Civic Leader Randi Dorman to Focus on Economy as Tucson Mayor

Randi Dorman

On her first day in office as Tucson Mayor, real estate developer Randi Dorman will rivet her attention on five key sectors of the city economy, finding new businesses to come to Tucson and boosting businesses that are already here.

She will accomplish this by fully staffing the city Economic Development office, promoting Tucson as an arts destination, linking up local job training programs, expanding the streetcar to the airport, transitioning to electric buses, and planning for growth that is coming.

“When my husband and I moved to Tucson in 2001, so much of the city was beautiful but empty. There was so much potential and I wanted to create a more vibrant downtown,” she says. “Today we must recognize that potholes, lack of public safety officers, and a lack of open space are just symptoms of a greater problem. They’re symptoms of our lack of economic development.”

Dorman has extensive civic experience:

  • Board member and chair of the Downtown Tucson Partnership for 3 years, “making Downtown Tucson the place people want to live, work, and play.” It’s DPT Connects program reduced chronic homelessness downtown by 95%.
  • President of the Museum of Contemporary Art for 5 years. “MOCA, which started as a tiny museum, is now a world-class museum in a building that I helped it get into,” she says.
  • Founder of R+R Develop, which converted an old ice factory into the 51-unit Ice House Lofts (the first loft conversion in all of Arizona). Currently, the firm is building the Trinity mixed-use project at 4th Avenue and University, to house Health on University, a state-of-the-art primary care facility.

Arizona Foothills Magazine named her the “most influential Tucson Woman” because of her civic activity.

Randi Dorman and her husband Rob Paulus
Randi Dorman and her husband Rob Paulus

The multi-talented Dorman sings backup in a  blues band, rides her bike to her office, and at age 52 can perform gymnastic moves like backflip handsprings. She’s a 1988 grad of the University of Pennsylvania with a triple minor in math, French and political science. She has 31 years of experience as a businesswoman, starting in New York where she handled advertising for international brands such as Charmin, Crest and Old Spice. Her husband Rob Paulus is an architect, musician, and partner in R+R Develop.

Dorman is the first candidate to file for the election with the maximum 3,954 signatures on April 29. She’ll compete in the August 27 Democratic primary against Steve Farley, who served in the state Legislature for 12 years, and Regina Romero, who’s been on the city council for 11 years.

She is undaunted.

“I don’t think that political experience will move Tucson forward, at all. It’s going to take somebody who truly understands economic development, someone who knows how to set a vision, who knows how to connect and collaborate with people to make a plan and make that vision happen,” she says. “That’s what I do every day.”

“We don’t move forward in Tucson, we circle the drain and settle for the status quo, and it is not OK. I’m running because I got tired of waiting for others to make the change to make Tucson a thriving 21st-Century city.”

Focus on the economy

The three pillars of her campaign are economic development, “smart growth” (balancing planning for growth with maintaining Tucson’s culture and character), and sustainability. She has vetted her ideas with Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega, new Director of Transportation, Diana Alarcon, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry and others.

Dorman will focus on five sectors of the business ecosystem:

  • Mining
  • Aerospace
  • Bioscience
  • Health and wellness
  • Construction and logistics

“We need to focus on these sectors to bring in new businesses or to grow small ones here. We can create healthy competition, foster innovation and create job opportunities,” says. “Today you can move to Tucson and get a job — but not a career. If you work for a specific company, it doesn’t mean there’s another job for you.”

Step one will be beefing up the two-person Economic Development office so that it is “fully staffed, catering to small and medium-sized businesses, connecting businesses with job training, getting microloans — just to name a few,” she says. “A fully functioning Economic Development department will move us into the future.”

Come for the arts

Dorman sees Tucson as an arts destination, citing the All Souls Procession, and plans to harness the “creative economy” — anyone in marketing, the arts, writing or any creative profession. She says a study showed that the art industry brings in $100 million a year in revenue to the city. “I would leverage the arts as an economic development tool, not just from the artistic standpoint but from a business standpoint.”

“Chattanooga used the arts to attract tech companies,” she says. “We could do that. We’ve never had such strong leadership in the arts and it’s time to celebrate and leverage that. Just to name a few” she cited:

  • Jeremy Mikolajczak, the new CEO of the Tucson Museum of Art
  • Ginger Shulick Porcella of MOCA
  • José Luis Gomez, Music Director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra
  • Anne Breckenridge Barrett, the Director of The Center for Creative Photography
  • Arizona Theatre Company artistic director Sean Daniels
  • Andrew Schulz, Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona

On top of that, Tucson is America’s only City of Gastronomy, and Bon Appetit magazine recently said the city is “one of the best (unintentional) gastro-tourism experiences.”

“We’re on every list, and we should be. People will keep moving her and we can’t stick our heads in the sand and not plan for growth,” she says. Specific plans include:

  • Urban infill, which is taking vacant lots that already have access to transportation and water. “Urban infill the is the greenest way to develop. We have to make that easier to do. There is so much opportunity to make neighborhoods thrive.”
  • Migrating the city’s fleet of 220 buses to electric vehicles and creating an infrastructure for electric cars, both of which promote sustainability. “I just got an electric car. We have solar panels at the office and I charge my car during the day. We are diving from the sun. When you experience that and drive past the gas stations, you will never go back and buy another fossil fuel car again.”
  • Expanding the 4-mile streetcar to the airport. “There is over $1 billion in public and private investment along the route, but it’s not long enough. Our priority should be building south to the airport, to connect travelers to the center of town. Can you name any 21st-century city that doesn’t have a train from the airport?” she says.
  • Using “smart city” technology to connect sensors on busses with cell phones to announce exactly when a bus will arrive, and using adaptive traffic technology which will synchronize signals to manage traffic.

“But it doesn’t happen on its own. That’s why we need a mayor who understands real estate development, what it takes to develop, and which incentives are effective. Unless we have a mayor who truly understands real estate, land use, zoning, and building codes, how can you make the best decisions?  I understand those things because that’s what I do.”