the GOP. And Ward 5 isn't home to all that many Republicans to begin with; of the southside ward's nearly 28,000 voters, only about 3,800 identify as Republicans.

Nonetheless, two Republicans answered the robocall of duty. Judith Gomez and Shaun McClusky will face off next week for the right to face Democrat Richard Fimbres in November.

Neither Republican has much experience in politics. They've each made only three trips to the polls to vote over the last decade. Gomez says she only recently developed her political convictions, while McClusky says he wasn't aware that he was eligible to vote in some elections, and he wasn't aware that others were going on.

Gomez has worked on and off in banking, started a photography business out of her home and tried her hand at writing novels, but her primary passion is raising her three boys with her husband, a sergeant with the Pima County Corrections Bureau.

Gomez says she wants to be a "universal voice for the city of Tucson and bring some accountability back to the decisions that are being made and to make sure that every decision is being made for the greater Tucson and not for small groups or select groups, but that everyone is being universally represented."

A Chicago native, McClusky worked in the hospitality industry before moving to Tucson as an A-10 crew chief with the U.S. Air Force. After some knee trouble, he left the service in 2003 and now is a co-owner of Rincon Ventures, a property-management and real estate company.

"There's an opportunity for a little bit of diversity on the City Council at this time," McClusky says. "The seat became available, and it needs to get filled so we can have a little bit of a different look going forward, so we can change the path the city has been traveling on."

When it comes to issues, it can be hard to discern many differences between the two candidates. Both candidates blast the current council for botching downtown redevelopment, allowing the streets to crumble and doing nothing to stop crime.

Both support the Public Safety First initiative on the November ballot, a proposition pushed by local real estate agents, homebuilders and police and fire unions that would require the city to hire more police and firefighters.

Neither candidate offers much in the way of specifics regarding how they'd handle the costs of the additional officers, which have been estimated by some city officials to be as much as $50 million annually when the proposition would be fully implemented in five years.

Both say the city should cut fat—including support to arts groups and other nonprofits—and trim red tape, which would result in a booming small-business environment and new tax revenues.

Both oppose a tax on residential rent payments that was proposed earlier this year by City Manager Mike Letcher, who projected the tax could raise as much as $10 million a year.

On the campaign front, neither candidate has collected much in the way of contributions. As of Aug. 12, McClusky had raised a total of $6,692 and had $3,630 left on hand, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the city last week. Gomez had raised a total of $2,716 and had $555 left in the bank.

Then again, the candidates don't need to reach that many voters: As of Aug. 20, 1,105 Republicans had requested early ballots, and 459 of them had been returned. That's roughly the same rate of return of Republican ballots in Ward 3 and Ward 6, even though the candidates in those races face no opposition.

McClusky has won a few endorsements, including nods from the Tucson Police Officers Association, the Tucson Association of Realtors and the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Robert Medler, manager of government affairs for the Chamber, says McClusky stood out because he was the only candidate the organization interviewed. Gomez, Medler recalls, had a scheduling conflict.

Medler says that McClusky "had an upbeat personality. He seems like a real go-getter."

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