At the moment, America is so taken by a spirit of Kumbaya due to the events of September 11 that even Molly Ivins isn't beating up President Bush. Considering circumstances, that's as it should be.
But at some point we need to do what the man who has become a role model for all mayors, New York's Rudy Giuliani, has asked us all to do--return to normalcy. That includes getting back to evaluating our pols.
As opinions about Mayor Giuliani changed in the past two weeks, so has mine of Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup. I don't consider him as big a doofus as I thought.
He had enraged many in his Republican base and was known to them by his native American name, "Man who pisses backwards." To others he was a smiling empty suit, clueless about what his role really was.
His major accomplishment is to be part of a four-vote coalition with fellow Republican Fred Ronstadt and Democrats Shirley Scott and Carol West. Their agenda, like all coalition agendas, is murky, but it's not as liberal as the other three council members' on certain issues. They are more inclined to suck up to big business interests and developers, which means they're similar to most other Democrats and Republicans everywhere else.
Beyond that, the Mayor is best known for a host of shallow clichés such as "Sure is a great city" and "We'll have to get moving and solve that." He's involved with all the issues you can't miss if you're in government, from crime to transportation, but has offered nothing specific besides support for a new sales tax election. All intelligent observers know that dog won't hunt. In fact, that puppy is DOA.
His other trademark issue would appear to be the massive Rio Nuevo project, which is close to the tank because not one private investor is ready to put up any cash, although many want to grab a piece of the tax money involved. Prior to September 11 this failure would have cost him dearly. Now it will simply be attributed to the general investor caution sweeping the nation.
Walkup can probably survive the appearance that he reneged on many commitments--restaurant smoking bans, gun shows and Tortolitan independence come to mind. A cursory glance at others still holding public office indicates that bugging out is not that debilitating a political factor around here. In fairness, a careful analysis of his actual words indicates that he never really gave his word on many issues, just the impression that he held the position of those he was courting. Many consider that sleazy and certainly as infuriating as outright lying. But his biggest problem is how he uses and handles the office and sees his role.
He has seen the office as a giant perk. He spent $95,000 remodeling it, which you will never see because he so tightened "security" in City Hall that mere citizens cannot enter the building without a specific appointment. After September 11, some might think that OK, but the real motivation was that the Mayor didn't want anybody getting near him who wasn't pre-screened. You even have to fill out a written application to talk to him.
He also abandoned the Mayor's parking spot behind city hall because he was once accosted by someone who wished to speak to him. And for a period of time he didn't drive his city car. He was provided a chauffeur--a position not in the city budget--by City Clerk Kathy Detrich from among her part-time election workers. (Detrich and her City Attorney husband, Brad, often exercise much more power than the Mayor and Council, but that's another story.) The driver quit after being constantly ribbed by his co-workers and has yet to be replaced.
The final example of what can only be called Walkup's clueless arrogance is his staff telling those who called his office while he was away in Hawaii to call back when he returned, as they didn't take messages. Seems the Mayor dislikes returning to a desk full of phone slips.
Other mayors have hardly been humble--Lew Murphy and George Miller come to mind. But they drove their own cars, parked with mere council members, and even allowed access to lowly citizens.
Walkup's view of the Mayor's role was clearly illustrated during the recent Sun Tran strike. He didn't want "politicians" to be "involved." Huh? Aren't those we elect to run the city--the "politicians"--supposed to have some role in running that city function and city property called the city bus system?
Walkup's behavior has improved since September 11. He has done what some other local pols--Ray Carroll notably the exception--can't bother with, and that's to show up for the many displays and functions going on to relieve both New York City and America. For this he is to be commended. It's obviously one part of the Mayor's role he does grasp. But it invites comparison to that new civic role model, New York's Giuliani.
Giuliani had a clear agenda; Walkup doesn't. Giuliani clearly understands what goes on in his rather large city, which is why he is credible in a crisis. We suspect Walkup cannot go to a map and name all the city buildings. Walkup came from big business where staff is generally trustworthy; Giuliani came from longtime government service and knows better. But most important of all, Giuliani wants to govern. Walkup appears to only want the appearance of governing.
Walkup may well draw primary-election opposition from conservatives and others. And Democrats have a clear shot to retake the Mayor's office in two years with a decent candidate who doesn't scare the business types. They scare easy--they were actually frightened of Molly McKasson!
So the pieces are in place for Mayor Walkup to eventually be remembered by his Hispanic nickname: