A sinus infection kept Eckstrom home for two days after he provided brains and brawn for his fellow Democrats to evade the board's controversy of the moment, a redistricting plan more gerrymandered than all of those done since the county was divided into five kingdoms 29 years ago.
On this day, he struggles through the discomfort to enjoy the park dedicated to his mother, who still lives but a block away. It is immaculate: cactus and trees amid cleanly erected benches and paths. It is adorned with tile mosaics completed by the students in another Eckstrom-inspired project, Las Artes, an art-based school for tough kids, gangbangers seeking reform and others simply left behind.
These mosaics were done by Las Artes students from the Yaqui neighborhood on West 39th Street. One mosaic with the Virgín de Guadalupe and a Yaqui musician has become a shrine with candles.
Eckstrom is beaming, talking about expansion that will add a park over part of the wash. Another $1 million in his southside district.
It's on to South Fourth Avenue to Rigo's for chicken soup. Eckstrom is feeling better. Here are pols and business people, county and other government workers. Everyone is happy to see him. And he's got something to say to everyone, wishing some well and cracking wise with others. He brags on Rigo and his family and the hard work that has made this a busy spot along South Tucson's famous South Fourth Avenue line of restaurants.
There is some bitter, or sad, with the sweet. Oscar Gastelum is the chef here. Tragedy hit the family five years ago when its 11-year-old son was killed by errant gunfire in a drive-by.
Eckstrom remembers getting a call from Eddie Basha, the Chandler grocery-store magnate who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994. It was July 29, Dan and Alice Eckstrom's wedding anniversary. Basha told his pal to go to his market in Flowing Wells and get whatever the Gastelum family needed.
To the Rigo's table comes Art Eckstrom, Dan's quiet and rock-solid brother, a former miner and union man who has helped the out-of-work and underprivileged in various county programs, including the Job Training Partnership Act, dating long before his little brother was appointed to fill the vacancy left when Sam Lena retired from the Board of Supervisors in April 1988.
The conversation bounces from election fights to rezoning battles, from motions to commotion, from taxes to spending, from politics to policy.
Sam Lena, "Mr. Sam," repeatedly returns as the topic.
Lena, soft-spoken, diminutive, yet enormously powerful, died on a Tuesday, the board's meeting day, in March 1996.
The week before, Lena was seeking to heal a rift or two. He wanted to put Joe Cesare, the hard-working hotelier and developer with immense loyalty to his native southside and the people he employs, in touch with longtime Democratic Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and also with Eckstrom. Cesare had slipped from the Democrats to twice back Republican Gov. Fife Symington, and Eckstrom, despite their friendship, once informed colleagues to "render unto Cesare that which is Cesare's."
The slightly jumbled schedule could not be fixed before Lena died.
Cesare remains a die-hard Eckstrom supporter, politically and in community causes.
Dupnik, in office since 1980, smiles when asked about Eckstrom and says only: "Dan is my friend."
Tough, brusque and sometimes petulant, Eckstrom gets a little emotional when talking about Lena, whom he and Dupnik eulogized at St. Augustine Cathedral. His eyes, through his thick glasses, well up. Everybody misses "Mr. Sam."
They operated differently. But they share stunning success, undefeated or flat unchallenged in races to represent heavily Mexican-American, predominantly blue-collar District 2. They are leaders and political bosses who have ruled not only southside county politics, but who have determined who represents the area in the Arizona Legislature, who goes to Congress, who stays on the South Tucson and Tucson city councils. More important, they share--despite the wide chasm in styles--the rare ability to peer into the soul of the distressed and the suffering among their constituents and make things right. For all the high-torque bombast he can unleash, Eckstrom cannot stop someone like Lena did with his quiet, simple admonition to "leave it alone."
Even so, nobody can stand in Eckstrom's way as he gets and delivers that aid, be it a park, a wheelchair for an indigent, a widened road or an after-school program, a job or a baseball diamond.
"He is not bashful about telling me when I have not met his expectations, which means I have not satisfied his constituents," says Chuck Huckelberry, who has begun his ninth year as county administrator and 27th as a top county bureaucrat. "It can be a painful experience. He's pretty hard to match. He has basic instinct. He's smart. He has the ability to maneuver an outcome to the benefit of his constituents. And that's the thing, it's always for his constituents, not for himself."
