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The Skinny

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WHY RUN WHEN YOU CAN GET APPOINTED? Virginia "Ginger" Yrun may have not been on the first list--the one devised the very night the man she succeeded had died--but she was on the rest of the early ones and the one that mattered. Yrun's selection to fill the term of state Sen. Andy Nichols is clearly one to put in the column of Democratic Supervisor Sharon Bronson.

It was Bronson's aide, Leslie Nixon, who made the first call to Yrun on Friday. An old pal of Yrun, Bronson hung out, possibly doing some work, at Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona when Yrun was the agency head. And Bronson was absolutely giddy to help on Yrun's run in the special Democratic primary election to fill Mo Udall's congressional seat in 1991. Bronson let it be known then that it was punishment against Tom Volgy, then Tucson's mayor, who has said he still probably wouldn't have been able to beat Ed Pastor. Democratic Supervisor Dan Eckstrom was Pastor's honcho in Tucson, a connection that has paid off with a lot of federal money in Pima County.

Bronson, Eckstrom and fellow Democrat Raul Grijalva weren't put off by Yrun's moves in and out of the Republican Party (she last was a Republican up until her campaign for Udall's seat), nor her support for Republican Jim Kolbe against Democrat Jim McNulty in Congressional District 5.

Yrun wasn't the first person Bronson sought out. Indeed, the night Nichols died, Bronson phoned George Cunningham, the Democrat who held the District 13 state senate seat before Nichols. Bronson's speed sharply conflicted with what she was telling the Tucson Citizen about the appointment process: "Now is not the time for politics," she told the ever-gullible Citizen. "It's a time for mourning Andy and celebrating his life."

In fact, the Citizen was far off on each detail of the replacement and Yrun's appointment. First, the Citizen erroneously told its few readers that state law required District 13 precinct leaders to forward the names of three nominees to the Board of Supervisors and that the board no longer had sole discretion. Wrong. That piece of legislation was championed by former Rep. Kathleen Dunbar, a Republican who was unhappy her pal Brenda Even was not chosen to succeed Even's late husband on the Board of Supervisors in 1997. But it lacked Justice Department approval and never became law. When it corrected that information, in a one-source story the next day, the Citizen couldn't help spit out another error, calling county districts wards.

Nichols' family, meanwhile, contacted legislators, precinct captains and supervisors to have the seat go to his wife, Ann. That full-court press removed from consideration state Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the first-year Democrat who said she would defer to the Nichols family. When Giffords had second thoughts, she was told by county officials: too bad, too late.

The Citizen blew that and also incorrectly reported that Cunningham's stock fell when he said he would not seek to retain the seat in the 2002 election. To the contrary, he said he would run for election.

Next came utter nonsense in the Citizen that the Board of Supervisors would "start naming names and see who gets three votes." Ha. This error was repeated in Tuesday's early edition on the day Yrun was named. The Citizen also allowed Grijalva to say the selection was "going to be raw and in public." Another laugh. It was carefully rehearsed.

In its story on the day of the appointment, the Citizen incorrectly claimed that the list had expanded. Actually, it had shrunk. Giffords was off. Ted Downing, a talk-a-holic failed legislative candidate, was never on. And county Democratic boss David Bradley was mentioned--but by Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll. Finally, supervisors could not accommodate the oversized and heavy baggage that Ann Nichols brought.

When supervisors gathered for the vote, the Citizen wasn't even there. All the action--including Grijalva's ruling barring the Nichols family and friends from speaking--was done. The paper lucked out only because the Nichols family lingered, awaiting Yrun.

Cunningham may have been the biggest loser. Having proved conclusively last November just how bad a candidate he was by spending more than a half-million bucks only to get totally creamed by Kolbe, Cunningham last week proved that he also had no clue about seeking the appointment for the state senate seat he held until this year.

The vacancy created by Nichols' death drew a response from Cunningham that he was "available"--a position that failed to impress the three-member Democrat majority on the board of supes. While Cunningham was displaying his usual arrogance, some of his former colleagues were working hard to deny him the post, including District 11 Democrat Sen. Elaine Richardson. Richardson is part of the large pack of Demos in search of a new congressional district, which includes about half of those currently serving in the legislature, Grijalva, Deputy County Attorney Mary Judge Ryan (who lost the primary to Cunningham last time), Cunningham himself, a couple of constables from Pinal County and a utility infielder.

Cunningham would have had a lock had he done any follow-through on the aforementioned legislation he supposedly helped carry that required supervisors to choose from a list of three candidates drawn up by precinct committee people of the party whose candidate won election in the district. Demos forwarded the names of Cunningham, Giffords and Ann Nichols. Cunningham had the most votes from the precinct folks; the board was shying away from Mrs. Nichols' bizarre behavior with late death-row inmate Tony Chaney; and picking Giffords would have just made it necessary to find a replacement for her. (The two GOP board members were inert in this process, Supervisor Ann Day by choice, Supervisor Ray Carroll by the choice of his colleagues.)

The law in question is languishing in front of the U.S. Justice Department awaiting approval under the Voting Rights Act. Supervisors Grijalva and Eckstrom filed formal complaints based on some esoteric point of law, but certainly motivated by a statute reducing their personal discretion. Republican claims that the bill was actually shepherded through the legislature by state Rep. Kathleen Dunbar seem valid considering that: (1) It was a GOP legislature that passed the bill; (2) It was Pima Democrats who opposed it and have it hung up with the feds; (3) Cunningham really didn't give a rat's ass about it and did nothing to move it on with those feds.

