Former state senator Steve Farley found himself in hot water on Thursday after he posted a tweet about school counselors in low-income neighborhoods.

"There is a severe shortage of counselors in our public schools — particularly in low-income neighborhoods — who are forced to focus more on disruptive students than those who have what it takes to succeed in college and lead our economy into the 21st century," Farley, who is vying to become Tucson's next mayor, tweeted on Thursday.

He later deleted the tweet, replacing it with a slightly different tweet.

"Due to bad leadership and poor decisions by Governors Brewer and Ducey, there is a severe shortage of counselors in our public schools. We need to provide ALL of our students the resources they need to succeed," Farley tweeted.

Educators, activists, and his political enemies quickly weighed in on social media, offering various criticisms of Farley's first tweet.

Posts range from "tone deaf," "elitist," and "a great deal of privilege and bias."

Farley tried to walk back the comment, admitting it was poorly written but also saying his political enemies were twisting his remarks.

Asked about the controversy on Friday, the former state senator emphasized that his tweet was designed to highlight that Tucson schools need more counselors — for all students.

"My point is and is always the same, is that we need more school counselors," he said. "If the state isn't going to do it, the city must step up."

Farley is pushing to make education a cornerstone of his mayoral campaign, saying that too many politicians — including Democrats in Tucson — are working to find reasons not to address the issue.

"If there is a crisis in our community, you don't use legalistic reasons on why you can't do it," he said.

Local teacher Charlene Mendoza learned of the Tweet Thursday evening and said she was hurt that Farley could write something so damaging.

"The implications throughout his statement are that brilliant students don't know about resources available to them, that disruptive students (whatever that means) don't have what it takes to succeed in college and lead in our economy, and that low-income schools and the students in them are lacking," she wrote on Facebook. "This is more than a poorly worded sentence. This is a statement dripping with privilege, implicit bias and subtractive, deficit perceptions of children, the professionals who do our jobs regardless of underfunding and challenges and the residents (and voters) in Tucson's 'low-income neighborhoods.'"

A Tucson native, she identified as one of those "disruptive students" Farley was talking about.

"I was a kid that he was talking about," she told the Star.

However, Mendoza was far more concerned about Farley's decision not to acknowledge that he made a mistake.

The more appropriate, respectful response, particularly in today's political climate, is "I'm sorry for the harm I caused. I am sorry for showing my privilege and implicit bias. I am sorry. I am committed to doing better," she wrote on Facebook. "Instead, he used his platform that should be about taking responsibility for his words and apologizing to attempt to denigrate his opponent."

At least one of Farley's Democratic rivals in the mayor's race, Councilwoman Regina Romero, responded to his Tweet.

"As mayor, I will advocate for increased funding and resources that benefit ALL students — 'disruptive' or not. Every child deserves a high-quality education regardless of any behavioral, academic, or other deficits they may have," Romero wrote on Twitter Thursday.


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.