Those who heard Eckstrom light into one of Huckelberry's predecessors, Jane Verner, over a picture of him in the county newspaper still wonder what the constituent benefit was to that picture.
Eckstrom knows that criticism. He has mellowed at age 54. He realizes that his tactics have offended some.
But just as he seems to repent, he justifies the means deployed.
"When you come up to bat and no one is on, you've got to have somebody on base and some base running before you can get some runs," he says.
Thus when city staffers nosed around earlier this year about moving money pledged for widening 22nd Street from I-10 to Park Avenue, Eckstrom quickly won approval to strip $10 million out of that deal that will instead go to neighborhood street improvements.
The maneuvering showed, he says, "a lack of respect" by the city.
Years of fighting such skirmishes seemed to have edged Eckstrom toward burnout a couple of months ago. But it appears that recent condescending and patronizing remarks by Republican City Councilmember Fred Ronstadt, criticism from Republican Supervisor Raymond Carroll and a heated campaign from the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association that includes old allies all have Eckstrom geared up for the long haul at a time when many are suggesting that he'll step down.
DANIEL W. ECKSTROM IS THE youngest of six children, four sisters and a brother, of Art and Lupe Eckstrom.
His father, who died in 1990 at age 87, came to Tucson from Michigan, caring for a friend sick with tuberculosis.
"They landed around Santa Cruz Church," Eckstrom says. "He was a straight shooter. He never swore. He did some missionary work. And though he never had a formal education, he was very smart. He helped me with my college papers."
His father was a handyman and builder. His mother was and is a tireless defender of family, neighborhood and youth and is active in civic affairs, PTAs and church charities.
Their son's unshakeable roots were planted far deeper than most politicians can hope.
"During the week my dad was self-employed," Eckstrom says. "On the weekends, he worked for many churches. And on Sundays many of the congregations had lunches or dinners that we'd go to."
A vast multidenominational and multiracial network has boosted Eckstrom, and it is one that he never ignores. His work involves a constant updating of birthdays, graduations and retirements. From his office, he and his staff can whip out certificates, citations and awards with seals, laminated or not, with speed and precision. He speaks at more funerals than some clergy.
He attended Mission View Elementary School, on the block where he and his wife, Alice, raised daughter Jennifer and son Billy. It is the same school that he and county officials once nearly had to close because of roach and rat infestation the Tucson Unified School District ignored.
Junior high for Eckstrom was at a Lutheran school, but he was back in TUSD, at Pueblo, for high school. Though not an athlete, Eckstrom was under the wing of Lou Farber, one of the 11 Iron Men of Brown University football fame, and the coaching legend at Pueblo who delivered a state championship in 1961, Eckstrom's freshman year.
Farber, who died recently at age 94 in Green Valley, pushed Eckstrom to read and expand his horizons. Farber prevailed upon school librarian Etta Mae Dawson to order the Christian Science Monitor, the National Observer and other national periodicals for Eckstrom.
Eckstrom jumped into politics with citywide student government elections. He won a seat and was assigned to Democratic Councilmember Jim Corbett, who later served a term as mayor.
"We had all these guys from Catalina and Rincon and at the old City Hall, the drunk tank was in the basement" Eckstrom says. "We went down there and the two people the guys [inside] knew and were saying hello to were Gentleman Jim Corbett and me."
Through high school and college, Eckstrom and his brother did yard jobs, including work for Ina Gittings, the pioneering head of women's physical education at the University of Arizona.
At the UA, he majored in government, a program now called political science. He studied under Don Hall and Conrad Joyner, a Republican city councilmember and later a member of the Board of Supervisors. Joyner's lengthy tenure ended with a disastrous run for the Republican primary for Congress against Jim Kolbe in 1982. Eckstrom also took classes from Hank Kenski, now the chief Southern Arizona aide to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.
Eckstrom mentioned his degree when lecturing December 4 on redistricting. His presentation included maps of previous redistricting efforts and displayed two styles of state redistricting.
