DESPITE BEING OUTNUMBERED more than 2 to 3 by Democrats, the Republican Party is on a bit of an upswing in city elections. Beginning with the election of Fred Ronstadt in 1997, the GOP broke a decade-long losing streak. Two years later, Republican Bob Walkup captured the mayor's seat.
This year, Republicans hope to add to their gains by keeping Ronstadt in Ward 6 and adding former lawmaker Kathleen Dunbar in Ward 3, an open seat with Democratic Councilman Jerry Anderson calling it quits after one term.
How has the Republican Party managed to turn around its fortunes? With hard work and a little luck.
In Ronstadt's case, the candidate had priceless name ID and the GOP worked party turnout effectively, particularly on the city's eastern edge. Ronstadt's opponent, Democrat Alison Hughes, had spent much of her campaign treasury in a bitter five-way primary, with the overconfident belief the registration edge left her with comfortable margin. On election day, Ronstadt edged past Hughes by two percentage points.
Two years later, Walkup defeated Molly McKasson following a similar tough primary. Again, Republicans worked turnout on the edges of the city, and this time Walkup was backed by an independent campaign committee funded by the city's business community, which spent $50,000 on attack ads targeting McKasson, who lost the race by 14 percent.
Still, the GOP's success has been limited against the Democrats' superior numbers. In the other citywide races two years ago, Republican Rick Grinnell, making his second run at the Ward 2 Council seat, lost to Democrat Carol West, while Republican Ray Castillo, a former councilman trying to make a comeback, was beaten by incumbent Ward 1 Democrat José Ibarra. (Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott didn't have a Republican opponent.)
While the Ward 3 and Ward 6 council races will be decided citywide on November 6, the Ward 5 fight will be over when Democrats Steve Leal and Jesse Lugo slug it out in the September 11 primary, the winner taking his seat without Republican opposition.
The big controversy of the last several city elections, direct delivery of CAP water, is barely a ripple this year, perhaps because there's no water proposition on the ballot. Instead, candidates are talking about transportation, garbage collection, neighborhood protection and planning for growth. Behind those topics is a long list of social issues that the council has tackled in recent years, including the attempt to force background checks on all gun sales at the TCC, the smoking ban in restaurants, the fight over billboards with Eller Media Co., and a policy that forces contractors with the city to pay employees a living wage of at least $8 an hour.
All the plausible candidates have signed contracts to run under the city's campaign finance program, which matches private contributions dollar-for-dollar, provided the candidate can raise at least 200 $10 contributions from city residents. Participating candidates must limit their spending to roughly $83,000. The program has had the effect of containing campaign spending and forcing candidates to focus on grassroots organization. Since Tucson voters approved the program in the 1980s, no candidate has won office without using it.
Two years ago, Tucsonans for Responsible Leadership, the aforementioned independent campaign committee headed up by Democrats Steve Emerine and Judy Abrams, spent $50,000 supporting Republican Bob Walkup in the 1999 mayor's race. Emerine is now playing politics as a consultant to the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, which has already endorsed Republicans Ronstadt and Dunbar and Democrat Lugo. Although the homebuilder group has not yet filed paperwork to form an independent campaign, it is flirting with the idea. Emerine himself is in a delicate position, because his name is high on the list of Lugo supporters on the candidate's letterhead. State law mandates that independent campaign committees have no contact with a candidate's campaign team.
The proposition portion of the ballot promises to be sleepy. There are no initiative drives to place propositions on the ballot, and the council last week voted to put off three proposed charter changes that would have expanded the council from six wards to eight, made city races non-partisan and expanded the powers of the mayor.
The ballot will include a nebulous growth plan required by the state's Growing Smarter program, but it'll have all the teeth of an 87-year-old pirate. Voters will also be asked once more to boost the pay for council members from $24,000 to $32,400. (The mayor's pay would climb from $42,000 to $48,000.)
