Sunday, August 5, 2007

Midtown Messenger's District 7 City Council endorsement

Marston: the real deal, indeed!

Whatever your affiliation in this technically non-partisan race, she
is the best pick for Dist. 7, hands down

© 2007, Quicksilver Publishing Group/The Midtown Messenger. All rights reserved.

For anyone who thought this endorsement was a foregone conclusion, based on our long acquaintance with the endorsee and our alignment of interests given this paper’s mission and scope—we wrestled with it. We had misgivings (see next few paragraphs). And in the end, foregone or not (believe what you will), we think we can defend it, decisively.
Before we get really rolling on the whys and wherefores of the endorsement, we have a confession to make. While City Council elections are officially non-partisan, the reality is, party still matters. As readers may have intuited from our public Valentine to District 4 Councilman Simplot last winter, our only issue with him in his races for his Council seat in 2003 and 2005 was that he wasn’t the Democrat. Perhaps partly for that sin, he came within a few dozen votes of losing to the interim appointed incumbent, Jessica Florez, who replaced Phil Gordon upon his run for mayor.
Here at Midtown central, we’re died-in-the-wool Democrats, a fact of which my parents are proud (they raised three for three, they point out). While on one hand I’m all for personal responsibility, dislike the public K-12 education establishment (teachers unions and colleges) and support many traditional “family values” (and am a biker, a gun rights supporter, erstwhile hunter, etc., blah blah blah)—I also vehemently oppose school vouchers, the current administration, and the Republican tilt in general toward corporate welfare and creeping infringement on civil rights and liberties and the economic well-being of the middle, working and underclasses.
That said, that’s why, faced with two reasonably competent and honest candidates, I will always vote for the Democrat. I am a registered Democrat. I vote a straight ticket in statewide and national elections. There are two other simple reasons for this:
One may personally know, like and feel aligned, sometimes, with the candidate of the other party. To my Dad’s irritation, my mother once softheadedly voted for a Republican candidate for city council (back East) because he had been my piano teacher. However, how would you like to have given someone you wouldn’t ordinarily vote for because of their party affiliation their first elective office, only to find them later rising to high public office as an outed demagogue and fascist? I wouldn’t. That would be adding injury to the “insult” of having crossed party lines in the first place. (That’s the “Oops! I voted for young Hitler or David Duke!” argument.)
Second, as my father always pointed out, in legislatures, the outcome on many critical issues comes down to party-line votes, where with arm-twisting enforcement of discipline by party leaders, the result is often a matter of simple arithmetic. Would you want a key legislative issue to go the wrong way because you helped put a member of the opposite party in the Legislature—just because you liked him or her? As I’ve seen it expressed elsewhere recently, party identification is shorthand for the likelihood that Candidate A probably shares more of your values than the one from the other party. (What’s that you say? Independents? They’re the agnostics of the American political scene, and, as my senior Honors thesis was in philosophy of religion, you don’t want to get me started on agnosticism …)
So, on to the District 7 candidates, who are vying to replace longtime incumbent Doug Lingner. First, let’s note that most of the city’s historic districts and many other vulnerable neighborhoods lie in District 7. And like the city as a whole, there is great change—development and its associated tensions, pressures and controversies—going on in the district. That said, we’re focusing on the Midtown end of the district and what we feel is best for it. (What’s best for it is probably best overall.)
For starters, we’re not endorsing Art Harding. He seems like a good guy, granted—earnest, knowledgeable, experienced in governmental matters and processes. But in his answers to our candidate questionnaires, published last month, he notably seemed less than fully sensitive to the issues raised by last year’s passage of Proposition 207, which authorizes lawsuits over alleged loss of value to properties based on government actions such as historic preservation zoning. While Art has his finger on the pulse of the wider electorate on this issue, he seems to lack a nuanced view of and sensitivity to the excessive impediments such lawsuits throw up against some appropriate, protective rezonings. That position, as well as some other general leanings appertaining to Art’s political persona, was enough for us to rule him out.
Then there’s Michael Nowakowski. Frankly, the guy scares us. (Either it’s him or his shrewd and aggressive communications director, Stephen Molldrem, but in any case, we have to identify a candidate with his campaign’s style and tactics, even if he is not the author of all of them.) Nowakowski’s campaign has seemed to us nakedly and abusively opportunistic from the get-go. OK, it’s nice he realizes the value of campaigning in this end of the district, where educated and informed voters turn out in higher numbers than elsewhere, it’s believed. It’s great that Michael and his aides recognize the existence of the historic neighborhoods, and their activities and issues (and this newspaper). However, we felt beaten over the head right out of the starting gate last winter with notice of Michael’s appearances at the Willo Home Tour, the Encanto Clubhouse, his requests for meetings and coverage, you name it.
You may see nothing wrong with that, and there isn’t, until you also see how the campaign has glommed onto active controversies in the ’hoods to weigh in on, such as the Willo streetscape issue, where he’s apparently going to bang heads together in the city to get it resolved. Sure. And, Mike, can you come fix my leaky dormer? Maybe you’ve also got some front porch benches to hand out. Oh, and my neighbor parks in front of my house. Anything you can do there, if elected?
That’s not to say the Willo issue isn’t a valid one requiring some leadership in the city and in the district’s Council office. It’s the way the Nowakowski campaign has cynically identified some hot-button neighborhood issues to inject himself into that offends us.