It was a show not unlike the budget sermons that win converts at the last minute when his boards, Democrat or Republican controlled, are paralyzed by fear, lack of preparation and plain ineptitude. Eckstrom solved the Democrats' problem of a horrendous gerrymander by cutting off the worst peninsulas and zigs and zags. He had at his fingertips figures, population, party registration, ethnic makeup. He invoked a novel theory of community of interest. If South Tucson public safety could handle Sahuarita's 911 calls, there had to be community of interest shared by his district and the rural but expanding town between Tucson and Green Valley.
Out of school, Eckstrom worked for county Treasurer James Lee Kirk, a Republican then in the first of his eight terms. He worked as a credit manager for Gordon Jewelers, as a loan officer for Southern Arizona Bank and then in a couple of positions for Model Cities.
Two years out of the UA, Eckstrom was elected to the South Tucson City Council as a Republican.
Add to the list of people he met early on whom he would encounter later as a supervisor: Tom Meehan, a tough ex-cop who was serving as city attorney. Meehan initially considered Eckstrom irrelevant.
"Tom, this is Dan. You told me to call you when I got four votes. I'm calling."
Meehan was out. He went on to become presiding judge of Superior Court and, at Eckstrom's request, administered the oath when Eckstrom was named to succeed Lena.
Oaths of a different sort might have been heard later, when Meehan and Corbett chafed under Eckstrom's questions at budget hearings. Both reminded Eckstrom of the diffuse nature of county government.
"I'm not 'your' department," Meehan once snapped.
Another of Eckstrom's mentors was South Tucson Mayor J.Q. Elias, the father of longtime, now retired Tucson Postmaster Arnold Elias.
Eckstrom became mayor after two years on the South Tucson council and held that post for 15 years. He fell to political ambition, losing a race for the Legislature before switching parties and then getting smacked down by Lena in the 1976 primary.
Not long after, he made book with Lena, the son of Sicilian immigrants.
"We ran into one another one day and started comparing notes," Eckstrom says. "We found out that some people were feeding us bad information. Some people were telling him things about me that weren't true and some people were telling me things about him that weren't true."
Lena, who served in the Legislature and operated a liquor store on South Fourth Avenue, made sure the county gave thanks with various assistance packages to South Tucson. The Eckstrom brothers remember how South Tucson struggled to make do with only a book mobile for a library.
They had plans for a library building, and when they named it after Lena, they say almost in unison, "the floodgates opened."
More would come as Eckstrom aligned South Tucson with the county against the City of Tucson on the Pima Association of Governments Regional Council. With the council then having just five members, including Marana and Oro Valley, Eckstrom could easily grab another vote to outfox the city and four-term Republican Mayor Lew Murphy.
By now while in the Mayor's office, Eckstrom was working for Robert Ruiz and his Maya Construction Co. and Ruiz Engineering. He sold services and became an expert in dealing with the military and other parts of the federal government. It also gave him lessons he uses now on road and other construction projects, bidding and even equipment. He's the only supervisor who knows if a year-old Cat with 2000 hours is being used enough.
IF ECKSTROM SEEMS remarkably primed for county tasks and battles, look back to the big chunk of his time leading South Tucson when the little city teetered. Julian Roy Garcia, a Tucson cop, was shot by a South Tucson cop during a joint operation. He was paralyzed below the waist. He hired Richard Grand and successfully sued South Tucson in 1978 and won a $3.6 million judgment.
It was more than the city's budget.
Grand, a heavyweight personal injury and wrongful death lawyer and accomplished media manipulator, battered the little city. And although Eckstrom says South Tucson "always felt an obligation to Roy Garcia," the city launched multiple appeals that had Grand proclaiming that South Tucson was "dodging its debt."
The case lingered. Settlements were proposed and rejected. Appeals filed and lost.
Conrad Joyner, Eckstrom's old political science professor, was sitting on the Board of Supervisors in 1982, and called for South Tucson to dissolve.
But disincorporation, rejected previously by South Tucsonans, who had created their city in 1936, was never an option, Eckstrom says.
Instead the city filed for financial reorganization. It proposed various settlements. Against Grand, South Tucson was under the microscope, including one wielded by 60 Minutes, and attacked as a backward city with a government that had run amok. Brash and wild city manager Richard Kaffenberger didn't help, tooling around in a flashy city car and pulling his pants down in front of female reporters.
Still, residents hung in, rejecting disincorporation by a nearly 3-1 margin.