To vote in the primary election, you'll need to register by August 13. You can find voter registration forms at all post offices, at the Recorder's Office (downtown at 115 S. Church Ave. and eastside at 6920 E. Broadway Blvd.), at all City Council offices, and a whole bunch of other places. For the location nearest you or for more information, call Pima County voter registration at 623-2649 or visit www.recorder.co.pima.az.us. If you'd like to vote by mail, you can already request an early ballot from the City Clerk's Office at 791-5784.
NOT TOO MANY people gave Republican Fred Ronstadt much of a chance of winning the Ward 6 race four years ago. But in his first bid for public office, Ronstadt pulled off a surprise upset victory over Democrat Alison Hughes, who had been fatally wounded while winning a pyrrhic victory in a five-way Democratic primary.
Since winning the midtown seat, the 38-year-old Ronstadt has cozied up to Tucson's power structure. He's been a solid ally to Karl Eller in the billboard bigwig's fight against the city's tough outdoor advertising regulations. Constituents near El Con complain that he sold out to the mall's owners in the big-box store fight. He's tight with the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.
Democrat Gayle Hartmann, 59, says there are two reasons she decided to challenge Ronstadt.
"I'm concerned about the direction the city is heading," says Hartmann. "It's been muddling through for several decades and I think it needs to find direction. Secondly, I became very exasperated with Fred's votes as I read them in the paper."
Besides his support of the billboard industry and his efforts to allow El Con Mall to skirt the big-box regulations, Hartmann complains that Ronstadt opposed the city's living-wage policy, which forces most companies that contract with the city to pay employees at least $8 an hour ($9 if the employees don't receive health benefits). She also blasts the incumbent for opposing the city's legal fight to force background checks on all gun sales at TCC shows.
An archaeologist with close ties to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Hartmann has worked on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, helped design the county's trail system and helped pass open-space bond proposals. She says the city has to do a better job of planning for growth and protecting neighborhood integrity.
Hartmann has avoided a repeat of the messy 1997 primary and dissuaded the local Green Party from entering the race and weakening her base. That means both candidates will be going head-to-head citywide, with an equal amount of money--at least until any independent campaigns weigh in.
Hartmann has the registration advantage, while Ronstadt has the family name and incumbency. And while Hartmann can expect little support from the Democratic Party, the Republicans will run a supporting campaign that will likely include an organized early balloting effort and phone banks to push turnout.
FOUR YEARS AGO, Jerry Anderson wanted the northside Ward 3 City Council seat so badly he ran an aggressive campaign to unseat incumbent Councilman Michael Crawford, who had been appointed to the office after Councilman Tom Saggau vanished.
This year, Anderson is retiring after just one term, saying family and professional considerations led him to decide it's time for him to call it quits.
Anderson's surprise announcement last March caught much of the political establishment off guard. Numerous Democratic names floated to the surface, but in the end just two Democrats filed their paperwork with the city clerk's office last week: Vicki Hart and Paula Aboud.
Hart, 52, has the deeper local résumé. A Tucson native, Hart attended Tucson High and earned her master's degree in rehabilitative counseling at the UA.
A vocal advocate for victims' rights, Hart is tight with County Attorney Barbara LaWall, who has paid Hart nearly $25,000 annually for the last three years to put out a newsletter for her office. In her campaign for city council, Hart is tapping the political experience of LaWall and her chief deputy, Mary Judge Ryan, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year.
Hart is now serving as Anderson's appointee on the Citizens Advisory Police Review Board and has been active in Amphi School District parent organizations. She's occasionally freelanced for the Tucson Weekly and other local publications.
Like Hart, the 51-year-old Aboud is a Tucson native who graduated from Tucson High and the University of Arizona. She taught at Rincon High before leaving Arizona for Maine in the early 1980s, where she got involved in state politics. Returning to Tucson in 1992, she started managing her family's property and has been involved in a coalition of Ward 3 neighborhood associations.
The big question in this election, says Aboud: "Do we want to turn the city over to developers or not? From what I get out there, people don't want that. They like Tucson. They came here because they liked what it was."
Aboud is tightlipped about her supporters and says she hasn't done much fundraising yet. Hart, meanwhile, had raised more than $2,300 as of May 31.
