Attorney Art Chapa, a longtime lobbyist for Pima County and a former member of the state Board of Regents, died Friday, 11 days after being diagnosed with cancer.
He was 69.
Chapa was well-known in political circles, raising money for Democratic candidates, serving as a staffer for Congressman Morris K. Udall, and serving on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' transition team in 2006. He was the state director of President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election bid.
Also known for his widespread community service, he left his stamp on the community in other ways as well, largely through his lobbying, which he did at the county level for 20 years.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said those who enjoy the county river-park system have Chapa, in part, to thank for helping to secure federal funding for bank stabilization, while he was also key in facilitating the Kino Wetlands restoration project.
Anyone enjoying the athletic facilities at Cherry Field and those roughly 1,500 homeowners or so who can now ditch their flood insurance because of the flood-plain project on the Arroyo Chico can thank Chapa, in part, because of his ability to secure funding.
"He will be missed immensely," Huckelberry said, saying Chapa was always able to pick the middle ground between two opposing sides. "He was a great statesman. He learned a lot from Mo Udall," Huckelberry said.
Eddie Basha, the supermarket magnate and former gubernatorial candidate who was tapped in 1990 along with Chapa by Gov. Rose Mofford to serve on the Board of Regents, said he was a strong advocate for Pima County and the University of Arizona during his eight years of service.
Basha called Chapa a "stentorian voice" against increases in university tuition. "Our belief was that anytime you did that, you were eliminating an opportunity for a lot of students."
He also recalled Chapa wanting to find out more about minority enrollment at the law college at Arizona State University, only to find out it was meeting recruitment goals through out-of-state students. "He was livid and so was I, and we worked to turn that around. That was really vintage Art Chapa."
Terry Bracy, a former Udall staffer who is the city of Tucson's lobbyist in Washington, D.C., credited Chapa with being a team player for the region as a whole, to help advance transportation, water-quality and flood-control projects.
"Amidst the meanness of contemporary politics," Bracy recalled, "he was a peacemaker with unfailing good temperament - even when tested with some of the state's most difficult personalities."
Giffords said she selected Chapa to serve on her team after her 2006 election because of his experience with consensus-building and collaboration.
"It was because of the advice I received from Art and other members of my transition team that I was able to hit the ground running when I took office in January 2007," Giffords said in a statement.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva credited Chapa with "unconditional friendship." "Art didn't agree with everything I do or every position I take, but he never abandoned me," Grijalva said, adding that the community will never know the full extent of his impacts.
"There are projects being built, things happening at the UA and community colleges, elected officials who are serving because of him. But being a gentleman, it was about subtlety, not credit."
Chapa, who was recently appointed to the new UA Science and Technology Park Board, served on several other boards, including the state community college board and the Hispanic Alumni Scholarship Board.
A remembrance will be held at St. Augustine Cathedral on Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas will officiate.
The family has established a fund in Chapa's name to increase awareness of H. pylori-induced cancer. Contributions may be sent to the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, 1295 N. Martin Ave., Tucson, 85724.
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at email@example.com or 573-4243.