Satish Hiremath and Mike Zinkin, Oro Valley's two candidates for mayor, strike you as people who care about their community, and who want to see it thrive. Each preaches much-needed civility and decorum on the governing board. They agree that Oro Valley needs growth, fiscal responsibility, and a vision.
How they'd go about the work may be their greatest difference. Private interviews with each man last week revealed distinctions in style.
Zinkin appears to relish the role of problem-solver, ready to dig into tough problems. He's got specifics, too, learned from years of service on the town's development review board.
"We need somebody up there who's strong, somebody who has no interests other than you," Zinkin said. "I'm not going to be the George Bush kind of mayor who surrounds himself with 'yes' men, people to tell me how great I'm doing."
Hiremath wants to be a tone-setter, the leader who gives staff direction, a vision and power, then follows up. He can get specific, but doesn't see that as his role. "It's a council-manager form of government," Hiremath said. "It's a game of accountability and responsibility. The town pays department heads for professional advice. Use it."
Here's some of what they think about:
The sign code – The issue blew up in the face of town officials when – in part due to Zinkin's urging – the staff gave notice it would begin enforcing sign code lighting hours. The business community, led by the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce, rose against tighter regulation in a difficult economy.
"The sign code itself isn't bad," Zinkin said. "It was never enforced."
The business community "felt local government was not listening to them," Hiremath said.
"I'm not anti-business," Zinkin said. He claims, correctly, that the business community is more hampered by the economy and lack of credit than it is by a sign code.
Interest groups – Hiremath has received backing from some of the community's major players. Zinkin has no such endorsement. "I know you're not going to endorse me," Zinkin told those groups when he interviewed … and he was correct. Still he promised he'd have "an open door" to them.
Zinkin supporters have criticized Hiremath for having "Tucson" backing. That's a falsehood; all of Hiremath's backers are vested in Oro Valley. "To be honest, every group is a special interest group," Hiremath said.
Zinkin claims independence from another special interest, blogger Art Segal. "Art does not talk for me, and I've been fighting that," Zinkin allowed. That's good. A mayor needs intellectual room to move.
Business development – Zinkin wants to create a business development commission, composed of Oro Valley's "huge braintrust," that would be "a direct pipeline to the council."
Hiremath sees no need for "another layer of bureaucracy. How do we get people to interact more directly with the council without all these buffers in between?"
"I would get developers around the table, with managers around the periphery," then ask developers "what's difficult about building in this town?" Zinkin said. "Tell me facts." Then he'd ask town staff to respond. "In 30 days, you tell me what you're doing about it."
"Most developers have uttered the dreaded words, 'I will never build in Oro Valley again,'" Hiremath said. "It's very difficult to open a business in Oro Valley." Given the community's dependence upon business activity for tax revenue, "you're cutting yourself off at the knees."
If elected, "I would get all town employees together, and tell them 'Oro Valley has a perception problem, and it ends today,'" Hiremath said. "We are going to create a vision, re-train you, empower you and support you. You will respect everyone, and you will be sickeningly polite." He vows to "repair the damage done to the staff."
Zinkin's temperament has been questioned. Three men who serve on an HOA board in his community "would resign immediately" if Zinkin were ever elected to that board. "He's impossible to work with," they claim in a letter to the editor.
That one hurts. Zinkin has his side of the HOA story. But a candidate for mayor cannot have people questioning whether he's cooperative.
Hiremath speaks in altruistic terms, wishing to help the town he loves through service to it, with no personal gains. "It's a pay it forward kind of thing," Hiremath says. He means it, and he's lived it.
Hiremath says the right things as a candidate for mayor during a critical time in the community's life. With due respect to Zinkin, and appreciation for his willingness to seek the office, Hiremath gets this writer's recommendation to become Oro Valley's next mayor.