Vaya Koz Dios: Steve Kozachik calls it quits on Council after a solid 14-year ride

“Steve Kozachik is a Tea Party extremist who doesn’t share Tucson’s values and would put in place a radical agenda that would change our city forever.”

Ah, yes. Memories. I actually wrote those words. I wrote them a lot. I was the communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party and was practicing the kind of rock-em, sock-em “messaging” I had watched Republicans perform for years.

The year was 2009 and I had been laid off during the Great Recession and was trying to find work. My gig at the Tucson Citizen had been “political writer.” So after months of failing to get a resumé even read (2009 was a recession, folks. This is not.) I found out that some Republican dude from the University of Arizona was running against Councilmember Nina Trasoff. 

I volunteered to help, hoping that it might lead to a paying gig so I could keep a roof over my head and get back to making child support payments.

Related: Steve Kozachik to resign from Tucson City Council, oversee Mosaic Quarter

Team Trasoff was eager to have a former media type on their side and invited me into the inner circle. Everything I knew about political comms I learned from watching Republicans. They offered no quarter and it never even occurred to them to ask for any. Their plan was always simple: Fist —> Face.

I took that approach when I was with the Pima Dems. It was a simple plan, really. 

Let this newbie Republican argue that he was not a part of the Tea Party movement, which was sweeping through the GOP in 2009. He was free to alienate himself from his base of voters or he could align with a cantankerous far-right lot unpopular with a progressive city. 

Mwahahahhahah.

My path to redemption was on the other side of Kozachik’s political corpse. 

Thank God for Tucson I failed. 

I would win other battles that year but Kozachik swept into office with a late surge of votes from Rita Ranch, as Tucson’s citywide general election paid off for a candidate from a Midtown ward.

All he has done in the years since is be the adult in the room. It’s not that he couldn’t come off as petty, but he almost exclusively did it with footing on rock-solid political ground. 

Monday morning, Kozachik announced his retirement from the City Council. I tried to prevent his 14-year tenure’s beginning. Now, I’m sorry to see it end.

The Koz is just

What I have liked about Kozachik is that even if I didn’t agree with him, his points were always valid and he wasn’t afraid to change direction if facts required it. There’s no telling some people that issues are rarely 100 to zero. Koz provided the kind of leadership that knew otherwise.

More than once as a columnist, I would call Koz because I didn’t understand what the hell people were talking about on issue X and he would walk me through the contours. 

This was especially true of the Battle of Barnum Hill in Reid Park.

Now, the Lefties of Tucson typically like me — but not on this issue.

City voters had approved a Reid Park Zoo expansion with the planned changes quite public. The idea was to take a little artificial mound next to an artificial pond and use the land for more room for the critters.

One would have thought they were tearing down the Buffet Bar, chopping down Mount Lemmon and blading a million saguaros. Barnum Hill became part of Tucson’s iconography. It was as much Tucson as A Mountain. 

I’d never heard of it and for years traipsed all over it with my daughter after visiting the zoos otters and Boris the now-deceased polar bear.

Well, I called Kozachik to see if I was crazy. He assured me I was not. The city had just gone through an entire process to revamp the zoo, voters voted on it. Only then did it become an issue.

I ranted about it and bothered people. Kozachik did what Kozachik does and put a bunch of people in a room and came out with a Plan B.

Part of that plan is that the city is now looking at rearranging the Randolph Golf Course to provide more green space. Move a tiger. Move a putting green. No word on my suggestion to put tigers on the golf course to make the silly game a true spectator sport.

Switching parties

Of course, Kozachik is now a Democrat.

That happened when the Republican Party basically kicked him out and he was cool with it. Kozachik’s crime was being of rational mind.

The specific offense involved guns. 

He didn’t try to ban guns, bar their sale or confiscate them from the cold, dead fingers of zealots and fetishists. No. He simply supported a voluntary gun buyback program that played on the property rights of gun owners. If they wanted their guns destroyed, the city would oblige and offer a gift card in return.

Well, that was the final trigger.

Guns, turns out, are like human embryos. Once created by the hand of God, no gun shall be destroyed.

