FOUR YEARS AGO, José Ibarra was a brash, 26-year-old politician who narrowly edged out a five-way Democratic primary to cruise to a City Council seat contested by only a little-known Republican in westside Ward 1.
Ibarra had been a political junkie since he read Machiavelli's The Prince in high school. He entered local politics as a protégé of Supervisor Raul Grijalva, ran George Miller's first mayoral campaign in 1991, and worked Southern Arizona for Bill Clinton in 1992.
Since his election, Ibarra has worked neighborhood politics. He cites helping the groups to organize as one of the big successes of his first term.
"It was not José Ibarra," the Councilman says. "It was Ward 1 staff, along with the neighborhoods we were dealing with, along with certain city departments we worked with to revitalize and rejuvenate neighborhoods and make them safe."
Ibarra sees the neighborhood movement as positive. "I think neighborhoods are finally standing up for themselves and saying, 'Look, this is the direction we want to go.' And for the first time in a long time, mayor and Council are actually listening. You're not getting mayor and Council to sell-out a neighborhood for the almighty dollar."
Despite Ibarra's embrace of populist stances, some activists grumble that Ibarra has become unresponsive and tempermental.
"I have been abrasive," Ibarra admits. He says he initially worked as many as 70 hours a week after his election, but the pace had to slow after his marriage. Since then, he's tried to juggle the job and his personal life.
"Everybody agrees with your actions, but they give you no flexibilty," Ibarra complains. "It's really frustrating. That's why I've been snapping a little lately.... I'm learning to balance the time and pressures of the job, and still try to balance out my family and getting a job."
Among Ibarra's biggest foes is Republican Councilman Fred Ronstadt, who has clashed with Ibarra on many occasions. Ronstadt played a major role recruiting Republican Ray Castillo, a 62-year-old insurance agent who held the Ward 1 seat from 1969 to 1973. Two subsequent runs ended in defeat, although he did serve part of a term on the Sunnyside School Board.
Ronstadt's wife, Pam Ronstadt, is managing Castillo's campaign. She's proven herself to be an effective fundraiser, putting together a $73,393 war chest which includes $35,539 in city matching funds. In comparison, Ibarra has raised $67,358, including $33,779 in matching funds. Under the city's matching-funds program, candidates agree to limit spending to $77,342.
A lot has changed in Tucson over the three decades since Castillo won election to the Ward 1 office.
"It's grown a lot more, and that's going to continue to happen," Castillo says. "You know, there's no way we're going to be able to stop people from coming to Tucson. We have beautiful weather, beautiful people, we just need to do our planning so we can plan the growth of Tucson."
But Castillo hasn't done much planning himself in preparation for the campaign. "I have some ideas, but again, it's something that I'm going to have to sit down (with), because first of all, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in any of those items."
Castillo promises to turn to experts once he's elected to office. "The city has the ability and the means to get experts to tell us the best direction we should go. Then it's up to mayor and Council -- which has not happened in the last 10 to 15 years -- to start leading the city in the right direction, making plans and having the city manager implement plans. Right now, it appears it's the opposite."
With proper planning, Castillo says, many of the problems facing Tucson would be solved. For example, he gripes, the Council should have addressed the big box controversy as far back as a decade ago. "The city should have known this five, 10 years ago and they should have started maybe using a different rezoning or putting some restrictions on their zoning that they have for the big boxes."
But given a chance to predict what problems will face Tucson in a decade, Castillo's forecast falls back to the problems the community is facing today: water and transportation. But, he says, they will likely get worse in 10 years.
"Can you imagine what they're going to be like 10, 15 years from today?" he asks. "How many people are we going to have in Tucson? The city should be able to give you a projection and tell you, listen, the way this city is growing, the way we annex this or think of doing that, we will have X number of people. Then you know how many cars you're going to have, because it's determined by the number of people. Then you can start saying, OK, we're going to have to synchronize lights better, we're going to have to make some major thoroughfares one-way streets, we need to build more streets."
Asked what kind of transportation improvement he favors, however, Castillo turns vague.
"There's a number of things, but this is why you have to plan. This is why the Council has to sit down with the city manager and the experts, your traffic experts, and say OK, folks, seven years, this is how many cars have to go through this intersection. Now what do we do? Do we divide it, do we do something? We have to start planning and getting the ideas now so that we can start working on it so that 10 years from now, traffic is moving very, very smoothly."
Castillo says his water policy would be simple: "Provide healthy, affordable water to our citizens."
He opposes Prop 200, which would further restrict the Council's options regarding CAP water, and supports Tucson Water's $2-million Ambassador program, which has been delivering a blend of groundwater and recharged CAP water to select neighborhoods across Tucson.
But Castillo evidentally hasn't noticed the full-page newspaper ads touting the program as part of Tucson Water's $25,000-a-month PR campaign. "They are not marketing our proposals and our resolutions and our problems properly to the people," he says. "In other words, right now they have this blend water and they have a few neighborhoods who agreed to use that blend water. I have yet to see anything from the city saying here is Mr. Tucson Citizen who has been drinking CAP blend water. Tell us what you think of it, and that person would tell you how good the water is."
Ibarra has been more critical of the Ambassador program. He faults the utility for not attempting recharge programs in the central well field. Although he doesn't support Prop 200, he thinks it will pass. He blames Tucson Water's reluctance to attempt recharge in the central well field.
"We took the Ambassador program -- $2 million, and we don't know if we can do it citywide," Ibarra says. "But they don't want to do the one in the Rillito because it's 'too expensive.' If you can pilot one, why can't you pilot the other one? Let's find out if they're wrong, if they're right. The city administration disregards everything so quickly that it forces people to question them again. Why won't they even try it?"
Independent candidate Val Romero, who abandoned his mayoral hopes earlier this year, also collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot.