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The Skinny

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THE BUCKS STOP HERE

With Tucson City Council members Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar poised to give up city dollars for their upcoming re-election runs in favor of private fund raising, Tucson's program of publicly funded campaigns could be pretty well washed up.

The program, approved by voters in the mid-'80s, was revolutionary for its time. In exchange for agreeing to limited spending on campaigns, candidates for city office were eligible for a public dollar-for-dollar match of privately raised funds. To qualify, council wannabes needed to collect at least 200 $10 contributions from within the city limits. (Mayoral candidates needed 300 $10 contributions.)

The program, which every successful candidate has used since 1989, did a remarkable job of limiting campaign spending in city elections. That's because the rules prevent candidates from spending very much; the limit this year for council candidates is roughly $80,000--which isn't a whole lotta money for a campaign in a city the size of Tucson.

Supporters of the program, such as former Mayor Tom Volgy (who played a key role in designing it), argued that it allowed candidates without connections to stucco dollars or other big-money interests to make viable runs.

But critics said the amount of money available wasn't enough, especially in an age of early voting and other changes that require campaigns to be increasingly sophisticated.

Over the last six years or so, the system has been undercut by the emergence of independent campaign committees backed by homebuilders and car dealers who have been able to spend as much as they like. Volgy himself fell victim to an independent campaign that spent a small fortune hammering away at him when he tried to reclaim the mayor's office in 2003. All of his complaining about how the system was being subverted didn't make much of a difference on Election Day, when voters returned incumbent Republican Bob Walkup to office.

Ann Charles, who is chairing Dunbar's campaign, says the Ward 3 Republican is rejecting public funds for several reasons, including the fact that the money comes from the city's strapped general fund.

However you want to spin it, the era of public financing for campaigns may be over.


ACT OF CONGRESS

Looks like Richard Oseran, owner of downtown's historic Hotel Congress, is ready to join the gang that's trying to disrupt the city's application for $10 million in federal housing funds to pay for the demolition of the Martin Luther King Jr. apartment building.

Hotel Congress is right across Fifth Avenue from the aging MLK building, which developers Tom Warne and Yoram Levy want to knock down in order to put in a new retail and housing complex. As part of the plan, Fifth Avenue is gonna get narrower, and the city and the developers are going to put in a public plaza.

Unfortunately for Hotel Congress patrons, that means that a whole bunch of parking spaces are about to vanish. Oseran used to have about 350 spaces near the hotel, but the train depot redevelopment took away a bunch, and the upcoming Fourth Avenue underpass construction is going to take away a bunch more. By the time the new plan is done, Hotel Congress will be down to about 75 nearby parking spaces, many of which will be up for grabs by anyone doing business in the eastern end of downtown.

While city officials are promising that they'll be building a shiny new parking garage at Fifth Avenue and Broadway Boulevard, they're not promising that it'll be done anytime soon--which has Oseran plenty worried, especially since he can't seem to get a straight story out of the city's downtown redevelopment queen, Karen Thoreson, and the rest of the Rio Nuevo team.

At last week's City Council meeting, Oseran pleaded for a guarantee that the city would provide him with enough parking spaces that hotel guests would have reasonable access to the hotel, only to have the council majority blow him off. Hey, just because he's run the most successful long-term business in downtown for the last 20 years is no reason to work with him as Rio Nuevo begins to bloom. As Councilman Steve Leal, who supported Oseran's efforts to win a parking guarantee, puts it: "Now that bigger fish are there, we're treating him like the first wife with warts on her nose."

Oseran says he is leaning toward trying to block the city's application for HUD dollars to knock down the MLK building, which is already facing opposition from other quarters. (For details, see "Housing Hassle," Jan. 6.) Given that HUD has already rejected the city's first application, Mayor Bob Walkup and the council majority might want to quit jerking Oseran around.

Oh, and something else to watch for: The city may now be reversing course on making Congress a two-way street again, which will thoroughly screw the downtown-redevelopment pooch.


CRAZY AS IT GETS

Last year, freelance reporter Joe Bavier told Weekly readers how a new law designed to protect Arizonans from unqualified psychological counselors had ended up disqualifying hundreds of longtime, legitimate shrinks from their practices ("Head Games," May 6, 2004).

