Steve Farley appeared to be the Democratic candidate to beat in last night’s Tucson Mayoral Forum, as opponents Regina Romero and Randi Dorman traded barbs with him over affordable housing plans, campaign funding and staff, endorsements, who was the union candidate and the RedforEd movement.
The forum at Rincon High School filled nearly every seat in the auditorium and was sponsored by the Pima County Democratic Party. Christopher Conover of Arizona Public Media moderated the program.
Farley leads in fundraising, bringing in $217,000 since he launched his campaign. Romero, a clean elections candidate, has brought in $135,600 in donations plus public matching funds of $98,000. Dorman had raised $170,000 by the June 30 reporting deadline.
Primary ballots go out on August 2. The winner of the primary is highly likely to be the next Mayor.
Affordable housing percentage
Farley said that as mayor, he would require developers that get city incentives to set aside a percentage of their projects for affordable housing and affordable retail, and require developers to use union labor.
Dorman, a real estate developer, said Farley was lying, adding, “You can’t say that just for applause from the audience,” dismissing Farley’s approach as “an idea that can’t be done,” and “Your plan would halt development and result in less housing.”
Farley roared back with, “I will not apologize for when you are giving out taxpayer funds in the form of incentives, you better get much more than that in a return on investment. You need to make sure that it makes sense for taxpayers.” He drew hearty applause when he said, “I think it’s fair to have developers use union labor in constructing their project. When you strengthen unions, you strengthen workers’ wages across the board.”
Romero, the Ward 1 city council member, confronted Farley about getting funds from GOP fundraiser Jim Click, a car dealer. “Why has Jim Click, a top fundraiser for Republican party, a frequent attendee of Koch donor summit, at the tip of the spear of the effort to undermine spearhead to undermine unions, women’s rights, our public schools, our environment, living wages and benefits, been personally fundraising on your behalf and hosting house parties?” she asked.
Farley said that Click had donated $500 to his campaign, adding, “Contributions mean nothing to me except for my ability to get my message to the public.” He said while riding a city bus, “I met a homeless woman. She talked to me about trying to find a place to live where she could keep her dog. That homeless woman has equal access to my office as Jim Click.”
Farley added, “I didn’t make him co-chair of my campaign. The Co-chair of Councilwoman Romero’s campaign is a man called Cody Ritchie. He maxed out to Donald Trump in 2016. He gave $10,000 to the Republican National Committee, he gave $10,000 to the Pima County Republican Party and $10,000 to the state Republican Party. That’s someone that councilwoman Romero has appointed to a leadership position in her campaign. I would not appoint Mr. Click as co-chair of my campaign.”
Romero responded, “Cody is a good friend of mine because he cares about the city of Tucson. He cares about having good streets good parks and good streets.”
Who’s the union candidate?
Romero declared, “I am the union candidate,” citing endorsements by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99, AFSCME Local 449, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Arizona State Building & Construction Trade Council, and the Southwest Carpenters Arizona Local 1219.
Farley has been endorsed by Local 104 of the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers Local 8002, Tucson Police Officers Association, and the Tucson Firefighters Association. He said, “Police and fire believe I am the candidate that we restore public safety to what it needs to be.”
Farley challenged Romero for her support of former Ward 3 city council candidate Felicia Chew, saying “You endorsed her and she went on to endorse an independent candidate who was Trump supporter.
Romero: “I made the best decision with the information I had at the time. In hindsight, I didn’t have enough info about Felicia Chew and she’s made comments I absolutely disagree with.”
Romero claimed Farley didn’t endorse Governor candidate David Garcia. Farley refuted that, saying he endorsed Garcia on the night of the primary and held a fundraiser for him at the Arizona Inn.
Red for Ed
Farley recounted how he supported the RedforEd movement to get $415 million in new funding for public schools this year. Ducey’s last best offer was $30 million in new funding. “Then the teachers showed up. I helped to leverage their power, give them the information they needed, made sure they where they needed to be, and I worked behind the scenes to get $415 million in new funding for K-12.”
Romero said, “With due respect to Steve when you say you helped leverage the power of the teacher’s movement, this movement was teacher powered. 50,000 educators marched to the legislature and knocked down the doors of Governor Ducey.”
Farley responded, “The teachers didn’t have to knock down the doors to the legislature. I gave them the key. They came to my office, 30 to 40 at a time. I gave them the tools they needed and that’s what I mean by leveraging. And there’s no question we got even more.”
Where the candidates agree
The candidates agreed on many points, such as:
- The need to annex communities on the border of the city, to widen the tax base.
- Romero and Farley declined to endorse the Sanctuary City initiative, even if the loss of $150 million in state funds were not a concern. Dorman said she would endorse it if state money were not an issue. If the voters do approve it, all three said they would defend it in court.
- All three will work with the Pima Council on Aging to keep low-income seniors in their homes.
- Even though public education is not the purview of the mayor and council, the candidates variously said they would support First Things First, Pre-K education, Step for Success, the community school program, Kidco, and JTED.
- The need to focus on economic development and to promote local businesses.
- Giving Tucsonans open access to the mayor.
- Keeping the Ronstadt Transit Center in downtown.
Farley wrapped up saying, “I’m an innovator with a proven record for results for Tucson. I’m an artist. I think about problems differently,” citing the ideas of powering Sun Transit on solar power and allowing local businesses to opt in to the city’s healthcare system.
Dorman concluded with, “Tucson is on the cusp of a renaissance. Decisions we make in the next four years will affect the next 40 years. I have a vision of Tucson as a thriving 21st-century city.”
Romero said, “I am very happy to be able to do something for the economic development of Tucson. I will fight for investing in a small business investment program and investing in quality of life issues.”
For further reading, check out 400 Jam Forum on Tucson Westside Gentrification Crisis