Romero launches reelection campaign, touting COVID, housing success as Tucson mayor
Democrat faces possible candidate in Aug. 1 primary, 2 independents working to appear on Nov. 7 general election ballot
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero launched her reelection campaign this week, timing it with Wednesday's celebration of International Women's Day as she boasted the work she's done for the homeless, small businesses and families in the city.
Romero faces a possible challenger in the Aug. 1 Democratic primary, and two independent candidates are working to appear on the Nov. 7 general election ballot, as are a Republican and a Libertarian candidate.
Romero, elected in 2019, touted her work over the past four years handling the COVID-19 pandemic, creating affordable housing and working with Pima County on homelessness in the metro area. She promised to invest more in the police to reduce crime and promote small business if reelected.
The mayor and former West Side councilwoman hosted her campaign event on International Women’s Day, even naming the other female elected officials there to support her including Pima County Supervisor Adelita Grijalva and Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. The event was at the Viscount Suites in Midtown Tucson. Former state Rep. Reginald Bolding, the former leader of Democrats in the state House of Representatives who ran for Arizona secretary of state but lost in the primary last year, was also in attendance.
A possible Democrat challenger could arise in Francis Saitta, a former candidate for a seat on the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board in 2014. Saitta still has to collect enough signatures on nomination petitions to appear on the Aug. 1 primary ballot.
A pair of independent candidates are challenging Romero from the right. Former Republican Zach Yentzer announced his bid to become Tucson mayor in January, eschewing the GOP label for his campaign. Ed Ackerley, the advertising business owner who lost to Romero in the 2019 mayoral race, is seeking a rematch.
In order to get on the ballot, candidates registered with a party have to collect signatures from about 5 to 10% of their party’s registered voters in the city who voted in the last mayoral election. Independent candidates need about 3,000 signatures, a slightly larger onus than the roughly 2,500 needed by Democrats candidates to reach their 5% minimum threshold. The law sets that signature qualification for independents based on 3% of the total number of registered voters who are not members of the recognized political parties: Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians.
Almost 100,000 votes were cast in the 2019 Tucson mayoral election, with Romero winning about 56 percent of the vote. Ackerley lost with about 39% of the vote.
Tucson favors the Democratic party with 129,000 city voters registered with the party, compared with 97,000 city voters not registered with any political party, 60,000 signed up as Republicans and 2,400 as Libertarians. All six members of the City Council are Democrats like Romero, although Tucson has elected three Republican mayors since 1961 — with GOP mayors wielding the mayoral gavel for 34 of those years, compared to 28 for Democrats.
At Wednesday’s speech, Romero stood by her work as mayor, saying she’s planned for climate change, invested in infrastructure, improved roads and housing, hired more police and has taken care of the city’s homeless — an issue which is also a focus of Yentzer’s campaign.
“I have delivered,” she said. “I’m so happy and proud to be your mayor. I love serving as your mayor, I love what I do and I have so much to offer,” she told a group of supporters.
Romero considered her efforts to protect city water, focus on equity, invest more in the police and improve roads to be among her top achievements during her time as mayor.
She highlighted that Tucson hired its first chief equity officer and directors for a housing first and community safety, health and wellness programs, all which are new positions created during her term to make city policies more equitable.
She also boasted that the city plans on hiring another 100 police officers and is raising police salaries by 20% and protecting their pensions.
“We must continue to invest in our Police Department so that they can continue helping keep us safe,” she said.
She also included the passage of Prop. 411, which renewed a half-cent sales tax to continue residential road upgrades, in May with almost 70% of the vote as one of her successes as mayor.
Romero’s “vision for the next four years is to continue creating a safe, equitable, sustainable, thriving desert city,” she said.
The first promise she made was to continue working in Pima County to figure out how to resolve complaints from business owners about homelessness, vandalism and drug use on their properties. She also wants to solve the issue by partnering with Gov. Katie Hobbs, whom she called “a governor that pays attention to the city of Tucson.”
“I understand neighborhoods, I understand businesses that are concerned about our issues with unsheltered homelessness,” she said. “We must continue to do something about it and invest in this issue.”
She also pushed for continued support for “youth employment and crime prevention and intervention” programs to “give young people hope and opportunities for the future.”
Other priorities for her if she’s reelected are securing water for Tucson’s future, updating city job and economic development plans, fixing roads, building more infrastructure and implementing their newly passed climate action plan.
Romero was first elected as the first Latina on the Tucson City Council in 2007, representing Ward 1, a mostly Latino district on the West Side, before she became the first Latina mayor of Tucson in 2019.
Only a few months into her term, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted lockdowns and heavy restrictions. Karin Uhlich, the former Ward 3 Tucson councilwoman, spoke more in her introduction for the mayor about Romero’s success navigating the pandemic than Romero herself did, but Romero did praise the city’s use of about $10 million in federal COVID relief to create accessible housing in Tucson.
The mayor was born in the town of Somerton, just south of Yuma, where she attended high school before graduating from the University of Arizona and later the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Her husband Ruben Reyes has been a high-level staffer for the U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva for the past two decades, giving her close ties to one the most well-established Democrats in Southern Arizona.
The upcoming city elections also include races for the council seats representing Wards 1, 2 and 4. City Council recently approved new district boundaries to add several thousand Latino voters to the district of Councilwoman Lane Santa Cruz in Ward 1. She is running unopposed.
On May 16, Tucson voters will also be asked in a special election to decide whether to increase monthly utility rates for customers of Tucson Electric Power by .75% as part of a new 25-years franchising agreement.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.