You could call it a palace coup, but we are talking about the Pima County Democratic Party here — its office is sort of a dump.

And it turns out that is relevant to what happened there a week ago.

The chair of the local Democratic party, Cheryl Cage, met at the office Sept. 24 with the two staff members and five other board officers, as well as the previous party chair. Afterward, Cage resigned, having spent just nine months on the job. The timing was inauspicious, with only a couple of weeks to go until ballots are sent out for the Tucson City Council and Pima County bond election.

At the meeting, Cage was confronted by the other officers of the party’s executive committee and the party’s two staff members with objections about her leadership style and her priorities.

Priorities like that dump.

Cage and her predecessor, Don Jorgensen, had led an effort to raise money to renovate the office at 4639 E. First St., near Swan Road and Speedway. Some have objected to that board-approved action as unnecessary, though the conflict was sorted out this summer.

But that wasn’t all, a disgusted Jorgensen told me Wednesday. Cage had faulted some work of the two staff members — one of whom is an interim executive director on the job for one month, and another who’s been finance director for three months. That caused a stir.

Besides being a former party chair, Jorgensen has worked as a mediator, and he attended the meeting with the hopes of mediating between Cage and those who had problems with her, he told me. That wasn’t the real agenda, he said.

“She was blindsided,” he said. “They had no interest in resolving issues.”

“Some officers didn’t like Cheryl’s style. These young staff members perhaps had never had constructive criticism,” Jorgensen said. “Here we had officers of the organization siding with 3-month employees rather than a chair who was elected by the precinct committee people.”

“Rather than try to resolve these issues, they engaged in this power play and essentially forced her resignation,” he said.

First vice chair Pat Burns attended the meeting and assumed leadership of the party on a temporary basis afterward. He said the intent was not to force Cage to resign, but that she had outbursts toward the staff that were inappropriate.

“Cheryl asked if the other officers thought she should resign,” he said. “The consensus was there wasn’t another way to move forward unless that happened.”

The eruption surprised some Democratic activists and officeholders who knew nothing about the conflict, let alone the possibility of another change of party leadership

“I didn’t have any issues with her. I didn’t even know this was going on,” said Tucson City Council member Paul Cunningham, who is running for re-election.

“Of course it bothers you a little bit,” Cunningham said of the timing of the confrontation, “but you have to move on.”

State Rep. Dr. Randy Friese, who had Cage as his campaign manager, called her an “enthusiastic” Democrat.

“She has tons of ideas, tons of energy, and certainly that may have been misunderstood,” he said.

Tom Prezelski, a former state legislator who is a member of the party’s executive committee, told me it was bad timing. But he added that it appears the staff and others still with the party were acting professionally and not too divisively.

“I don’t think it’s a big distraction, but I don’t think it’s a distraction we need,” he said. “We need to focus on getting our City Council candidates elected and getting the bonds passed.”

The party’s executive committee meets Monday. It will be interesting to see if members support the moves made by the officers and staff or if they launch a counter-coup. You’d think at least they’ll ask why this couldn’t have waited until after the election.

GOP’s own troubles

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Normally we associate the sort of factionalism displayed in the Democratic Party with the local GOP. Not so now — the GOP’s main problem is financial.

The party moved out of its longtime office at Fifth Street and Craycroft Road earlier this year into a new office at 17 W. Wetmore Road. But the party’s fundraising is not great.

Before Bill Beard took over as chair last year, the former chair, Carolyn Cox, would often cover some of the party’s bills. Now that job falls to the state GOP.

The deal that state party chairman Robert Graham has struck, he said, is for the local party to spend its money on political activities that can lead to election wins and let the state party cover “infrastructure” — like the rent. (Rent isn’t a problem the Democrats have — they own their place.)

The state party has much deeper pockets and receives donations from heavy hitters like Tucson auto dealer Jim Click, one of the state’s biggest Republican donors, who give to the state party to dole out where needed, Graham said.

“Jim has been very generous, over and over again,” he told me. “A lot of what Jim has given has been used in Tucson.”

Survey turns push poll

The survey seems pretty innocent at first, with questions about whether voters are aware of the upcoming city election, and how they rate the City Council’s performance.

Then there’s this question: “The local Davis-Monthan Air Force Base may close down and the current Tucson City Council is doing nothing to prevent that from happening. How concerned are you about this?”

Screeech! The poll, by the Foundation for Responsible Accountable Government — led by Christine Bauserman and Frank Antenori — turns full-on push poll with that question. Nevertheless, it holds out a little hope for the three Republican City Council members.

Of the 1,200 voters surveyed, 47 percent thought the council is doing a poor job. More of them will likely think so after going through this survey, and of course that’s part of the idea.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.