In choosing Yrun, the three Democrat supes basically told their own party workers to stuff it and got around a law duly passed by the legislature by stalling its approval. Yrun is a longtime friend of Bronson; her father Mario, a longtime member of the county Industrial Development Authority, is close to Eckstrom; and we're willing to bet that should a new congressional district land somewhere near here, she will not run for it but will support Grijalva.

A final point: much has been made about whether Yrun could win the District 13 seat in the 2002 election, given the close voter registration between Democrats and Republicans. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the new five-member reapportionment committee will be redrawing the political maps, and that Pima County will be losing at least one legislative seat. District 13 will likely sport a whole new look, and Yrun may find herself running against an incumbent senator like Republican Toni Hellon in District 12.


RAVE REVIEW: Tucson Police Department officers recently crashed a rave at the Downtown Event Center and seized the money that had been collected at the door. TPD brass claim they had to snatch the cash as proof the dance party wasn't sponsored by a non-profit organization and was thus required to get a dancehall permit.

Swooping in at the last minute to grab the proceeds is the kind of shakedown you'd expect from the Mafia. We know the cops' budget is tight (and the department did blow at least $200,000 on that Fourth Avenue fiasco last month), but if TPD wants a piece of the rave action, they ought to organize their own event. At the very least, they could have paid the DJs.

Rave organizer Gino Carlucci filed suit in federal court against TPD to recover the proceeds. In what sure smells like a retaliatory move, the cops raided last Saturday's rave at the same location. Of the roughly 1,800 kids in attendance, police were able to make 13 arrests, for a handful of drug violations, underage drinking and high crimes like breaking a flowerpot and urinating in public. Nice work, Columbo! Get those whiz kids off the street before someone gets hurt! Fortunately, nobody lost an eye in this operation.

At the risk of getting pelted with TPD's non-lethal beanbags, we suggest this chickenshit operation is an embarrassment to the force. Don't they have real crimes to investigate?


PRIME CUTS: New City Manager James Keene has backed the Tucson City Council into a financial corner as deliberations on the city's proposed $894.5 million budget begin next week. Keene has recommended the council sock renters with a 2 percent tax, bus riders with a reduction in services, kids with cutbacks in after-school programs and everyone with a $6 fee for garbage pick-up. Keene's alternative: reduce spending for some departments and agencies by 10 percent.

The Skinny has its own suggestions for spending cuts:

· Last year, "Smiling" Bob Walkup and the council raised spending on their own offices to $2.65 million, a whopping 22 percent increase over the previous year. In the process, they added eight-and-a-half new staff positions to the city payroll. That's the first place to look for cutbacks.

· Keene says city employees need big raises, but they have little to cry about. On average, city workers have enjoyed annual raises of 4 to 7 percent. That's good pay for this low-wage burg, particularly as we watch the ongoing economic meltdown.

· The council should demand to know what across-the-board cuts of 2 or 4 percent for all city-funded departments and agencies would mean. We don't expect that to happen, mostly because the majority of council members aren't interested in budgetary minutiae unless they can squeeze some headlines out of the local dailies.

· And what about small cuts? Perhaps the city could cut back on dues for professional organizations.

The council needs to let Keene know this ain't Berkeley, his former place of employment. Tucson remains a poor community that doesn't demand much from its local government--and we hate taxes.

During the last economic downturn 10 years ago, the city budget was in much worse shape than it is now, but that council was able to maintain services while holding the line on taxes. Council members spent time learning the budgetary process rather than turning it over to the city manager. Are our current council members capable of doing the same?


AND SPEAKING OF BUDGET BLOAT: After a public meeting on May 14, the City Council will likely put three city charter changes on the November ballot. Like obedient lapdogs, the majority of the council will do the bidding of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and ask voters to make city elections non-partisan, expand the power of the mayor in small but significant ways and increase the number of city wards from six to eight.

If voters approve the ward expansion, it will cost taxpayers a bundle. The average ward budget is now more than $330,000. On top of that, the capital expense for securing office space for new ward offices could exceed $500,000. And there's the expense of adding more seats to the council chambers.

So are current council members willing to cut their budgets by a combined $660,000 a year? And is the Southern Arizona Leadership Council--which has many members who aren't even city residents--willing to pony up a half-million bucks for the new offices? Or is that just another tab the suckers in the city are supposed to pick up to make life better for the top dogs?


HIGH-WIRE ACT: The AC/DC muckety-mucks at Tucson Electric Power are revving up their drive to string unsightly high-voltage lines through southern Arizona's lovely outback and ultimately connect to Mexico. If successful, the greedy utility will be able to harvest big bucks from selling juice to the Sonoran market, while Arizona gets nothing but another ugly scar across its already threatened landscape.

Adding insult to injury, at least one of TEP's proposed transmission lines would slice through five miles of the beautiful Coronado National Forest near Nogales. Nothing like a behemoth power tower to enhance your wilderness experience.

The first step of this profit-rearing plan unfolds with the Arizona Corporation Commission's public hearings in Nogales and Phoenix. In Nogales, the meetings are at 9 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, May 7 and 8 in the Super 8 Motel, just off the freeway at 547 W. Mariposa Road. The Phoenix hearing will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 17 in the Ramada Inn, 401 N. First Ave. For more information on the TEP plan, call company spokesman Bill Norman at (520) 884-3742.

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