City recall activists get down to business | Walkup, Uhlich, Romero targets
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Walkup, Uhlich, Romero targets

City recall activists get down to business

Driven by city development, business worries

A small group of political activists came out into the cold on Saturday morning in Reid Park in Tucson.

They huddled around containers of coffee and bagels, and some drifted around tables stacked with petitions and clipboards.

Spurred by radio talk shows and political blogs, they signed up to circulate petitions calling for a recall of Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and City Council members Karin Uhlich and Regina Romero, both Democrats.

Walkup and Romero's terms run through 2011, and Uhlich, who was narrowly re-elected in November, has a term that runs through 2013.

Saturday's event was billed as a kickoff for the recall petition drive.

Recall organizer Trent Humphries said about 25 people had signed up to circulate petitions. "We had 50 sign up earlier this week," he said. Humphries said the recall effort needs "200 people to get 100 signatures" each to be successful.

Arizona's recall law requires the signatures of 25 percent of the registered voters who voted for the position in the previous election.

That means at least 14,600 valid signatures would be needed to force a recall election for Romero's seat on the council. About 16,000 signatures would be needed to recall Walkup, and 18,000 for Uhlich.

Humphries says that recall proponents want to turn in petitions for verification well before their four-month deadline.

"If we turn them in by March 4th, the recall election will be held in August, with the primary, and not in November," he said.

'Beautiful day'

Developer Humberto Lopez, one of the driving forces behind the recall effort, gave a wry smile when asked what brought him out to the rally. "It's a beautiful day," he said.

Lopez said he "absolutely" expects to gather enough signatures to force an election.

"The economy, jobs," are why he's supporting the recall petition drive, said the part-owner of downtown's Hotel Arizona, 181 W. Broadway. He mentioned MarketWatch's recent ranking of Tucson near the bottom of best cities for business.

"We're 95th on the list of cities. The city's bad for business," said Lopez. "Something's got to change. Perception is reality."

The registered Democrat admitted his prior support for those he's trying to recall. "I've raised a lot of money for those people. I had a fundraiser (for Walkup) in my own home. I was one of his biggest supporters."

Lopez, who owns 28 apartment complexes through his HSL Properties, wouldn't point to any specific issue that led to his break with the mayor.

"Business needs to feel like there's an open door," he said. "We (the city) need to be friendly to small business."

Somewhat out of character for a man who is usually described as a developer, Lopez criticized the city for encouraging construction outside the urban core.

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"Development is out of control. We've had too many big boxes, we're not practicing infill," he said. "There's urban sprawl. The city should be promoting and inducing people to move a little closer in."

"We need a strong mayor and council," said Lopez. "They should be full-time, that should be a full-time job.

"I don't stop halfway. I do it all the way. I expect to prevail in one way or another.

Humphries, a co-founder of the Tucson Tea Party organization, says "there's no doubt we'll get the signatures."

"I don't dislike any of them," he said of Walkup, Uhlich and Romero. "But we need substantial change if we want to save our city."

'Nasty, ugly, brutish'

"A recall is a nasty, ugly, brutish thing," he said. "But they should be embarrassed. They should say 'we have failed.' "

Like Lopez, Humphries pointed to issues with development and building codes as his reasons for supporting the recall.

"The C of O (certificate of occupancy) rules. We should be hiring people, not putting trees in a parking lot. The city should sell its properties downtown, and put the money in the general fund, not in the low-income housing fund. Business licenses should be easier to get."

"The dollar-a-year rent thing is insidious. And I'm talking about all of them: MOCA, the Chamber (of Commerce)," said Humphries. "The hotel at the TCC is not built. To save the gem show, they should expand the TCC. We could have a private hotel built down there."

Lopez has previously been involved in proposals to variously expand his Hotel Arizona property with city investment, sell the hotel to the city, or to participate in the construction of another hotel near the convention center.

"We need leaders with more curiosity, more action, more solutions," said Humphries. "They can stop it, if they show initiative and leadership."

Humphries said he's more interested in changing the way city government works that in changing those in elected office.

"If they change, and do some long-term planning, that'd make signatures harder to gather. If that's the case, I may not" proceed with pushing the recall.

