Four years ago, the Arizona Daily Star endorsed Karin Uhlich and Richard Fimbres for seats on the Tucson City Council. Both are running for re-election and we renew our support in the November general election.
In that same 2009 endorsement editorial, we did not endorse Steve Kozachik and suggested he was better suited to serve on the board that oversaw the Rio Nuevo downtown development effort.
We underestimated Kozachik, a Democrat who represents Ward 6 in central Tucson. He has demonstrated tenacity, fairness, thoroughness and a dedication to the details that we find refreshing and much needed on the City Council. His willingness to not only ask questions but to bring important problems to light, as he did with serious deficiencies with the 911 communications system, for example, benefits the city. He steps out front on issues, such as organizing a gun buyback event, and shows what an engaged, common-sense public servant can do.
Kozachik is running unopposed but nevertheless has earned our endorsement.
Uhlich and Fimbres both have challengers. Uhlich, a Democrat, again faces Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia, who she narrowly defeated four years ago. Fimbres, a Democrat, is facing political newcomer Mike Polak, a Republican, in Ward 5.
Ward 3: Karin Uhlich
The Star endorses Uhlich for a third term representing central and northwest Tucson, generally north of Grant Road and west of Alvernon Way.
The founder and co-director of the Center for Economic Integrity, Uhlich has an impressive résumé, and her time on the City Council has positively, and pragmatically, shaped her views and approach.
Uhlich has developed a sense of how to balance and collaborate with constituencies on competing sides of an issue. For example, she led the development of a regional water policy including the numerous water companies that serve the Tucson region. Now the groups are working together for a common good, rather than as adversaries fighting over a limited resource, she told the Star editorial board.
Another accomplishment Uhlich points to is the redevelopment of Miracle Mile, a stretch of Tucson that has been well-known for problems such as crime and drugs that often accompany poverty. It now boasts the revival of Monterey Court as an art, retail, dining and entertainment venue, and the Ghost Ranch Lodge is a vibrant apartment complex for low-income residents. Progress needs to continue, but it’s a highly visible improvement.
One of Uhlich’s strongest attributes is her ability to evolve positions and to meld practical concerns with an over-arching sense of economic and social justice. Her stand on the future of the Ronstadt Transit Center bus station is one example. She is steadfast that access to public transit must remain in the heart of downtown but equally dedicated to the reality that private business development on part of the site does not automatically render a project undesirable or unfair to low-income Tucsonans.
We believe Uhlich, using her credibility to bring seemingly disparate groups together, should lead all parties to a practical and fair solution for the transit center’s future.
Her opponent, Buehler-Garcia, a self-employed economic and community development consultant, has a wealth of professional and community experience. He says his knowledge of contracts and finance would make him a valuable addition to the council. He is a well-qualified candidate who has a detailed and sensible plan outlining his priorities if he’s elected. We believe he should continue contributing his expertise to city government, such as his previous board service with the Tucson Industrial Development Authority.
Ward 5: Richard Fimbres
We endorse Fimbres, a 30-year veteran of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, as the more knowledgeable candidate but are disappointed by his lack of engagement and leadership.
Ward 5, which encompasses much of the south side, includes some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in our economically distressed city.
The ward has seen improvements, such as the opening of The Bridges shopping complex at South Kino Boulevard and Interstate 10 that includes Costco, Walmart and small retailers. The development and Costco’s commitment were underway when Fimbres took office in late 2009, but he says he’s worked to continue the project’s expansion.
He told the Star during an interview with the editorial board that he wants to see the Valencia Crossing project, near East Valencia and South Kolb roads on the southeast side, come to fruition. It’s a commercial development with the potential to bring jobs and create tax revenue. Fimbres calls it the largest annexation in 15 years, bringing in $32 million in initial fees to the city of Tucson.
Our criticism of Fimbres is that while in person he is informed and prepared, that does not come across during City Council meetings and study sessions. The best council members ask questions that demonstrate a clear and critical eye on detail and a deep understanding of issues — qualities that Fimbres, unfortunately, does not frequently exhibit during meetings.
Fimbres has a long history of public service, in law enforcement and on the Pima Community College Governing Board. We believe he should use his four years of City Council experience as a springboard to take the lead on important issues rather than simply supporting them and offer new ideas to improve Ward 5.
His opponent, Mike Polak, is well-intentioned and brings experience as an aerospace engineer, Marine Corps veteran and small-business owner, but during our interview he spoke in broad generalities. He would do well to volunteer for a city board or commission to become more familiar with details of the city budget and bureaucracy.
Uhlich and Fimbres were in office during dark days for Tucson that included substantial budget cuts and, as Uhlich told us, “a culture in the city that believed that any problem could be fixed with a new rule or regulation.” She says the latter has changed and continues to change. We agree.
We believe Uhlich should lead the council to continue streamlining the permitting process and generally easing the challenges businesses face opening and growing their operations.
With Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, elected in 2011, at the helm and the feud with the board that runs the Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment taxing district in the rearview mirror, the council has made positive steps. It recognizes the wisdom of building business and trade relationships with businesses in Mexico, for example. It’s not perfect – no municipality can claim that – but it is better than it has been.
The momentum should be allowed to continue with Kozachik, Uhlich and Fimbres at the council table.