Tucson lawyer launches Democratic mayoral bid

Jonathan Rothschild

Jonathan Rothschild’s earliest political memory is of JFK’s assassination in 1963. Following President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Rothschild, then a student at Kenyon College in Ohio, became an intern for the National Student Lobby

in Washington, D.C. But Rothschild, now 55, didn’t jump into the political fray himself until 2005, when he became the Pima County Democratic Party treasurer.

After his political experience in college, “I fell away from being involved,” says Rothschild, who discovered then that “it’s difficult to get something done on public policy. You don’t always get what you want, and at that age I didn’t appreciate that.”

Last month, the Tucson native announced that he would run for mayor.

Rothschild graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1977 and returned to his hometown of Tucson to practice law. His priorities soon became raising a family with his wife, Karen; striving to make the community a better place through his involvement in nonprofits; and aiding his legal clients.

He’s a past president of Casa de los Ninos and has been active in Tucson’s Jewish community, serving on the board and as past chair of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Jewish Community Relations Council. He’s also a past president of Handmaker Services for the Aging, Temple Emanu-El, and a past board member of Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

For the last 14 years Rothschild has been a site supervisor for Temple Emanu-El’s Operation Deep Freeze, an emergency shelter program for the homeless, splitting the responsibility with Jill Rich.

Rothschild is one of three generations of his family to practice law together in Tucson. He’s a managing partner of a 21-person law firm with his father, Lowell; his son Isaac is an attorney at the firm.

Rothschild has strong family ties to Tucson. His father attended Tucson High School and received his law degree from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. Rothschild notes that his paternal grandmother was “a single mother looking for a better life,” who moved from Chicago to Tucson in 1942 and opened a furniture store on South 6th Ave.

“I want to make the community a place where we all want to stay, particularly our children,” says Rothschild. “I was born here, raised here, and came back to live here. I had other choices but I chose to be here.”

In 2004, Rothschild began working in Gabrielle Giffords’ congressional campaigns, which, he says, “was pretty inspirational.” He got involved in the public sector and served as treasurer of the Pima County Democratic Party from 2005 to 2009. “I gained admiration and respect for public officials, for what they had given up to become involved,” says Rothschild. “Whatever aggravations and frustrations they felt they also had a sense of accomplishment. I [now] have a better sense that public service is a long fight and never finished.” Rothschild is the second candidate in Tucson’s mayoral race. Shaun McClusky, a former candidate for the Tucson City Council, has filed paperwork on the Republican side.

His decision to run for mayor, says Rothschild, stems in part from “plenty of dinnertime arguments about public policy” around the family table. But he cites tikkun olam as “the bottom line. Now it’s about repairing the community.” If he becomes mayor in the November election, Rothschild wants “to bring more jobs to Tucson, making it a healthier business community.”

To bring more business here, he says, the city must improve educational opportunities. “As mayor I’ll be a strong advocate for public education,” says Rothschild, declaring his intention to fight for state funding for Tucson schools in the Arizona State Legislature. “Daniel has to walk into the lion’s den.”

City government provides basic services such as picking up the trash and filling potholes, but as mayor Rothschild would hope to accomplish a lot more. When the Tucson Unified School District closed nine schools last year, he notes, “we turned our greatest asset into our greatest liability — nine vacant lots.”

The city of Tucson was built on a neighborhood park, neighborhood school model, explains Rothschild, adding that those school properties must be transformed into “parks, community centers, day centers for preschoolers and the elderly. The city is in the position to work with TUSD, neighbors and established entities such as the Pima Council on Aging to expedite making productive properties out of the old schools.”

Tucson is a community that “prides itself on its natural environment,” adds Rothschild, who supports the development of more urban trails and greater bike accessibility, water conservation projects, and “bringing more appropriate green” to the city in jobs relating to solar energy and tourism.

It’s at the local level that public officials “have the opportunity to directly serve the people,” he says. It’s also at the city level “where people ultimately fall through the cracks when there is not [enough] state aid available to help.” As mayor, Rothschild would establish an ombudsman’s position to answer citizen complaints. He would also pursue bringing some university housing downtown.

“Politics is relationships,” says Rothschild, quoting former state legislator David Bradley. “It’s like being in a marriage or a family, where it takes building trust. You don’t always agree, even in your own political party.”

The Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson “collectively had a great impact on the community,” says Rothschild. “The response from people shows what kind of community we really are.”

Since officially delving into the mayoral campaign on Jan. 24, he says, “getting involved with the city in such an intimate way has meant falling in love with Tucson again.”