"A recall is a blunt force, to focus attention. You don't do it because you hate people, you do it because you have a problem. And we have a problem.

"We could sit down at a table with a list of 10 things to work out," he said. But Humphries stopped short of suggesting any policy changes that might lead to his abandoning the recall drive.

Some recall supporters were reluctant to discuss their involvement. One man, when asked for a comment after he'd picked up a packet of petitions, gave his name only as David, and refused to answer further.

"I'm not going to talk to you! Goodbye!" he yelled as he left the rally.

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'How long do you have?'

Eugene Hildreth was more talkative. "How long do you have?" he joked, when asked to explain his support for the recall effort.

The director of marketing for Allen & Young, a business brokerage, said he signed up to gather signatures because he wants to "Get 'em out of there. Get everybody out."

The Saddlebrooke resident, 69, is involved in Tucson politics because he conducts most of his business within the city. "The city needs to pay more attention to small business. They need a seat at the table."

Hildreth also gave much weight to the poor ranking by MarketWatch. "Bad businesses don't sell in good times. Good businesses don't sell in bad times. We're in a bad time," he said.

DeAnn Hatch, who lives in Corona de Tucson, is the chief volunteer coordinator for the Tucson Tea Party organization. She's also working to organize volunteers for the recall effort.

The stay-at-home mom, 37, supports recalling all three targets of the effort - Walkup, Uhlich and Romero. She says she's driven by economic issues, such as losing spring training and minor league baseball, an imperiled gem show, and city support for outside organizations.

"Those groups need to buckle their belts, at least until the economy picks up."

"The city needs to work to save the gem show, at least get them to stay," she said. "I'm working on this to improve our city. It's all about what we're spending our money on."

Although - like many of those signing up to circulate petitions - Hatch doesn't live in the city, she says that city government decisions effect her. "Every time they raise taxes, that means my taxes go up, because Tucson's where I spend my money."

Local recall drives have not met with much success in the past.

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson faced a recall effort in 2000, and former Supervisor Ed Moore faced down a recall move in 1993.

The last successful recall was the ouster of County Assessor Alan Lang in 1994.

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What's your take?

Should any - or all - of the targets of the recall be removed from office? If so, who should take office instead? What is motivating recall supporters to circulate petitions and spend money trying to oust Walkup, Uhlich and/or Romero?

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Eugene Hildreth (left) speaks with Humberto Lopez.

The other side

In a statement by the Pima County Democratic Party, party chair Jeff Rogers slammed the recall effort.

The statement:

This Saturday, while the tea partiers are busy tearing Tucson apart with a frivolous recall campaign, Pima County Democrats will be cleaning up the community and working to create more jobs.

Tucson City Council Member Karin Uhlich will be helping the Rillito Basin Coalition in cleaning up Tucson. She will then join Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for a small business workshop to find ways to improve the local economy.

Council Member Regina Romero and her staff are working with multiple groups on Saturday. Romero and staff will be at Reid Park for the Senior Olympics and then at the westside Silvercroft Neighborhood pocket park groundbreaking celebration. Her staff will then be hosting a water conservation working group at the Ward 1 Council office.

Meanwhile, the sour-grapes crowd will be busy trying to enable a wealthy developer's do-over and force voters back to the polls to re-affirm three-month-old election results. The developer in question, real estate tycoon Humberto Lopez, is even telling his renters to sign the recall petition. Sadly, if he can buy or strong-arm enough signatures, he can force an astro-turf recall.

“City leaders are busy working through a budget crisis brought on largely by real estate speculators like Lopez,” said Pima County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Rogers. "The Tucson City Council is confronting the same extraordinary budget circumstances every other city, state and county in the country.

"Lopez is right about one thing. It didn't happen by accident. It happened largely because of speculation, bad real estate investments, and predatory lending practices. That he suggests the global financial crisis could have been averted by Tucson’s municipal government is just plain crazy. He can thank his industry for the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression."

On the Web

Arizona recall law (Arizona Constitution, Article 8): www.azleg.state.az.us/Constitution.asp?Article=8

MarketWatch report: www.marketwatch.com/story/eastern-california-rust-belt-cities-in-bottom-10-2009-12-16