The local Republicans lost it on Koz and the two agreed to divorce. His schism with the Republican Party had been brewing as the local GOP had been silent on matters like redistricting, the budget, water, public safety or transit. Guns, immigrants, gays and a Black president were all the local party cared about.

I will say this much. Kozachik would learn I was right about the new direction of the GOP (pats self on back). He would describe the new party as infatuated with “extreme partisan rhetoric that serves no productive role in crafting good public policy on the bread and butter issues with which the Mayor and council deal.”

The Tea Party turned MAGA movement was extreme. Koz wasn’t. So he had no home there anymore.

He joined the Democratic Party in 2013 and has since flourished, if not always simpatico with progressive dogma.

Without going out of his way to pander to them, Democrats in his ward kept renominating him, even as progressives made the occasional run at him.

All sides matter

At times he’s seemed a bit of an enigma. Well, that’s if one looks at it wrong. He could see multiple sides of issues and be both strident and accommodating without inconsistency. 

Adulthood allows for such things.

Kozachik has been an advocate for those on the streets. As part of his weekly email newsletter, he spent time post-pandemic spotlighting people living on the streets, how they got there and what could be done to help them. He gave stories to the faces. 

Nice work.

But in 2015, he took a more strident approach declaring that the city had invested too much into Downtown to let it become the site of a homeless camp.

So he was set to present an ordinance to move urban campers without a place to live, but did something strange. He withdrew his proposal when he figured out that there were four ordinances on the matter already on the books. He decided to pursue a single set of rules that made sense, and accounted for public safety all the way around. The homeless will often sleep on public rights of way for fear of being beaten to death in the middle of the night. The public sees homelessness as a breakdown of normal order.

Kozachik sought to take a step back and take a broader approach.

It worked like a charm, of course. Tucson solved the issue! No one lives on the streets anymore! Sarcasm aside, I liked at the time that he got himself riled, took a breath and a step back before taking a more holistic approach to an issue.

That’s what we want out of our elected leaders.

Duck ’em

He did the unthinkable as a Democrat in 2015 and told striking Sun Tran workers to get back on the job and follow their contract. Democrats break with labor at their own peril.

When asked about the union’s demands, Kozachik gorgeously replied “Duck em.” Of course, the word wasn’t “duck.” 

I was very pro-union on that matter and Koz was not. However, I knew where he was  coming from and that he was frustrated because Sun Tran riders were being hurt. So too were businesses. In a time when political debates are between fact and spectre, left and mongoose, Koz’s reality-based argument was welcome. 

And, of courts, points for panache. It was a little out of character. He was asked again what he meant by that and repeated the refrain.

More recently, he’s taken a bead on the Regional Transportation Authority’s future. He’s opposed.

Kozachik has been clear that he prefers now that the city go it alone with its own half-cent sales tax to tend to its own needs, rather than a half-cent county-wide tax to regionally address needs. The plans shaping up for the RTA Next package would leave Tucson sending millions more outside of the city limits than tax raised within them generate.

He has been pushing for more flexibility in future spending if needs change in say, 2042 from what they seem to be now. More to the point, he wants Pima Association of Governments Executive Director Farhad Moghimi fired.

Koz has some points. I think Moghimi is doing fine. He’s just not saluting when Tucson barks. The outskirts have laid a lot of lane miles that need tending. Work in the urban core costs more. There are transit options that need to be funded within the city and that’s pricey.

It’s a balancing act, and Kozachik won’t be around to directly be a part of how the drama plays out.

On to pickleball

Kozachik is 70. This morning he woke up, ran 15 miles and announced he was leaving the Tucson City Council to take over construction of the Mosaic Quarter on the South Side. It’s Pima County’s effort to rework the Kino Sports Complex and they hope to turn it into a… what’s the word? Success. As opposed to the spring training and AAA baseball facility serving nothing long after all the teams left.

Kozachik’s last day on the Council will be March 31. His new job is a little like his old one, when he ran the facilities at the University of Arizona Athletics. He renovated McKale Center, expanded Arizona Stadium and built the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium.

A couple pickleball courts and a hockey rink ought to be no problem.

Replacing him will be a different story.