The event was scheduled for 6 p.m. at the El Rio Neighborhood Center--a huge facility. There were no signs directing people to the event, and no one present to open the room. Candidates Nina Trasoff, Karin Uhlich and Steve Farley (who's no longer a candidate after losing to Trasoff in the primary) were milling around outside, along with a couple of TV camera crews. Fred Ronstadt did not attend.
Kathleen Dunbar had to attend a meeting with Ward 3 leaders and the new city manager.
Dunbar asked for a rescheduling of the forum a month prior to the event, but she was not accommodated. She sent Brad Lang to the forum to answer any questions as to why she was not attending. This was a wise move on the part of Dunbar, as it denied the Democrats an opportunity to attack her while she could not respond. In the end, it mattered not, since approximately twice as many citizens as candidates attended (and only half of the then-candidates were there).
A lovely and charming young woman named Danielle appeared sporting an appropriately colored red T-shirt with the ACORN logo promoting the "Living Wage." She introduced herself to everyone and explained that there would be a delay because she forgot to bring the receipt for the room rental, and the El Pueblo people were not about to unlock the door without it.
Steve Farley split around 6:20 p.m.
Councilman-for-Life Steve Leal, looking a little like a bushy-haired version of Huey Long, ambled over from the parking lot at about 6:30 p.m. The doors opened at 6:35.
Now, say what you like about Leal, but he's "down" with the candidate thing. He shows up at the right time, dresses right and sits at the correct end of the table (the far-left end, from my perspective). His voice is deep and clear, and perfectly modulated. It has a disarming softness, with pauses that are perfectly timed. He makes the most reprehensible notions sound matter-of-fact.
If he ever leaves Democrat politics, he could make a fortune heading a cult.
With only three candidates, all Democrats, the forum began. Danielle instructed the candidates to each, in turn, give a two-minute introduction of themselves. Steve Leal got into issues, took five minutes, and then apologized for going over time. (Nice!) Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff presented themselves well, though they both looked liked smiling Terminators when they turned their heads side-to-side to make eye contact with all six people in the audience.
Steve Leal stole the show. His ability to play the candidate was outstanding, though I wish I could say as much about his notions of municipal government. For example, he favors our local socialistic system of campaign financing in which candidates get a government grant for their war chest concomitant with their voluntary citizen donations. He actually said, "I would rather be indebted to everybody," (slow the pace, make a slow encompassing arm gesture, pause) "rather than a few rich people" (turn head, smile, perfect!). So, voluntary contributions from the people don't obligate you to the people; city-government "matching funds" do ... interesting.
What really made me see red was his idea to take a few years of business-license revenue and give it back to the small businesses on Grant Road in the form of new store fronts. Hey Steve, if the city really doesn't need the money, let the shops keep it! They just might know the best way to apply it to their respective businesses--trust me on this one!
The problem with arrogant politicians is that they see their constituents as wards, not as peers. I'm not suggesting that Leal does not love the people of Tucson; I'm saying he doesn't respect us. History teaches that an arrogant politician's loving hand will, eventually, become a chainmail fist.