That the much-touted debate Friday night between mayoral candidates Richard Skorman and Steve Bach was a media event was immediately apparent.
Approximately 60 of the 400 seats in the El Pomar Garden Pavillion (which is, in fact, a fancy tent) were blocked from the stage by an elaborate TV platform, so positioned in response to demands from Rocky Mountain PBS and Channel 5. The event was also sponsored by El Pomar, the City Committee, and the Gazette, each represented on a panel which fed questions to the candidates.
The debate was structured to allow each candidate brief opening and closing statements, and the opportunity to respond to a variety of reasonably relevant questions.
The format presented few difficulties to the two hopefuls, who have mastered the art of 60-, 90-, and 120-second non-replies to complex queries.
Dry questions about the city’s pension liabilities, the chief of staff position , the retention of young professionals, funding capital projects (called “capitol” projects on a screen behind the candidates) and the fate of Memorial Health Systems drew rote, emotionless responses from both candidates.
But sparks flew when the discussion turned to the annual Gay Pride parade.
Skorman said that he’d sign a mayoral proclamation welcoming the parade; Bach said that he wouldn’t.
Employing the convoluted logic of the discrimination that dare not admit its name, Bach said that the event is divisive per se, although he said that he “would not tolerate any form of discrimination.”
“Should they have a parade for people over 6-5?” asked Bach, seeking to defuse the tense moment with some ill-considered humor.
Skorman wouldn’t let him off the hook.
“What you just said damages the city,” said Skorman, with an unaccustomed edge in his voice. “Eighty to 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer partner benefits. They want to be in places where all of their employees are welcome. Steve just shut the door.”
Both Skorman and Bach sought to turn the other’s strengths into liabilities.
Skorman noted that half of Bach’s contributors are “developers,” and characterized the race as one between a businessman and a developer with no experience in government.
“Would you give the keys to your car to someone who can’t drive?” Skorman asked, citing his own impressive record of service as elected official.
Bach, calling himself a “community real estate broker helping employers create jobs,” derided Skorman’s public sector experience.
“Richard says that we didn’t plan well, that there’s too much sprawl,” Bach said. “He’s right, and he should know. He was there.”
Skorman indignantly rebutted Bach, and threw in a few zingers of his own, even questioning Bach’s anti-tax credentials.
“You criticize (City Council) for approving the stormwater fee,” Skorman noted, ”but you say that you support SDS (Southern Delivery System). Without that fee, there would be no SDS. Pueblo never would have agreed to the project. And you say that you support TOPS, the public safety sales tax, and the PPRTA. Those are all taxes.”
And Skorman saved the best for last.
“If you want the city to sprawl to Kansas,” he said, “don’t vote for me - I’m not your man.”
He continued in the same vein for several sentences, and ended with a final jab at Bach’s developer ties.
“This guy,” he said of Bach, “is going to give the keys to the city to the developers.”
Bach had a quick, unrehearsed response.
“If you believe that everything’s just fine,” he said, “don’t’ vote for me - I’m not your guy.”
Leaving the debate, we fell into conversation with a well-known professional woman wearing a Skorman button.
“Did you notice that Bach couldn’t bring himself to say the word 'gay' or 'lesbian?'” she asked. “It reminded me of when I first came to Colorado Springs, and I went to a male doctor. I made some reference to my clitoris, and he said “your cl-cl-cl…” He couldn’t say it!”
She thought that Skorman had won the debate, “hands down!”
But another equally well-known professional woman sporting a Bach sticker, didn’t agree.
“Steve was fantastic!” she said. “Of course he won the debate.”