Regina Romero was not considering a run for mayor last year but that was before Jonathan Rothschild announced in December that he was retiring from Tucson politics.
Fast forward to today, and the three-term councilwoman who now represents Ward 1 is vying to be the city’s first Latina mayor. The all-mail election is Nov. 5 and Romero — a Democrat — is considered the favorite to win over independent Ed Ackerley and Green Party candidate Mike Cease.
Romero touts her three terms serving on the City Council and years before that volunteering and being active in local politics — both as a council aide and working on various Democratic campaigns — as being the most qualified to lead the city for the next four years.
If elected, Romero, has put forward an aggressive plan to use the city’s resources to go green with a plan to cut carbon emissions, strengthen collaboration with educational institutions to improve workforce training as well as push for systemic changes inside the city’s housing department.
In the three-way Democratic primary in August, Romero defeated former state Sen. Steve Farley and local developer Randi Dorman.
Romero, who ran using the city’s clean-elections matching funds program, got a big boost in the primary from outside political action groups including the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the Latino outreach arm of the League of Conservation Voters and Mi Familia Vota, which spent about $500,000, indirectly supporting her campaign. She attracted the largest amount of outside spending of the three Democratic candidates, something heavily criticized afterward by Farley.
Difficult time to start on council
Romero was elected to the council in 2007. But just as she took her seat on the council, the city began to feel the effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
“In the summer of 2008, the recession hit,” she said. “So all of the dreams and aspirations that I first started with really had to be put on hold because of the unbelievable amount of loss of revenue. I don’t think people understand now the magnitude of the loss of revenue that we had.” At one point the city was faced with a loss of about $50 million in expected revenue, she said.
The calls from the public to cut funding for nonessential programs, pushed Romero to fight for programs that she knew were helping the community but were not what everyone considered essential services, such as the Kidco after-school program. But the funding of those programs, many offered by nonprofits, came at a price, forcing the council to furlough city employees to deal with budget shortfalls.
Romero said it was a difficult decision to support continued funding of the social service programs, but she felt the programs that helped working families, teens and the elderly were too important to go unfunded.
With the economy in a better place, Romero is now pushing for an aggressive strategy focusing on education and workforce training.
“Tucson residents are very frustrated about the lack of funding for public education and a good quality education,” Romero said. “The low wages that we have here, the percentage of poverty that we have in our city, the lack of opportunity for high wage jobs for our residents and university graduates are something that we have to make sure that we are working on.”
If elected, Romero would use her office to expand workforce training by forming partnerships with the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, school districts and various technical-school apprenticeship programs.
Romero also made the environment a top priority on the campaign trail, saying she wants to craft a “citywide climate resiliency plan” that would have the city drastically reducing its carbon footprint by 2050. The councilwoman wants to shift both the city’s fleet of vehicles and buses used by the regional bus system to mostly electric, plant a million trees, and increase the use of solar power at city facilities.
Sanctuary city divide
Romero, however, has found herself at odds with the supporters of the “sanctuary city” initiative known as Prop. 205, which will be decided by Tucson residents Nov. 5.
Although Romero led the fight against SB1070, the state’s anti-immigration law, helped to pass several resolutions critical of the Trump administration’s border policies and worked to craft the “immigrant welcoming city” designation for Tucson, she doesn’t support the ballot initiative that would put into law strict limits of when police officers can ask people they come in contact with about their immigration status. The measure, if approved, could cost the city millions in state and federal funding and limit police collaboration with federal agencies in other law enforcement matters.
Romero isn’t alone in her opposition — the entire all-Democratic City Council — is against the measure.
Romero said she believes that many of the goals of Prop. 205 are already achieved by the Tucson Police Department’s general orders and that it would make the city a target of punitive action from the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Trump administration.
Romero said she will defend the city from any legal challenges that might arise if the measure passes.
Endorsements from past, present mayors
Romero was endorsed by the current and two former Tucson mayors — Rothschild, Democrat Tom Volgy and Republican Bob Walkup.
“In her 12 years on the City Council, Regina has been a formidable advocate for her ward, the environment, neighborhoods and small business owners,” Rothschild said. “Regina served during the recession, when tough decisions had to be made. She supported economic development efforts that helped Tucson recover and thrive.”
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson
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