Being Tucson’s mayor will involve bumps in the road but Jonathan Rothschild — the fourth Jewish mayor of Tucson’s last six — is enthusiastic about his new role. He’s spent his first months in office actively promoting the city’s revitalization, despite some “tough” spending cuts.
“We’ve really been able to do what we set out to do,” he says, referring to the progress made on his administration’s 180 day work plan since he was sworn in on Dec. 5.
“I have a sense of personal fulfillment,” he told the AJP on a busy Friday, the day he holds his weekly press conference at different locations around the city. “I’ve spent my life as an attorney trying to solve people’s problems. Now every person’s problem is my problem. I get to spend my day helping people on a broader scale solve problems. I love it.”
Rothschild spoke of “beginning the slow climb out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression” in his first State of the City address, titled “Making Tucson Work,” on Feb. 14. Since taking office, “we’ve added 50 new police officers” through the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus package, he says. “Revenue is up 4.6 percent this year based on sales tax. This is a moment of great economic opportunity for Tucson.”
But it’s a balancing act for the new mayor to further economic and environmental initiatives, both of which he supports. At his March 23 press conference, held at the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, Rothschild announced his choice for a new economic development director, Debra L. Chandler, who will be responsible for a strategic plan to grow the local economy.
Tucson’s modern streetcar project (tuc sonstreetcar.com) is one of those growth initiatives. “It’s something I inherited, and I’m a proponent,” says Rothschild. The streetcar will connect the University of Arizona, 4th Avenue, downtown and the historic Westside, and should generate more public/private development, while reducing congestion in the city.
Three other U.S. cities, Tampa, Little Rock and Portland (Ore.) have experienced excellent economic development of at least $400 million because of their streetcar lines, says Rothschild, adding, “Yes, there will be conflicts. I want to be very careful about bike paths. We have a good relationship with the biking community and we want to raise Tucson from Gold to Platinum as a Bicycle Friendly Community,” as rated by the League of American Bicyclists.
Rothschild also wants to expand solar energy. “We’ve discussed the Solar America Cities program with Tucson’s solar energy coordinator,” he says, “and funding mechanisms/regulations for residential/commercial and utility-scale solar.”
But fixing city roads and potholes is “our first priority,” says Rothschild. “We must prioritize investing in infrastructure.”
The mayor has started an internship program for UA students in his office, which he believes will promote an interest in public service. “All I can do is lead by example. I hope leaders can inspire young people.”
For the youngest of Tucson’s residents, at least six of the city’s 11 closed pools will reopen as a result of the public/private partnership program “Bring Back the Splash,” providing a haven when desert heat arrives and schools close for the summer.
Ongoing educational issues continue to swamp local and state government officials. To improve Tucson’s economy, Rothschild has repeatedly said that “an educated work force is essential to bring employers to our state.”
“Improving our education system, reducing the dropout rate — these are key to Arizona’s economic future,” the mayor says in an op-ed piece he co-wrote with Greg Stanton, the mayor of Phoenix (“We must urgently tell lawmakers to prevent further cuts to education,” Arizona Daily Star, March 22).
“Creative partnerships between the business community, local government and our schools, as well as getting business leaders involved directly in school-based programs, are big parts of the solution,” they wrote.
Among Rothschild’s educational goals is for children to achieve reading proficiency by third grade, because, he notes, “research shows that one in six children who don’t read well by third grade drop out or fail to graduate from high school on time. That’s four times the rate for children who do read well.” To top it off, “Arizona is 40th in the nation for fourth-grade reading proficiency.”
Considering all the issues Tucson’s mayor must address, says Rothschild, “the time commitment to do the job right is 13 to 14 hours a day. It’s not rocket science but it takes lots of meetings.”
Communicating with staff members in Gov. Jan Brewer’s office and the president of the Arizona State Senate also takes time. “Staying civil and respectful, trying to get people to focus on facts” is essential, affirms Rothschild. “My Jewish sense of humor comes into play, my Jewish skepticism.” Making the decision to go from the private sector to the public sector was “a very conscious decision” for Rothschild, who was born and raised in Tucson. His grandmother came to Tucson in 1942 and opened Valley Fair, a used furniture store on South 6th Ave.
Rothschild attended Canyon del Oro High School, Kenyon College in Ohio, and the University of New Mexico Law School. After serving as a law clerk for a U.S. district court judge, he joined the law firm of Mesch, Clark & Rothschild, where he was managing partner from 2001 to 2011.
Asked if he has further political aspirations following his commitment to a four-year term as mayor, he firmly shakes his head, “No way.”