It’s difficult to pigeonhole Steve Emerine. Writing, reporting and editing were part of his life, but so was his love of jazz. He was an active Democrat who became Pima County Assessor, and later a journalism teacher. But he was more than all that, one of the rare people whose summation exceeded the sum of his parts.
Steve died last week at 73, taking a ton of local memories with him.
Born in Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska, Steve grew up in Boise, Idaho and graduated from the University of Idaho. He came to Tucson in 1960 to work as the night police reporter at the Tucson Citizen. Note the job title, and that daily newspapers once tried a lot harder to report news, something Steve commented upon with great regularity.
Though we came from different points on the political spectrum, we shared many concerns about the decline in journalism’s quality. Steve worked his way up in the then locally owned Citizen to an editor’s position before his appointment as Pima County Assessor in 1973. He was elected to a full term in 1976.
Emerine gave up that job in 1980 and went to the Arizona Daily Star, where he had a regular column and served in numerous posts, including managing editor. He left in 1987 to run his own PR firm and handle some political campaigns, occasionally against somebody I was supporting. He could never quite stay out of the newspaper game, and a few years back began a weekly column in Inside Tucson Business, which he wrote up until two weeks ago.
Steve was a reasonably liberal Democrat, but nobody could ever call him a party hack. On occasion he’d support a Republican if he thought it was the right thing to do, and he was a longtime critic of many local Democrats, including the majority on the Pima County Board of Supervisors and particularly the bunch who now inhabit Tucson City Hall. Steve had concluded it was time for Tucson to go to non-partisan elections.
His love of jazz led to his participation in several groups promoting it, but one incident stands out. In the early ‘80s, the great clarinetist John Denham, then principal clarinetist of the Tucson Symphony and local jazz great, got into a broo-hah with the UA Music School ending in his removal. Steve considered that a gross injustice to this superb artist and was on it like an avenging angel. Steve picked his causes rationally and was almost always right on.
There’s something called “institutional memory” all communities possess. Some, like ours, have less than others because of high transientness. Steve was a big piece of what we did have. He could remember things and people because he was actually there, and you couldn’t con him with a dumb idea that had already failed.
Steve also put the truth ahead of personalities and partisanship. When the facts conflicted with his pre-determination, he modified the latter. And he never used disagreements to challenge motivation or personal integrity, like too many do today, unless facts clearly warranted it.
In 1980, Assessor Emerine became embroiled with local tax reform advocate Bill Heuisler. Their differences were large and their public admonitions larger, yet they ultimately became reasonably close. When I delivered to Bill the message of Steve’s passing, he paused and said “ironically he became my friend.”
As he was mine. He leaves his wife Claudine, his children Keely and Ed, three grandchildren and his former wife of 32 years, Caroline, who was also still his good friend, which tells you a lot.
He also leaves a big hole in our memory of who we were and how we got here.
Listen to Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy Saturdays 1-4 p.m. on KVOI 690 AM.