Jennifer Eckstrom Leaves South Tucson Better Than She Found It

EckstromBy Tom Prezelski

Cross-posted from Rum, Romanism and Rebellion

Eighteen years is a long time to serve in public office. In Jennifer
Eckstrom’s case it is about half of her life. This comes to an end, at
least for the time being, this week, as the feisty South Tucson Mayor
announced her resignation late last week.

Rumors abound as to why she submitted the letter. Such speculation
naturally follows such things, particularly since it comes about two
weeks after her allies on the Council were defeated in the Square-Mile
City’s Democratic Primary. The truth is that her reasons are personal.
She is getting married and is planning to move to the far west side to
join her new husband. Besides, after nearly two decades, she deserves a
rest.

Last week we saw an example of her consistent willingness to speak
out on what she thinks is important to her community when she led a
press conference on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. While local
media featured Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, the truth was that he
joined the event only after it was organized by Mayor Eckstrom, which
was why it was held at the South Tucson City Hall. It may seem a minor,
strictly symbolic thing to be sure, but it shows that she took
initiative on this issue while others did not.

This was not the only issue on which she was outspoken. In a
jurisdiction that could ill afford mere posturing about issues of
poverty, she was not only sincere in her concern about economic justice,
but she showed a willingness to do the work it took to accomplish
something of real substance. She was active in the fight against payday lending, and her initiatives against slumlords are finally starting to bear fruit.

The Mayor and her allies had their detractors, and some of their
grievances had merit. However, their complaints have always seemed to
have more to do with personalities than policy, and the few policy
solutions they have promoted on the council have been unrealistic. A few
years back, for example, her opponents proposed pursuing a Wal-Mart as a
panacea against all of South Tucson’s problems. This was a bad idea for
many reasons, not the least of which was the retail giant’s noxious
labor policies. Also, it would have been a problem for existing
businesses, potentially leaving blighted, empty storefronts after
substantial public investment in redevelopment.

More than anything, however, there was never any evidence that
Wal-Mart was ever interested in South Tucson. This makes one wonder if
the notion was ever sincere in the first place, or if it was just pushed
for the sake of being contrary. At best, no one promoting this
harebrained scheme seems to have taken the time to think it through.

So the critical question here is what is it that this new slate of
councilmen intends to do? They seem to have no agenda other than
opposition to the existing order. For instance, they have promised a housecleaning
of staff (City Manager Enrique Serna has already announced his
resignation), but it is difficult to see how they will easily find
competent people to take these positions under these circumstances,
particularly when the elected leadership seems to be capricious. This
speaks to a certain naivete regarding the realities of governing.

Their rhetoric and attitude do not bode well in other ways. South
Tucson’s successes as a community have largely depended on partnerships.
The city actively participates in the Regional Transportation Authority
to an extent they did not under the previous Mayor. Most of their
initiatives as far as public health and economic development have been
due to Mayor Eckstrom’s ability to effectively work with outside
entities such as the University of Arizona
and Pima County. The new slate has already made noise about taking on
Supervisor Valadez. It is difficult to understand why anyone thinks such
needless belligerence is going to be at all helpful or productive for a
city that needs as many friends as it can find.

This being said, Mayor Eckstrom has much to be proud of. Business and
even light industry are moving into South Tucson. Crime remains a
problem, but it is generally in decline. Though things are far from
perfect, South Tucson is improving by most measures. It is hoped that
the new council will realize how much progress has been made and not,
out of some sense of supreme crankiness, reverse the good work that has
been done.

Meanwhile, I doubt that we have seen the last of Jennifer Eckstrom.

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