TUCSON, Ariz. — Mayor Regina Romero is calling out Council Member Nikki Lee and City Manager Michael Ortega after she says they approved a public art request from someone with ties to white supremacy.
The mayor did not use Lee's name in her tweet, but says the office of a council member submitted the request.
Thursday evening, Lee responded with a post on her webpage stating that she was simply doing her job of responding to constituents.
Her full statement reads:
On July 1, 2020, I was made aware - via a constituent call to the Ward 4 office - of a group called “Tucson Back the Blue” that had sent multiple inquiries to city officials with no response. Their request was to get permission and permits to safely paint a single blue line in front of the Main Police Station on Stone Ave. to illustrate their support of Tucson police officers who are in the line of duty. After receiving no response from any of their inquiries, they reached out to my office because we have a reputation for being responsive. My staff, with my support, forwarded the questions of the constituent to the City Manager and Transportation Director - which is our job - and asked that the correct department respond to him with the information he had requested. Within hours, the Transportation Department had contacted him and gave him information regarding the permit process.
Unfortunately, in doing my job of being a responsive local government official and escalating constituent concerns/questions, I have been accused of supporting white supremacists and white supremacy organizations. I am disgusted at this allegation, and equally disgusted at the continued tactics at play to divide our community for the sole purpose of pushing political agendas forward.
I remember when I was first stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. I was often thanked for my service while out in the Tucson community in uniform. Many of those who thanked me didn’t support the Global War on Terrorism, or the US military’s presence in Afghanistan or Iraq, but they stood by the troops offering their support. They saw us as people. People from a very small segment of America’s population who stepped up and took an oath to protect and defend our country and our constitution. A small segment of our population who signed up to die - if necessary - so that others have the great freedoms that we have as Americans.
It is possible to support our Black community and support police officers at the same time. It is possible to acknowledge the racism that exists in so many of our American systems and institutions, while appreciating the willingness that women and men have to step into a career with no guarantee they will come home alive after their shift. It is possible to demand change while supporting the very people whom we demand the change from.
An antiquated approach - like divide and conquer - will not work today if we seek meaningful change. The only way we can successfully approach these complex issues is by viewing the challenges from all sides and making sure all voices in our community are truly heard. In order to get through these challenging times we must unite as a community and work toward comprehensive solutions that include everyone.
An automated email response from Council Member Lee's office says it has received "hundred of emails over the last few days" about TPD funding and policies.
Romero said she heard about the request from a City of Tucson employee who was concerned Ortega may not have taken the background of the person who requested this art seriously.
The person in question, Timothy Cesolini, an administrator of the group’s Facebook page.
"I spoke to the city manager and basically said, look this is very concerning. And if I as the mayor of Tucson let this happen, then I will, and rightfully so, hear from the community if this street painting happens especially with city of Tucson resources. There's very clear white, confederate flags on his posts and disparging Black Americans in his posts. Since we saw this information, it was still on his Facebook page and available for the public to see. Since then, he has hidden them from his page," said Romero.
And that was concerning enough for Romero to make a public statement against the request of the art. She said this isn't about not supporting police, its about the individual that made the request.
"I'm not going to stand by where there is malicious intention and a person that has displayed white supremacists, racist points in his social media, come to the city of Tucson and use city of Tucson resources to sow hate and division. I'm just not going to allow that," she said.
In a Facebook post from Cesolini, he says:
Ward 6 Council Member Steve Kozachik also responded to the Mayor's statement Thursday night.
Tucson Back the Blue is a local group that for years has raised funds to support our law enforcement agencies, and their families. Through their efforts they've raised thousands of dollars to purchase personal protective equipment for cops, and to donate money to the surviving families of fallen officers. If the Mayor has evidence that such a group is "white supremacist" she had better make that very public, very quickly or we will (and should) get very sued for slander.
Most importantly, we have got to get beyond the place where supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and supporting law enforcement are considered to be mutually exclusive positions. We can, and we should support both. The City Attorney blew it by rejecting the request for a permit to simply paint a blue line outside of TPD HQ to show support of our police officers. Had it been approved I will bet you that members of the local BLM support group would have joined in painting it, just as members of TPD joined in taking a knee during the recent social justice protests that took place outside the downtown TPD offices.
KGUN 9 reached out to City Manager Michael Ortega's office and City of Tucson attorney Mike Rankin for comment. So far, neither have replied.