Local attorney Paul Durham may have found a unique way to set himself apart in the three-way Democratic primary to replace Ward 3 City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich.
He differed by sidestepping a handful of yes or no questions on Thursday night at an elections forum organized by the Pima County Interfaith Council.
Durham didn’t commit to support funding increases for the Kidco after-school program and the JobPath skills-training program, as well as a vow to protect a low-wage fare on city buses and the number of bus routes.
He said he supports after-school care, low-cost bus fares and job training programs but couldn’t support a six-figure increase in funding for them without understanding them in the larger context of current budget issues.
And taking into account the cost of the city-funded transit system, such a pledge to keep some fares artificially low while protecting the current number of routes and bus stops could conceivably grow into multimillion dollar annual increases to the city’s budget, he said.
While the candidates had been given the questions ahead of the forum, Durham said there is no way to know whether upcoming city budgets would be in a growth mode or dealing with some economic crisis.
“I can’t commit without specific facts,” he told the crowd.
His two Democratic rivals, teacher Felicia Chew and businessman Tom Tronsdal, largely disagreed with Durham’s reasoning.
Chew, a single mother, told the audience of 120 that the Kidco program helps her and countless Tucson families, which in turn, benefits the local economy.
With usually only 90 seconds to answer the yes or no questions, Chew briefly discussed her desire to create a dedicated regional tax that benefits local public transportation.
She did not offer specifics, but argued the public would be better served by such a funding model.
Currently, the city of Tucson spends about $30 million from the general fund to support day-to-day Sun Tran operations.
Tronsdal stopped short of promising there would be growth in terms of the number of Sun Tran routes but vowed to protect existing routes and the number of bus stops.
Tronsdal said he would be willing to commit up to $350,000 annually for the JobPath program — saying studies have shown that for every dollar the city commits the community gets back the equivalent of $10.
He said supporting the program is a no-brainer.
The three candidates did agree on other questions, saying they supported the council’s decision to make the city of Tucson an immigrant- and refugee-welcoming community and on its ban on the sale of synthetic drugs known as “Spice.”
The forum on Thursday night was the fourth debate for the three Democrats vying to replace Uhlich, who is retiring this year.
The winner of the Aug. 29 ward primary will face Gary Watson, who is running as an independent, in November’s election. There is no Republican candidate for the position.
Ballots will be mailed Aug. 9 to registered voters in the ward, one of three City Council wards holding a vote in August’s primary. It and a Green Party race in Ward 6 are the only contested races in the primary.
Another Ward 3 forum, organized by the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber Commerce, is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 2.
That forum will be held at Tucson Medical Center, 5301 E. Grant Road. The event will be held inside the main auditorium and doors will open to the public at 5:30 p.m. with the debate beginning at 6 p.m.