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By Ellie Brecher, PCDP newsletter editor

The Operations and Development Coordinator will work under the direction of the Pima County Democratic Party Executive Director and the Chair to assist in daily fundraising and development operations for the party. The selected candidate will report to the Executive Director for all fundraising strategies to include: call time; internal and external event coordination; tabling events; and the administrative requirements of the party headquarters with the end goal of winning elections for Democrats. The ideal selected candidate should have strong connections within the community and with a variety of community organizations (e.g. civic groups, labor organizations, etc.) have fundraising experience, and take direction from the PCDP Chair and Executive Director. A collaborative, friendly, positive attitude is a must in the fast-paced environment of the PCDP Headquarters.

When Leila Kottabi Counts – TUSD board member, former small-business owner, educator, and mom of two – saw this ad on the PCDP website last fall, she sensed a perfect fit.

The timing couldn’t have been better. She and Austin Counts, her husband of nine years, were selling their Fourth Avenue Deli to a former employee.

Having run a successful political campaign – scoring the highest vote total in the 2018 TUSD election – Leila knew all about voter outreach, fundraising and messaging. She and her volunteers knocked on 30,000 doors, she figures.

Having worked in public schools and with social-service agencies, she could write grants and navigate large organizations.

“I knew I could do what the party needed,’’ said Leila, 41, who lives in LD9, Precinct 99.

It’s a 20-hour-a week gig, allowing family time with Austin – now a Tucson Weekly writer – daughter Josephine, 5, son Alexander, 8, and three cats. Another 20 hours goes TUSD business. If there’s spare time, she likes to hike with the family and read.

Leila found HQ exactly as advertised.

“Everybody has been so friendly, welcoming and helpful,’’ she said. “It’s very organized. I’m so impressed with what Cat (Ripley, executive director), Alison (Jones, chair), Bill (Laray, building manager) and all the volunteers have done.’’

Her first few weeks have been “learning through osmosis,’’ she said, “shadowing Cat and Bill, trying to meet with every volunteer to see what they do…, fundraising and planning for the Udall Dinner.’’

Cat is thrilled to have Leila onboard.

“Her significant and positive contributions to our community as an educator and Democratic activist, which span her entire life, are only magnified by her many skills and talents as an organizer.

“Moreover, a huge bonus to HQ is that her creativity, positive energy and ‘can do’ spirit is precisely what is needed in this most crucial election year!’’

Alison added: “Working at PCDP requires good time management, flexibility, and problem solving. There is always some routine work, but there are also issues that arise every day that need someone who can just figure it out. Like Cat, Leila is one of those people.’’

Leila, a Catalina Foothills High School graduate who holds a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Northern Arizona University, hails from a family steeped in education, public service and Democratic politics.

Her late maternal grandfather, journalist/diplomat/UA administrator Robert Stirling, was close to the Udalls and friendly enough with President John F. Kennedy to seek his help gaining a State Department post in Brazil.

Grandmother Mary Stirling was a well-known TUSD teacher. Mom Robin  Kottabi, is owner/co-director of The Sandbox2 and The Clubhouse, early-childhood learning centers. After marrying Iranian mining engineer Parviz Kottabi, she ran a preschool in Tehran and gave birth to Leila – on the eve of Iran’s 1979 revolution. The family fled to Tucson, where Leila’s siblings, Risa Kottabi Cline and brother Arian Kottabi, were born. 

Leila launched her career by teaching social skills, history and cultural studies at the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center. Then she worked her way through grad school at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, N.M., as a teaching assistant with special-education students.

Returning to Tucson, Leila worked with troubled children and families through The Arizona Department of Health Services, Easter Seals Blake Foundation, Casa De Los Ninos, and did professional-development consulting with Pima Community College, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University and the U.S. Air Force.

 With the 2020 election cycle in full swing, Leila will concentrate on “keeping the systems that Cat and the volunteers have set up running smoothly. That will be critical. Keeping the tone and atmosphere at headquarters positive and welcoming is really important, and supporting all the LDs, which are doing amazing work.

“We’ll be keeping the momentum going. It’s a well-oiled machine.’’ 

Leila Counts and daughter Josephine
Leila and her daughter Josephine.