Finally, the city created a municipal property corporation to raise money through the sale of bonds to give Garcia $1.5 million plus city property including the site of the old County Hospital on South Sixth Avenue.
"I think when Judge [Richard] Bilby saw Richard Grand's fees, he hit the roof," Eckstrom says of the U.S. District Judge who died unexpectedly in 1998. "There was a lot of pressure on South Tucson. The city, the people always felt an obligation to Roy Garcia. I think it was Richard Grand who was pushing the envelope."
The agreement was reached in 1984 and Eckstrom and three of his council members then faced a recall, organized by Irma Villa, that fell flat.
Eckstrom says he harbored no ill will. He accepted the family's invitation to deliver the eulogy at Irma Villa's funeral.
In 1987 and 1988, Eckstrom became such a fixture at County Administration that he was driving Lena's county car when he and Lena would try to snag a "live one" to buy them lunch. Lena was getting tired of the county grind and weary of Supervisor Ed Moore, a sue-happy reformer then seeking a second term as a Democrat. Lena was happy to become Rose Mofford's man in Tucson when she replaced impeached Republican Governor Evan Mecham.
Eckstrom had no difficulty getting the votes to succeed Lena, though David Yetman, a Democrat then in his third and final term, complained later that Eckstrom was a major "disappointment."
Still, Eckstrom found an instant opponent in Luis Gonzales, a former state senator and old rival of the Lena machine. Gonzales remarked that he didn't want the county job "handed to [Eckstrom] on a silver platter."
Eckstrom stayed quiet for weeks after the appointment into the summer of 1988 until he unleashed the power of his campaign against Gonzales at a crowded breakfast at the Santa Rita Hotel that featured then-U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and then-Democratic Mayor Tom Volgy.
Eckstrom moved fast in his campaign to bury Gonzales. Two weeks before he swamped Gonzales in the primary, he put out brochures that touted his leadership that already enabled the county to cut taxes.
In fact, the cut had little to do with Eckstrom, and didn't amount to much, anyway. Flood control taxes were dropping from $76 on a $100,000 house to $56 because the county did not use flood control money from a big tax increase the previous year to buy the Empire-Cienega Ranches southeast of Tucson. But county primary taxes, to fund daily operations, jumped $12 that year to $359 for the owner of a $100,000 home and the overall savings, from all county taxes, was just $6. Today, Pima County property owners suffer the highest taxes of any Arizona county--about $560 on a $100,000 home.
Eckstrom arrived on the board when supervisors were making $35,000 a year. By then away from Maya Construction and on his own as a consultant, he took a chop from annual pay of about $65,000. Supervisors now are paid $54,600 a year, have an annual office budget of roughly a quarter of a million dollars and are given a choice of car with fuel and maintenance provided by taxpayers.
With Eckstrom came Raúl Grijalva, the winner over opposition much more feeble than Gonzales, to succeed Yetman. The two-member Hispanic team has anchored the south and west sides for 13 years.
A parliamentary procedure expert, Eckstrom was the logical choice as chairman. He made deft use of Robert's Rules of Order when it fell to him to replace County Manager Jim Riley, a pleasant man with 30 years in county government.
Eckstrom handled Riley with respect and dignity, and when the votes for Chuck Huckelberry, then an assistant manager, evaporated over a weekend, Eckstrom pulled a surprise. In the meeting, he stepped down temporarily as chairman (the board then adhered to rules precluding motions from the chairman) and delivered the motion for Jane Verner, an assistant manager who came to the county from Florida. Eckstrom may later have regretted his fancy footwork.
A Prada sort who could rely on family wealth, Verner could play the vamp. It didn't play with Eckstrom.
She once mistakenly cooed, "Does the chairman want some candy?"
"I don't eat candy," Eckstrom responded.
Eckstrom, a man who keeps his own calendar, does not tolerate calls from executives who have their secretaries do the dialing, and was alarmed to see Verner looking through his mail.
"The [former] chairman liked me to read his mail," she said.
Eckstrom is not a choirboy, but his responses to Verner called to mind the line Minnesota Fats used about a more erudite and disinterested pool rival: "He's the one guy who would notice the horse under Lady Godiva."
Supervisors replaced Verner after embarking on a supposed national search that yielded Enrique Serna, then the city manager at South Tucson.
