Tucson on road to elect first Chicana mayor
Tucson mayoral candidate Regina Romero talks with supporters. | Romero Campaign

TUCSON, Ariz.—Voters in Tucson took the first step toward making history on Aug. 27 when City Councilwoman Regina Romero won the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Romero is expected to easily defeat independent Ed Ackerley and Green Party candidate Mike Cease in November to become Tucson’s first woman mayor, and also the first Mexican-American mayor since 1876 when it was a very small and overwhelmingly Mexican-populated town in the Arizona Territory. Arizona became a state in 1912.

In the November general elections, voters will also be voting on an initiative to make Tucson a Sanctuary City for refugees.

Romero took just over 50% of the vote in a heated race against two well-financed candidates, former state Sen. Steve Farley and newcomer Randi Dorman, who was backed by the business establishment and the local newspaper. Tucson boasts that it was the first place in the country to adopt publicly-financed election campaigns, and Romero was the only one of the three mayoral candidates to opt for public financing.

Her two rivals had expected to outspend her with special interest contributions, but this tactic failed to overcome the massive support Romero had in the community and from grassroots organizations. She enjoyed strong support from labor, especially SEIU and UFCW, the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, and other progressive groups.

Romero also benefitted from her longtime alliance with progressive Congressman Raúl Grijalva’s and County Supervisor Richard Elias’s independent organized campaigning structures built over the last three decades. The election was by mail ballot only, but the door-to-door canvassing had to take place during the simmering Arizona summer with July and August temperatures seldom under 100 degrees.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one in Tucson. Only registered Democrats and independents can vote in the primary, but the “mail ballot only” system made it difficult for independents to participate. Independents received a letter offering them the opportunity to choose a party primary, but the letter arrived a whole month before the date candidates had to file for office, so many voters put the letter aside until they knew who the candidates would be. Of course, when one puts something like this aside it often gets misplaced and never used, so while it was possible to request a ballot by phone, thousands of independent voters, who usually vote, missed this election.

Romero, center, enjoys widespread support from organized labor. | Romero Campaign

The absence of Republican candidates for mayor also kept some voters away. In addition to a new mayor, Tucsonans will also be voting for three City Council seats. Tucson has an unusual system where council candidates are nominated in ward-only primaries but then elected by all voters citywide in the general election. Republicans will have candidates in only two wards, while the Green Party is fielding candidates for mayor and all three council seats. The City Council is expected to remain all Democratic.

Ruling corporate interests in Tucson who want to maintain their relationship with the Republican Party, which wields power statewide in Arizona, support the ultra-right state legislators and governor, but often advance independent or Democratic candidates in Tucson. Capitalists are very class-conscious and do not worry about party labels when the class struggle takes place in the electoral arena. Unfortunately, because of almost total media ownership by the corporate class, and their control of schools and pulpits, working people are still lagging in class awareness, even as resistance and fightback are growing.

Too often working-class unity is undermined by this shortcoming, resulting in political activists who are too hung up on party labels and take the position of supporting only Democratic candidates, or never supporting “capitalist” Democratic or Republican candidates. Working people, like our class enemy, need to see electoral contests as an important arena of class struggle, take the people’s side strategically as well as ideologically, and not be obsessed with labels.


Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.