Will Thursday's State of the City speech be Mayor Steve Bach's swan song, his last appearance at the annual event? Will he go out in a blaze of rhetorical glory, as did Gen. Douglas MacArthur?
On May 12, 1962, as an award recipient at West Point, MacArthur addressed the Corps of Cadets.
"The shadows are lengthening for me," MacArthur said. "The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished — tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. ... Today marks my final roll call with you..."
MacArthur was 82. He could look back on an extraordinary career, unmatched in the history of American arms. That speech, arguably one of the greatest in our nation's history, is as zesty and combative as the general himself. While praising the Army, MacArthur took a few shots at politicians of his time (can you say Democrats?), castigating them for deficit financing, federal paternalism, corrupt politics, rampant crime and low morals.
One-time Army private Steve Bach has a few things in common with Gen. MacArthur. Like MacArthur, Bach is more concerned with the future than the present. Like MacArthur, he's impatient with subordinates, can't understand why any person of reasonable intelligence would disagree with him, and is not fond of the grubby politics of compromise.
Those traits likely will be front and center during the mayor's speech.
Will Bach step genially aside, as befits an elder statesman, and let Amy Lathen, John Suthers, Bob Gardner and other mayoral hopefuls duke it out for the privilege of fighting with City Council?
Declining to run for re-election would effectively end Bach's power to influence events. City for Champions could wither on the vine, his Homeless Initiative would falter, and senior staffers would begin updating their résumés. Bach would be remembered as the tall, feisty guy who made a few reforms but ultimately was frustrated by do-nothing troglodytes on Council.
If the Phil Anschutz-Steve Bartolin-Bill Hybl axis lines up behind Suthers, Bach won't care. He thinks residents appreciate a mayor who leads, isn't afraid of controversy, and doesn't get suckered into supporting a hefty stormwater fee that will disproportionately benefit other jurisdictions. He doesn't care about polls and doesn't give a tinker's damn about "regionalism." His client is the city, and he represents his client — not Manitou, Fountain or El Paso County.
Bach probably will try to make that clear, arguing for his "holistic" plan to fund the city's billion-dollar backlog of capital improvements, including $500 million in stormwater needs. To bolster his pitch, he may cite other jurisdictions (see: Oklahoma City), the continuous deterioration of city infrastructure and ominous macroeconomic trends. Here's what he might say:
"Our local economy is so sluggish that the governor has proposed a state-funded study to figure out why Colorado Springs is so behind the curve. We can't depend on our military-industrial sector to generate growth and jobs. It's shrinking. City for Champions will rebrand our city, furnish jobs and get us moving — so let's stop fighting over details and move forward.
"We need to revitalize our city core, not use our municipal utility service to subsidize big-box retailers who want to build in the county and avoid paying city taxes. We need to continue removing bureaucratic obstacles to business growth and formation. I look forward to working with City Council, county commissioners and our legislative delegation to accomplish these goals."
Here's what he'd probably prefer to say, were he in fact as uncompromising and confrontational as MacArthur:
"Keith King and the Gang of Four are like Terry Maketa. They'll never get out of the way. And the Stormwater Task Force — an unholy alliance of liberal tax raisers and county tax-grabbers. We pay, they benefit. I know that all of you here think I'm too rigid, too unwilling to compromise, but I'm here to lead. I'm not going to kick the can down to the next person in this office. If you don't like it, toss me out in 2015."
In 1951, President Harry Truman removed MacArthur from command in Korea, ending the general's career. MacArthur was 71, as Bach will be at the beginning of 2015. MacArthur did not go willingly, nor will Bach.