Four-year Oro Valley Town Council candidate Helen Dankwerth is a strong believer in ethics in government. That's one reason she will not accept outside contributions and plans to finance her campaign entirely out of her own pocket.
"I don't want to be beholden to any interest group because it's supported me," she said.
The 65-year-old retired teacher and psychotherapist has spent the better part of a year prepping for the job she hopes to assume in June 2004 by attending most of the Town Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and Development Review Board meetings.
"I've made a point of preparing myself for council," she said. "I've met with the mayor, the police chief and other top level management staff."
She's running for council because she believes that the town has not been responsive to its citizens. "They are not listening. Part of my training is listening," she said. "The recent failure of the town's updated General Plan could have been avoided. It failed because people don't want rampant development and inappropriate growth."
In 2000, when Dankwerth and her husband Alan retired in Oro Valley from the Midwest, both enrolled in the town's Citizens Planning Institute and quickly got involved in public meetings on the 2003 General Plan update and the proposed Naranja Townsite.
"We decided if we were going to live here, it was incumbent upon us to get involved," she said. "I became intensely interested and started to attend council meetings. Alan started to work with the General Plan Steering Committee."
When the owners of the Kai Capri property along First Avenue south of Palisades Avenue wanted to build 1,200 homes on about 300 acres, the Dankwerths and other concerned neighbors convinced the town to reduce the allowable density on the property.
Although she's not anti-growth across the board, the candidate said there's a perception that developers have been "unduly influential" in shaping the direction of the town.
"People feel the developers have gained the upper hand and are very resentful of over-development," she said. "That's not my position, although I do think we've been a little too welcoming and not selective enough. We don't want to pave over the desert. Oro Valley is a gorgeous place, let's not spoil it."
In line with that philosophy, her three main campaign issues will be responsible development, responsive government and realistic fiscal management.
In terms of economic development, she would like to see more targeted growth.
"We don't need a drug store on every corner. We need businesses that offer something special," she said. For instance, she said she believes the proximity of the University Medical Center, Ventana Medical Systems and the new Northwest Medical Center could help the town capitalize on a ready market for new medical and biotech businesses.
In addition, "We have an awful lot of retirees here with business experience," she said. "Let's pick their brains and contacts and formulate a program to aggressively pursue high-tech business."
The area's spectacular climate and scenery also make it a natural tourist destination, she said, pointing out that the town of Aspen, Colo., raises revenue with a two-month summer concert series using tents around the city, name performers and music seminars.
"We could have a winter music festival," she said. "We need to think big, long range, and develop the town from an arts and business standpoint."
As for government responsiveness, Dankwerth said, "Government responsiveness means having a meaningful dialogue. Council must let people know ahead of time what's coming and get feedback," for example, with regular "sit-downs" or an "Ask the Council" column in the newspaper.
Asked to grade the current council, the candidate gave it only a C+. "Their biggest failure is in not listening or being responsive," she said. "I really want to be an advocate. I'll be working not for the council, but for the people. I will be as responsive as I can possibly be."
This is her first run for political office. If elected, she plans to treat the council as a full-time job.
Dankwerth, a registered Republican, identifies herself as a "fiscal conservative but a social centrist." She views fiscal responsibility as a realistic approach to what the town needs to provide for the well being of the people who live there.
"The Naranja Townsite is imminently desirable, but I'm not a proponent of doing everything. If we need money first for a fire department, that's where we need to put the money."
The candidate attributes her interest in politics to her father, a German Jew who spoke out against the Nazi regime and was about to be executed when friends smuggled him to a hiding place in Holland. He came to America in 1935 during the Depression, and met her mother while singing in a synagogue choir.
"We always had discussions about current events in German and English," said Dankwerth, who remains fluent in both languages.
As a youngster, she grew up three blocks away from her future husband in upper Manhattan. She studied violin at a public high school that specialized in students gifted in music and art and later graduated cum laude with a degree in psychology and education from Hunter College. She married Alan in 1960 at age 21.
The couple settled in New Jersey, where Alan worked for several chemical corporations, first as a bench chemist and later as a manager in marketing and sales. During the next 10 years, they had three boys.
Her first foray into public advocacy came when she exposed a bait-and-switch scam involving a company that advertised low-cost pre-packaged beef, but then tried to sell only higher-priced packages. "I made a few calls and it eventually went to the state attorney general, who implemented roadblocks to curtail that kind of activity," she said.
In 1976, the couple moved to Kansas City, Mo., and Dankwerth, who taught for several years before her children were born and later worked as a substitute teacher, went back to school herself to earn a master's degree in psychology from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
As both a volunteer and a professional therapist with a private counseling practice, she's worked with troubled teens, battered women, newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients, the elderly and the terminally ill.
She currently serves as one of four directors of the Palisades Point Estates Home Owners Association and as a captain of her Neighborhood Watch Block. She has also served as president of her temple congregation and on two congregation boards, and has been a board member of Big Sisters of Racine, Wis.
Dankwerth has worked as a volunteer with the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Friends of the Court Teen Adjudication Program and Battered Persons Program in Johnson County, Kan. In Racine, she volunteered with Pet Partners, which takes animals for visits to nursing homes and schools.
Family: Married, 3 adult children
Education: B.A. Psychology, Education; Hunter College, N.Y.C., M.S. Counseling; University of Kansas
Profession/Employer: Retired teacher, psychotherapist
Lived in Arizona: 3 years
Lived in Oro Valley: 3 years
Came to Arizona from: Wisconsin
Public offices held: None
Other biographical data:
Graduate, Oro Valley Citizen Planning Institute
Past board member, Big Sisters of Racine, Wisconsin
Past member, president, religious organization boards
Volunteer, Multiple Sclerosis Society
Friends of the Court Teen Adjudication Program Battered Persons Program
Pet Partners animal visitation program to nursing homes and schools
Why she's running for council:
Having participated in successfully limiting residential and commercial development along First Avenue, as well as closely monitoring the proposed new General Plan, I realized that the concerns of the citizenry were neither being listened to or addressed. I believe that I can be an effective, responsive, and ethical advocate for the people of Oro Valley. My campaign is entirely self-funded, so as to preclude any possible attempts at influence by special interest groups on decisions I will make as a council member.
Responsible, appropriate, residential development; attraction of unique, image-enhancing commercial entities; pro-active approach to enticing medical support, bio-tech, financial consultancy and graphic arts businesses to Oro Valley. Responsive, interactive government which listens, as opposed to simply hearing citizen concerns and maintains ongoing education and dialogue with particular attention to key issues. Realistic, balanced budgeting, limited bonding, prioritization of expenditures with emphasis on community safety issues (fire and police protection), senior services, cultural activities and environmental issues.