Community gathering says 'hasta' to Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik

A crowd of supporters gathered Tuesday to say farewell to Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who is resigning from his Ward 6 seat on Sunday.

Neighborhood activists, developers, nonprofit advocates, government staffers, political junkies and journalists filled the Shanty pub, a 4th Avenue institution, to thank the councilman for his service and wish him well as he moves on to a new job overseeing the development of Mosaic Quarter, a major sports center near Kino Stadium.

Kozachik, 70, was an unlikely politician who has traveled an unorthodox path. Spurred by the city’s struggles to get Downtown revitalization underway, he rode a Tea Party wave into office in 2009, winning as a Republican despite Tucson’s Democratic voter registration advantage. But he soon clashed with Republican state lawmakers over issues of local control, including firearms regulation, and before his 2013 reelection race, Kozachik left the GOP and joined the Democratic Party.

When Kozachik kicked off his first re-election race, then-Mayor Jonathan Rothschild called him “an iconoclast.”

“An iconoclast is a person who is a destroyer of idols and someone who questions old customs and old ways,” Rothschild said. “And that is something that is needed, particularly in times when we need change.”

More comfortable in jogging shorts and a track jacket than suit and tie, Kozachik was not a slick politician, but he could certainly be a blunt one. Kozachik won praise for his tendency to speak his mind on controversial issues such as shutting down Greyhound Park or pushing to change a plan to widen Broadway from eight lanes to six between Downtown and County Club Road.

He sometimes took stances unpopular with his colleagues and some of his constituents, such as when he opposed a plan to spend several extra million dollars on a plan for a zoo expansion to preserve Reid Park’s Barnum Hill. Kozachik, who said there had been a lengthy public planning process, saw it as a waste of money, but he lost that battle.

In November 2020, after he had repeatedly complained that University of Arizona President Robert Robbins wasn’t doing enough to quell the COVID-19 outbreak in off-campus private dorms, he was pushed out of his position as a facilities administrator in the UA Athletics Department, ending a career of more than three decades with the university.

The job loss aside, Kozachik’s political approach has worked for him. Beyond some prodding in primaries, he’s faced little opposition in any of his re-election campaigns. Kozachik declined to accept political donations in his recent runs, and spray-painted a handful of his own campaign signs — and been easily returned to office each time.

Ann Charles, who had worked as an aide to Kozachik since he first took office, said she would be spending more time with her grandkids and dedicating more time to a nonprofit that helps victims of sex trafficking. She said Kozachik had restored her faith in politics.

“I had given up on politics and when I met him, I saw someone who could make a difference,” Charles said. 

She remembered working with Kozachik at the Greyhound bus station to aid asylum seekers in their efforts to leave Tucson for their future homes in the days before the county helped establish the Casa Alitas shelter. She and Kozachik worked out a deal with developer Ross Rulney to partner with Catholic Community Services and use the midtown Benedictine Sanctuary to house migrants, before the property was redeveloped into apartments and Casa Alitas moved into the county’s former juvenile detention center.

Charles also recalled standing beside Kozachik at gun buybacks that upset former political allies who were not shy in expressing their unhappiness in colorful language. In response, the Arizona Legislature passed laws banning local governments from being involved in gun buybacks and prohibiting the destruction of firearms.

Kozachik’s efforts to reduce gun violence were welcomed by Patricia Maisch, who became an activist after she helped wrest a clip of bullets from the shooter who opened fire at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8, 2011, and left six dead and 13 wounded. Maisch, who on Tuesday night wore a Moms Demand Action T-shirt and a pin honoring the youngest victim of that rampage, 10-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, said that Kozachik was “my hero.”

“He’s a great guy,” Maisch said. “He opened his office to us, we have meetings there twice a month. To my mind, he’s committed to social justice issues across the board and I consider gun violence to a be a social justice issue.”

Barbara Lehmann, who advocated for Ward 3 neighborhoods before she moved to Tucson’s East Side, said Kozachik was “not bought and paid for by anybody.”

“He’s someone who is actually paying attention and getting the work done,” Lehmann said. “He’s accessible to his constituents and even people like me, who don’t live in his ward.”

Developer Randi Dorman, whose projects include the Icehouse Lofts and 4th Avenue’s Trinity mixed-use project, called Kozachik “the very best.”

 “I’m so grateful for his vision, his independence and his transparency,” said Dorman, who landed Kozachik’s endorsement when she ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019. “We mostly agreed but when we didn’t, I understood how he came to his position. He worked so hard and he cared so much.”

Kozachik moved from conversation to conversation throughout the evening, but after two hours, he was ready to call it a night.
He said his feelings on stepping down were “a mixed bag.”

“This job is about relationships,” he said, adding that the diversity on display at the party “means you’ve touched a lot of lives.”