For instance, there’s also his participation on one of the 2006 bond committees last year, leading to claims in his campaign literature that he got the big bucks allotted for preservation items. Yeah! Like his campaign signs around Midtown, that he’s “preserving historic homes,” and "enforcing the law" or whatever the wording is. Yep. Mike Nowakowski is out there on the right side of whatever your concern is in Midtown, you betcha!
Seems to me the guy just wants the office real bad.
More seriously, folks, then there’s Laura Pastor. She and Nowakowski have been slugging it out for months, each trying to lock up coveted endorsements: the Firefighters Association, Police organizations, the Chavez family, etc., etc. Still, if these were the sum of the candidates, she’d probably have our vote. She’s the daughter of the effective and respected Rep. Ed Pastor. She’s paid some dues in community, civic, political involvement and educational and professional experiences. But we’re also a little put off at the way the presumed Democratic establishment in central Phoenix has virtually stampeded in her support. It’s a juggernaut! (Except for a few pickings for Nowakowski.) I guess her dad’s position carries corresponding influence, not to mention that in the many officially, putatively nonpartisan power circles in downtown Phoenix, being Democratic is increasingly chic. (Except for Mayor Phil, who in his latest endorsement—we’ll kindly call it a gaffe, though there are other names for it—has said [according to reports] he’s behind Sen. John McCain for president, no matter whom the Democrats field next year. As when Phil endorsed both Earl Wilcox and Democratic primary rival Bill Brotherton for a state Senate seat four years ago … well, what can we say that less restrained rags such as the New Times haven’t already said more pithily?)
But Laura isn’t the last word in this race. We’ve discussed Midtown’s “favorite son” candidates with a number of local neighborhood and community leaders, and some of them like her. They have found her to be a good listener, to be someone who wants to find out from the community (especially from them) what it needs, and act accordingly.
From our point of view, that’s partly because she doesn’t know or understand the community and its issues as well as many others do (including the remaining candidate, Ruth Ann Marston).
Frankly, as nice and thoughtful as I believe she is, our distinct impression is that Laura is not the brightest light in the firmament. Do we want someone who needs to be led, or do we want someone who is a true leader? Do we want someone who needs to have the issues explained to them (and then, who knows from whom she takes her final cues in her votes and advocacy?), or do we want someone who knows the territory and its issues inside and out, and, while opinionated (sometimes immodestly so), at least knows not only the community, but her own mind, and is guided by long experience and sound principles? —Someone who can and will hold their own with community leaders, moneyed interests, Council colleagues and city staff alike (not to mention players in other levels and branches of government). That said, Ruth Ann is always courteous, measured and respectful in her demeanor and interactions.
In my view, we’ve had just about enough of political dynasties in this country. I like the Kennedys, but look at the latest generation—in particular, Patrick. I don’t like the Bushes, and look at Jeb—a competent but highly partisan governor—and worse, his brother, our (I choke on this) president. Let’s not give another Pastor our vote just based on name recognition, family pull and party affiliation, notwithstanding my partisan preamble above. As far as that goes, for Ruth Ann, the District 7 Council seat may be the capstone of her long career in public involvement, to which she can be expected to fully devote her substantial experience and energies. For Laura, it’s probably just positioning herself for higher office—i.e., succeeding her dad in Congress?
Forgetting Laura for the moment, let’s just home in on Ruth Ann’s positive attributes and accomplishments that qualify her for the Council seat: Longtime educator in Midtown, in leadership roles. Longtime member (including as chair) of the Encanto Village Planning Committee, the citizens-level body that gets the first shot to hear zoning and other land use issues, and helps work out the most effective compromises between property owners and other residents. Director of the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition, a forum for airing and addressing issues facing those neighborhoods. Key participant in the Downtown Voices Coalition, which seeks to support a place in downtown’s cultural and economic life for the vitalizing and civilizing role of artists and small independent businesses, by addressing potential incursions by more powerful interests and attempting to hold the city to its own policies and ordinances, as well as promoting progressive and innovative solutions.
The number of difficult and sensitive public policy issues Ruth Ann has already personally helped mediate and resolve is … innumerable.
Ruth Ann is a longtime Phoenix resident, who raised a family and still lives in a modest house in Willo, where she remains approachable to residents with concerns. She has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience of the city, the state and the district. She, of course, could tell you more about her experience and other qualifications. If you’ve got any doubts or questions, why don’t you let her? We think you’ll become a believer.
With that, we throw out this challenge to Ruth Ann: Whether you win or lose, we urge you, some respectable period of time after the election, to switch parties. You say you’re a “Goldwater Republican,” while acknowledging the party has changed both locally and nationally since that label made much sense—or had much of a place under the tent. In fact we were surprised to learn you’re a Republican. (Likely, in our view, it stems less from a youthful infatuation with Barry than as a holdover from the days when, to be taken seriously politically in this state, to be a real player, you pretty much did have to be a Republican. But the times they are a changin’.) And you can switch. You should. You belong as one of us. Be like Reagan: You can say “You didn’t leave the Republican Party … it left you.” Just do it.

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