Ross Kaplowitch decided to run for city council because he’s upset about how the police department handled the investigation of the murder of his ex-wife in May last year.
He said the Tucson Police Department didn’t pay enough attention to a brewing domestic violence situation before Christy Kaplowitch, the mother of two of Ross’s children, was stabbed to death. And then they didn’t spend enough time and resources investigating the homicide, he said. A man she had been in a relationship with was arrested for the murder a few days later.
Kaplowitch said he looked for and found the suspect’s vehicle on his own, then notified the police, leading to the suspect’s arrest. But, he said, the experience demonstrated the need for funding for the police.
“I was really upset with the whole system,” Kaplowitch said in an interview with Arizona Luminaria.
So now the Republican is challenging first-term Democrat Nikki Lee to represent Ward 4, which includes much of the east side and southeast side of Tucson.
Tucson election details
Tucson has an unusual election system. Voters in the primary can only vote for city council candidates in their own party and in the ward in which they live. In the general election voters citywide can punch the ballot on the complete slate of primary winners in all parties and all wards. The mayor is elected citywide.
The general election is Nov. 7. Mail-in ballots will be sent out on Oct. 11. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Oct. 31 or dropped off by the close of polling places by 7 p.m on Election Day. Check your voter registration, find a polling place, and check which ward you live in.
Meet the candidates
Kaplowitch is from Boston and came to Tucson in 2004 “because it’s a beautiful city,” he said at a League of Women Voters candidate forum. He previously worked as a correctional sergeant and EMT/firefighter and now owns a local trucking company. With his fiance, he is raising a blended family of six children and one grandchild.
Lee often describes herself as a “technology nerd” and she is an executive and leadership coach. She grew up in rural Illinois, joined the Air Force at age 17 and moved to Tucson in 2003 by way of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, she said at the forum. She and her husband have three children.
At the forum, Lee said the city should focus on crime prevention, including connecting people to mental health resources.
“To Ross’s experience: Being able to respond when we have information that suggests a crime could be committed, how do we step in and provide the resources to prevent that from happening,” she said.
Kaplowitch wants to bring attention to the police budget, in particular.
“Public safety is understaffed, underfunded and a disgrace to our community,” Kaplowitch said at the forum. “We need staffing, we need equipment, we need more officers, and our current mayor and city council are not doing that for you, for me, for my family.”
Tucson Police Department salaries are lower than other police departments in similarly sized cities, Kaplowitch said.
The yearly base salary for a Tucson police officer is $61,235 while the Mesa police department’s base salary is $66,940. Both cities have about half a million people and a similar cost of living, according to payscale.com.
Kaplowitch said he’d gather funds for the police department through grants and re-evaluating the current budget, specifically the climate-resiliency allocation.
“Climate change is real,” he said, but it shouldn’t be a city budget priority.
Public safety also is among the priorities for Lee, who was first elected in 2019.
Like Kaplowitch, Lee said she wants to address resource deficits for first responders.
She told Arizona Luminaria in an interview that recruitment and retention have been ongoing concerns and during her first term, the council has worked to address it.
“Every year I’ve been on the council we have done wage increases and this past year in particular, we did a cost of living adjustment for all city of Tucson employees and an additional 5% for our commissioned officers,” she said.
“I have been going into my first term completely focused on what is the function of local government and how do I make it work better,” Lee said at the forum. “So, for me, that’s about our core services, that’s our roads, parks and public safety.”
In her past term, Lee said, the council has made strides in such projects, particularly after the passage of Proposition 411, which funds road improvements.
“We’ve been through a lot, we’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot of work to do,” she said at the forum. “And we’re facing some significant budget challenges starting in 2025,” when the city starts to lose access to American Rescue Plan dollars.
“That is the part that does keep me up at night, is where we’re headed from a budget standpoint,” Lee said.
She said she’s looking to technology to optimize city operations so they can retain services and employees despite the impending budget constraints.
“To me this next year is all about preparation and getting our house in order, because we’re not going to have the funding that we have [right now],” she said.
Kaplowitch said that he and others feel their elected officials aren’t responsive to their concerns.
“I feel that the current administration does not listen to the residents of Tucson because up until I ran for city council, I would never get a response,” he said.
He also wants to increase the budget for city workers, particularly those in the public works and transportation departments.
Lee emphasizes the importance of local government in supporting working families and addressing the issue of homelessness by advocating for livable wages and affordable housing.
“When we talk about homelessness, it’s a big symptom that we see of several other underlying issues,” like poverty, mental health problems and substance abuse and economic factors, Lee said at the forum. And different paths are needed for different groups of people with different needs, she said.
“We have been able to house over 600 people from street homelessness into permanent housing in the past 18 months,” Lee said in an interview with Arizona Luminaria. “But there’s still a lot more to do.
There are an estimated 2,209 people experiencing homelessness in Pima County, according to numbers from the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness. The data is based on the annual Point in Time Count of unsheltered people on Jan. 24. Pima County has seen a 300% increase in individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness from 2018 to 2023.
Kaplowitch says homelessness should be addressed by policing and through services provided by nonprofit organizations.
“Homelessness is a major problem” and the city should arrest panhandlers in the medians of city streets, Kaplowitch said at the forum.