The law, which went into effect last July 1, established mandatory certification for psychotherapists for the first time in Arizona. But along with protecting patients from unscrupulous quacks, the new regs also ended up forcing competent counselors to close up shop, because they lacked supervised experience or academic credentials. In one particularly absurd example uncovered by Bavier, professor Carl Ridley, who had been teaching counseling and psychotherapy at the UA for more than a quarter century, was denied a license because he hadn't taken a class that he'd been teaching for the last five years.

This year, several Tucson-area members of the House of Representatives, including Republican Pete Hershberger and Democrats Linda Lopez and Dave Bradley, have sponsored legislation that would allow experienced counselors to obtain certification if they apply between Oct. 1 and April 1, 2006.


SPECIAL KAY

It should come as no shock that the family of Joe Kay--the brilliant former Tucson High scholar-athlete who is currently in intensive rehab to recover from a devastating injury he suffered when he was lifted, then buried in a pile of fans after a basketball game last year--is suing TUSD.

They have no choice. Joe Kay may be the nicest kid in town and the son of most gracious parents, but that does not mean they should go broke paying for his therapy and medical bills. This is not, as Joe Kay's mother has tried to explain, a "fairy tale" in which her son is magically getting better with little effort or expense.

Joe's parents, Suzanne Rabe and Fred Kay, are lawyers; they have retained Stanley Feldman, the retired Arizona chief justice. TUSD has lawyered up and sadly will likely run up the meter in defiance before ultimately settling.

TUSD should settle now. The poor planning for that key game, in which Kay led the Badgers over Salpointe Catholic in front of the largest crowd in memory, was clearly evident. The e-mails that zipped around Tucson High before the game are telling; written by administrators and teachers, the e-mails encouraged faculty and staff, in addition to students, to attend the game and "get rowdy."

There were plenty of TUSD bureaucrats at the game, as well as Tucson High faculty, who don't regularly attend games. There was no plan to keep kids from rushing the court; there were no cops around to deter the type of rush that resulted in Joe Kay's injury, paralysis and the huge shift in his life--from Stanford-bound volleyball star to laborious, painful rehab.

Feldman may want to ask TUSD why two cops show up when Pueblo High School hosts mostly white Catalina Foothills High School in lightly attended league basketball games, while no one was on hand for the Tucson-Salpointe game.


TEAM PLAYER

Steve Rivera, the longtime UA basketball writer for the Tucson Citizen, dialed up Pete Delgado's pre-game show on 1290 AM The Source to chastise the host and sidekick for not reading his stories. Rivera bragged that he had just completed his hackneyed "mid-term (mid-season) report card" on the Wildcats before they tipped off against USC.

"Need to get you some subscriptions," Rivera said.

He then unwittingly revealed why neither Delgado (who is knowledgeable, but too laid-back to suggest it) nor anyone else would or should subscribe.

When the subject turned to that evening's game, Rivera said he knew of big changes in the lineup that would surprise people, but would not say what the changes were. Rivera played secret-keeping know-it-all in the tradition of a 5-year-old, when he should have included the information in his stories that day.

The big change turned out to be Coach Lute Olson's lifting of Kirk Walters' red shirt.

Rivera, probably one of the most-read writers at the anemic Citizen due to the interest in his beat, proved why the huge majority of Tucsonans don't pick up Gannett's afternoon rag--Rivera feels no duty to the readers.


BUY LOW, WRITE ABOUT 'EM, SELL HIGH

Thom Calandra, a former columnist for the online financial news service MarketWatch.com and a former financial analyst on television, must pay $540,000 to settle SEC charges.

Calandra, a member of the UA journalism graduate program 22 years ago, used his apparently influential column to jack up the prices of stocks that he then secretly sold, according to The Associated Press and New York Times reports.

The Securities and Exchange Commission went after Calandra for "scalping" in a civil suit filed in federal court in San Francisco. It alleged that Calandra, from March to December 2003, would buy certain stocks, puff them up in his column, then sell them.

His abuse, which he neither admitted nor denied, ranks right up there with the misuse of The Wall Street Journal's one-time Heard on the Street column.

Some of Calandra's classmates were shocked by his meteoric rise in the financial reporting biz; his instructors and professors are likely just as shocked today. They all thought he was too smart and too talented to be wasting his time taking journalism classes.

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