Republican Fred Ronstadt has, over the course of eight years representing midtown Ward 6 on the Tucson City Council, pissed off a lot of people at one time or another.
Neighbors near El Con got mad at him because they felt he was shilling for the mall's owners when they wanted to bring in Big-Box stores. Environmentalists got mad at him because he opposed the county bond package that funded the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Homebuilders got mad at him because he wanted to force future residents to give up their rights to refuse annexation before they could get city water for their developments.
Ronstadt says that angering people comes with the job.
"I am not afraid to express an opinion," Ronstadt says. "I am not anybody's lapdog. I express my opinion based on what I believe is the right thing to do. It's a cliché, but you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet."
The scion of a pioneer family, Ronstadt thinks he gets a worse rap than he deserves because whatever stance he's taken, he's kept the best interest of Tucson residents at heart.
"I'm elected to be the advocate for the citizens of Tucson, Arizona," Ronstadt says. "I'm not elected to be (Pima County Administrator) Chuck Huckelberry's advocate, or the advocate for (Oro Valley Mayor) Paul Loomis, or (Marana Mayor) Ed Honea, or anybody else."
Democrat Nina Trasoff, who wants Ronstadt's seat, says it's time for Ronstadt to go. She promises to bring a new vision to the City Council.
"I have a vision of trying to maintain the essence of Tucson as we grow," Trasoff says. "I'm going to bring an ability to guide the growth and have it be more intelligent growth, more future-thinking growth."
The former TV newscaster, who has spent the last two decades doing public-relations work and serving on the boards of various local non-profits, says Ronstadt has sold out the city to special interests and balanced the city's budget on the backs of the poor, the children and the elderly by enacting tuition fees for KIDCO, an afterschool program, and creating a $14-a-month "garbage tax." (See "Numbers Racket, Oct. 13.)
"I morally objected to putting on a tax that had such a dramatic impact on working families and the elderly," Trasoff says.
Ronstadt counters that the trash fee--or "environmental services fee," as city officials call it--was a reasonable way to raise city revenues so that the city could hire more police, firefighters and parks and rec employees. He says the KIDCO fees were just $50 a semester (and $75 for an all-day summer program) and included a sliding scale so that low-income Tucsonans would be able to afford the program. The budget for KIDCO has risen from $1.8 million in 2004 to $1.9 million in the current fiscal year, with the program is serving more children now than ever before.
He also points out that for all her complaints, Trasoff has offered no alternative to balancing the budget without the trash fee. Trasoff says she hasn't had enough access to the city budget to determine how to eliminate the trash fee, but vows that if she's elected, she would trim it back until it was eliminated.
The candidates also clash over downtown redevelopment. Ronstadt says there's a lot going on, even if it doesn't appear that way.
"I respect and understand people's perception that nothing's happened," Ronstadt says. "The reality is that a lot of stuff is happening and had to happen the way it did."
Among the projects that Ronstadt cites: The completion of the historic train depot; ongoing work on several condo projects, including one at the site of the long-abandoned Thrifty block along Congress Street; the remodeling of the Rialto Theatre; the ongoing reconstruction of the Fox Theatre, which is scheduled to open on New Year's Eve; and the proposed Science Center.
Trasoff says progress has been too slow and the city should have funded reconstruction of the Convento, one of the Tucson's earliest settlements, on the west side of the Santa Cruz River.
Ronstadt says the council hasn't done that because it didn't make sense to put in a park before a master plan for the entire area was fleshed out.
"One of the things we promised the voters that we were not going to create anything that would be a draw on the general fund," he says. "Everything needed to sustain itself in some way."
He adds that new sewer pipelines need to be run underneath the future park site.
"If we'd built the Convento, we'd have to rip it down to put in sewer lines," he says.
Ronstadt says that despite her talk of vision, Trasoff is offering little in the way of a plan for Tucson's future.
"She has nothing but complaints," Ronstadt gripes. "She has nothing but 'Attack Fred.' She has no vision for Tucson and no plans of her own. All she has is, 'Fred is evil and I am good.'"
But attacking Ronstadt could prove a savvy strategy, especially when it comes to motivating Democrats angry at the Republican White House, the Republican Congress, a rightward-drifting court and the Republican Legislature in Phoenix. It's no secret that even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Tucson, GOP candidates have been much more effective at getting their eastside voters out, as well as attracting crossover support from Democrats. By directing anger toward Ronstadt and playing to a polarized electorate, Trasoff could have found a formula that finally motivates southside and westside voters to head to the polls on Election Day.
Trasoff has assembled an impressive campaign organization. She's landed endorsements from labor unions, Democratic groups, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, the Sierra Club, the Arizona Daily Star and Fred's own cousin, singer Linda Ronstadt. (Ronstadt, by contrast, has been endorsed by police and fire unions, the Arizona Human Rights Fund, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the Tucson Association of Realtors, the Arizona Multi-Housing Association, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the Tucson Citizen.)
Trasoff squashed Democratic primary opponent Steve Farley by a nearly 2-1 margin in the September Ward 6 primary. As of Oct. 3, she had raised $42,452 and received the same amount in matching funds from city taxpayers. She still had $46,603 going into the last month of the campaign, according to reports filed last week with the city.
Ronstadt, who declined to dip into the city's matching-funds program, had raised $75,330, with $19,402 coming between Aug. 25 and Oct. 3. He had $49,883 entering the final month of the campaign.
Trasoff calls Ronstadt's decision to not use public funding another example of how he has sold out to special interests.
Ronstadt says he decided to not participate because the money comes from the city's general fund. He says if the campaign funds came from some other kind of revenue source, he'd probably use the program.
"It's wrong to take tax dollars to run a personal campaign," Ronstadt says. "It is absolutely wrong."
Ronstadt says he didn't forgo the funds just so he could run a high-priced campaign: "I really had no intention of blowing out this campaign with money."
Besides, he adds, it's not as if evenly distributed campaign funds would have led to an elevated debate on the issues facing the city.
"This race is not a battle of ideas," Ronstadt says. "It is Nina Trasoff lying about the record and just trying to say how evil Fred Ronstadt is."