Still, Eckstrom came out of the affair looking less ridiculous than Grijalva, who made a big point of setting up a citizens committee to rank candidates. Grijalva pledged he would abide by his committee's recommendation. It ranked Serna, a decent and talented administrator, last.
Lunn, Moore and Republican Reg Morrison dumped Eckstrom as chairman in 1990 and did him a favor, freeing him from the time-consuming ministerial duties.
He flexed new power when supervisors were forced to choose a replacement for state Sen. Jesus "Chuy" Higuera, a southside Democrat ensnared by the AzScam corruption investigation. (He now is a popular boss at Basha's Food City in South Tucson, a job Eckstrom helped him land.) Grijalva's front-runner, Macario Saldate, was bagged because of delinquent property taxes, and Eckstrom continued a Lena-South Tucson tradition securing the votes for then-South Tucson Mayor Victor Soltero. Termed out in the Senate last year, Soltero moved to the House of Representatives and thrives. He swapped with Ramon Valadez, another Eckstrom acolyte who easily won a place in the Senate.
Also, waiting in the wings is Eckstrom's daughter Jennifer, already an old pro on the South Tucson council.
Eckstrom also won support to have Felipe Lundin fill the Justice of the Peace vacancy created by the death of Susan O'Mara. A popular, hard-working non-lawyer, Lundin was ripped out of the seat in 1994 through a Grijalva move on behalf of Jose Luis Castillo, an election made possible by Grijalva's placement of a former aide and law student Israel Ramirez, who cried, literally, when reporters asked him why he didn't live in the precinct.
With Grijalva, there has been a long truce. This despite petty sniping, mostly from Grijalva aides, about Eckstrom's staff, their pay, his county cars, his county office space.
And now Eckstrom is supporting Grijalva in his talked-about but undeclared run for Congress in the tailor-made new District 7.
"No one else asked me" for support, he says of former state Sen. Jaime Gutierrez, state Sen. Elaine Richardson, Volgy and the long line of other possible candidates.
IN COUNTY AND OTHER LOCAL governments, politicians in the past could accurately invoke the phrase, "whose bread I eat, his song I sing."
Breaking bread with Dan Eckstrom has been good for South Tucson, which had dirt roads only 50 years ago, and is now enjoying fresh paving, restyled streets and paved alleys.
But the money boys don't always sway Eckstrom, though he certainly likes their campaign contributions, even in the years he faces the phantom "formidable foe."
Construction men and the Downtown Development Corp. pushed the turn-key renovation of the gutted Lawyers Title building 12 years ago to today's Public Works Building in a deal topping $21 million. Eckstrom's questions at the time were so intense that Lunn, who had promised his support, flipped at the meeting, leaving Grijalva as the swing vote for approval. To cover the project's cost, the county had to borrow heavily and drain its general fund, normally used for deputies, parks and other services.
Still, as County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry notes, Eckstrom played both sides and ensured local contractors, including Romanoski Glass and Mirror, got work in the new building.
Another time Eckstrom balked was when Dave Dolgen, then the lead man for Tucson Mall developer Forest City (Dolgen has moved on to a new company in Phoenix and Forest City sold the mall) and his lawyer Pat Griffin made an urgent visit to Eckstrom during a board meeting to emphasize the need for unity with the city on an economic development package.
Alone on the dais--his colleagues were in the back for an executive session--Eckstrom squeezed lemon into his ice tea and listened to Dolgen and Griffin, both polished pros. TV talking heads paid no attention, the cameras off even when Eckstrom exploded with: "Fuck you. I'm off the reservation. Go talk to your boy, the mayor."
Eckstrom, like Lena, chooses developments carefully. Lena voted against the garish La Paloma. Eckstrom voted against Donald R. Diamond's Rocking K Ranch, the 4,000-acre development of resorts, houses and businesses in the Rincon Valley, in 1990.
Two years later, he stuck on so many restrictions to Diamond's Pima Canyon hotel (long since scrapped) and luxury homes that Diamond's rep, Kenneth Abrahams, got knocked off his script, grew agitated and began asking Eckstrom questions.
"Is this an inquiry of me?" Eckstrom thundered.
Abrahams quickly retreated and during a break he sought out the supervisor's brother, Art, who happened by the hearing room.