The two Democrats will fight over roughly 13,500 Democrats in Ward 3. In the hard-fought Democratic 1997 primary, 18 percent of the electorate turned out to vote; in the 1999 mayoral primary, the number jumped to 25 percent. If this year mirrors that level of turnout, Hart and Aboud will be competing for fewer than 4,000 votes.
Anderson says he won't be endorsing either candidate in the primary, but will work on behalf of the winner, who'll face Republican Kathleen Dunbar, Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Green Party candidate Ted O'Neill.
The 50-year-old Dunbar narrowly lost her bid for a state senate seat last year after serving one term in the Arizona House of Representatives, where she was known for pushing legislation regarding domestic violence and animal rights. She's retooled her political machine for city politics. She says she's already raised more than $25,000 and proudly shares a flowchart displaying her campaign's organization, with a captain in every ward.
"I believe that Tucson is great city and I believe Tucson deserves a great city council," says Dunbar, who has worked in television advertising and with the Humane Society. "I've always wanted to be on the City Council and this seemed like the right time to move forward with that dream."
Hoffman and O'Neill hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both have one thing in common: They're both--being generous--million-to-one shots.
A salesman at the Summit Hut outdoors shop, the 46-year-old Hoffman is campaigning on the standard limited-government Libertarian line. "The City Council has stepped well beyond its role of public servants," says Hoffman. "The city government should concern itself with basic services." He wants reduced government regulation and "sensible roads."
O'Neill advocates social justice, living wages and re-evaluating budget priorities in his campaign appearances. "I'm proud to be here to contribute to this conversation, hopefully as the voice of the working people," he says.
IN HIS FIRST run for public office, Steve Leal knocked off incumbent Ward 5 Republican Roy Laos in 1989. A dozen years later, he's facing his toughest re-election challenge from fellow Democrat Jesse Lugo.
The election will ultimately test how well Leal has served the roughly 14,000 Democrats in his ward, as well as his campaign skills. Four years ago, when Leal was the only Democrat on the ballot, only 613 Democrats turned out for the primary. Two years ago, in the mayoral primary, turnout was about 15 percent, with 2,400 Democrats going to the polls. Molly McKasson won 47 percent of the ward, while second-place finisher Betsy Bolding captured 29 percent.
"I'm running for re-election really for the same reasons I ran the first time," Leal said at a recent campaign appearance. "I care a great deal about civil rights and a livable, sustainable community."
Leal, 53, came up through the neighborhood movement and remained close to those roots. He boasts that Ward 5 has gone from six organized neighborhood associations to 27. He championed restrictions on big-box encroachment on neighborhoods and played a big role in finding funding for the redevelopment of South Sixth Avenue. He's opposed new fees for garbage collection and pushed for job-training funds.
Lugo, 47, complains that Leal hasn't done enough in the 12 years he's been in office. "It's time for a change," he says.
Since the race will be over with the primary, Lugo is keeping his campaign focused on the needs of Ward 5. He wants more street work and more police officers, although he's evasive about where he'd find funding.
Lugo differs with Leal on plenty of recent social issues that have faced the council. A member of the local Boy Scouts board of directors, he wouldn't have cut city funding for the organization over the ban on gay scouts and leaders. He opposes the city's efforts to force background checks on all gun sales at the Tucson Convention Center. He thinks the council went too far when it banned smoking in restaurants.
A former gas-station owner who now works as a lobbyist at the state capitol, Lugo has a long history of civic involvement. Although he flirted with a challenge to Leal in 1993 before abandoning that effort, he made it onto the ballot for the first time last year as a candidate in a six-way Democratic primary for two open state House seats in District 10. Lugo came in third behind Victor Soltero and Linda Lopez.
Like Republican Kathleen Dunbar in Ward 3, Lugo has driven his still-warm political machine into city politics. He has lingering name recognition from his legislative run, which overlaps much of Ward 5. He's walking and biking precincts at quick clip, campaigning door-to-door nearly every day.
Lugo is finding considerable support among Tucson's development community, having already captured the endorsement of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association. Other supporters include Joel Valdez, the former Tucson city manager who now works as a vice-president at the University of Arizona, and Sally Ann Gonzales, the former state representative from District 10.