A midtown City Council election forum had six candidates, five sponsors, four Democrats squabbling, three interruptions, two missing candidates, quotes from “Game of Thrones” and one hopeful breaking out in song.
The two-hour debate Wednesday night at Changemaker High School was billed as an opportunity for locals to meet the candidates in Wards 3 and 6 running in the Aug. 29 primary and to hear their thoughts on building a sustainable community.
Instead, candidates launched into attacks on each other and, by the end of the night, drew the ire of the students who labeled the entire slate of candidates as “privileged.”
But even before the fighting started, the forum had a few memorable moments, including when Democrat Felicia Chew, running in Ward 3, decided to sing a song she penned as part of her answer to a question about environmental sustainability and protecting the region’s water supply.
In the song, Chew laments that she no longer can hear the roar of the Rillito River and told the audience she tries to avoid stepping in bat guano while on hikes in the desert.
This wasn’t the first time Chew has opted to sing for votes at a forum.
Earlier, Councilman Steve Kozachik, unopposed in the primary, quoted a line from the HBO series “Game of Thrones” — “chaos is a ladder” — as he used his opening two minutes to attack his Republican rival, architect Mariano Rodriguez, who wasn’t at the forum. They will face off in the November general election.
Kozachik played up Rodriguez’s enthusiastic support for President Trump, tying the local Republican to various policies backed by the White House.
Kozachik said Rodriguez was supporting policies that reward achieving power by causing havoc.
Rodriguez was not invited to the forum and learned of it only after it was over.
But Kozachik’s quote was apropos as the last 30 minutes descended into verbal jabs — primarily between the students and the candidates.
After roughly 90 minutes of planned questions on sustainability, a student from the high school told the six candidates she felt they were privileged and were doing nothing for a community struggling just to get by.
It was attorney Paul Durham’s answer to a question — an anecdote about Tucson police officers coming to a house where he was just about to knock on the door while campaigning — that drew the ire of both students and at least one parent, who turned out to be the campaign manager for Green Party candidate Mike Cease.
While Durham is a candidate in Ward 3 and Cease is running in Ward 6, Najima Rainey loudly asked whether Durham’s answer was some kind of joke and that many of the candidates did not “really get” what the students were asking.
At one point Durham talked about his sister passing away after a lifelong battle with alcoholism, which then prompted one student in the audience to say he had a cousin who had been shot.
Durham then accused businessman Tom Tronsdal of “not doing his homework” when it came to deciding whether to put solar panels on his home.
Tronsdal has stated in public meetings that he considered solar for his home, but it didn’t pan out.
Solar power is a big aspect of Durham’s campaign. He has pledged, if elected, to make City Hall and other city properties solar-powered.
Durham told the audience that Tronsdal made a mistake by rejecting solar for his home.
"Tom didn't do his homework and he made a bad financial and sustainability decision as a result," Durham said.
The debate was the last planned public forum before the Aug. 29 primary, where voters in Ward 3 will decide on the Democratic nominee.
In Ward 6, voters will decide between Green Party candidates Cease and Mike Oatman, who did not attend the forum.