"You gotta help," Abrahams pleaded.
"What?" Art Eckstrom asked.
"It's your brother — Pima Canyon — our proposal," Abrahams stammered.
"What?" Art asked. "Who? Pima Canyon? Supervisors? Oh, Dan?"
Art walked off.
With the Eckstroms, fend for yourself.
That's what Larry Maucher, a honcho with the Arizona Department of Transportation, found out when he pleaded with Dan Eckstrom to help him with Lupe, when the Eckstrom matriarch was firing back at the state for blasting and pounding and shaking the homes on her block during I-10 work.
"You're on your own," Eckstrom told Maucher.
IT WAS DURING THE DEMOCRATS' dark days, when Ed Moore and his Republican followers Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh took the majority in 1993, that Eckstrom further excelled.
The term began with Boyd taunting Eckstrom and Grijalva, after the Republicans canned Serna and ordered successor Manoj Vyas to dump 12 more top county employees: "Don't they get it? We have three votes."
Eckstrom called Boyd a punk and Boyd immediately whined to county attorneys that he was threatened. Two investigators plus the board's security man were dispatched in a small yet significant waste of money.
Eckstrom wisely stayed away from another waste, Moore's costly inquisition of then Democratic Assessor Alan Lang. He simply didn't attend the meetings. It freed him to work on constituent matters, to plan with Grijalva to fight closure of Kino Community Hospital and successfully fight the placement of a huge dump on the south side.
At one of the landfill debates, Moore said sitting next to Eckstrom was like being with a "gang member." Still, it was Eckstrom who showed at the funeral for Moore's mother.
He outmaneuvered Moore's regime to lift work stoppages at the Kino Recreation Center north of East Ajo Way from the county's baseball complex. He also made sure that work continued on the major-league spring training site, chosen in a 1992 meeting Eckstrom, Grijalva and Morrison held with the Pima County Interfaith Council.
Eckstrom developed a strong alliance with Democratic Councilmember Molly McKasson to build flood control for Arroyo Chico and Colonia Solana. McKasson was forever impressed with the way Eckstrom stopped meetings whenever he got a call from family.
The bacon Eckstrom delivered, even while in the minority, includes: $38 million for the baseball complex, $45 million for the new juvenile detention and court, $2 million for adult probation, $2.5 million for the diversion channel path and Paseo de Lupe Eckstrom, $11 million for the inter-urban natural area bordering Sam Lena Park north of Kino Hospital, and a planned $60 million for Paseo de Iglesias, a winding path to connect San Xavier Mission to downtown along the Santa Cruz River. Add to that the John Valenzuela Center in South Tucson and the library expansions.
Much of it has been done with Pastor's help and Eckstrom's ability to communicate with the Corps of Engineers.
Eckstrom has also been defined by his work for charity, including for Pio Decimo, a Barrio Viejo and southside agency that helps kids and families. The Norteño Festival in late August or early September (Grijalva jokes that timing depends on the primary election) has become a huge success for Pio Decimo, as has a summer auction held at the Kino Recreation Center.
All pols are on hand there and at Eckstrom's South Tucson Christmas wrapping party when thousands of donated gifts are prepared for kids who would otherwise not get presents.
He's tough. When Drs. Richard Carmona and James Anguilo presented a check for $1,000 from the Pima County Medical Society, Eckstrom thanked them for the "down payment."
He now avoids questions about the charities.
"You're not supposed to talk about it--Matthew 6: 1-4."
It is at once easy and difficult to see Eckstrom walking away from county government, free at last from the repetition and routine. But he wants it. During redistricting last week, he grabbed back an impoverished precinct off Old Nogales Highway because he wants to bring it parks and sewers and other amenities, much like he did for Littletown.
With the success of South Tucson's Weed & Seed Program, Eckstrom and his cousin, Shirley Villegas, the mayor of South Tucson, have been invited to talk about internships and work that Peace Corps returnees could do. In one session, top administrators at the UA asked how they got the work done.
"We follow the Four F's," Eckstrom said. "1. Make it Fun; we have a new beatitude: Blessed are those who laugh at themselves for they are forever amused. 2. Food. You gotta feed 'em. 3. Familia. 4. Faith; Hebrews 11:1: 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.'"
Just don't piss him off.