For two decades now, Colorado Springs has lived with the presence and influence of Douglas Edward Bruce. He appears to thrive on being a hero to some, an enemy to most and a nightmare to anyone who equates effective government with maximum quality of life.
Starting with his first 1991 victory that began ensnaring the city and state with his Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, Bruce has done more to undermine community pride in Colorado Springs than anyone in the city's history. If you lived here during the blissful years of 1960 to 1990, you understand.
And yet, for this 61-year-old California refugee, no victory is ever enough. Any tax, no matter how small, is too much. Any government service, beyond public safety and maintaining some streets, is wasteful. Transit? Community centers? Trails and open space? All unneeded.
Yet, Bruce has supporters who have been fully intoxicated by drinking his Kool-Aid for years.
This is the man who has allowed rental properties to deteriorate into rat holes, who has ridiculed school kids as an elected public official, who opposed a state military appreciation day, who has contributed so much to the area's negative image. He has pushed beyond the limits of campaign finance laws, figuratively spitting in the face of judicial authority. He relishes any chance to embarrass local government.
And now, in this city election, Bruce is going for his version of the kill shot.
He's running for City Council, and he has surrounded himself with four like-minded disciples, running together as the "Reform Team" for the five available at-large Council seats. If all of them win, the ensuing damage would be unspeakable. If even Bruce alone prevails, he would instantly become a one-man wrecking crew, a disruptive force on a Council brimming with new members and trying to adapt to the new strong-mayor form of government — no matter who is elected mayor.
That brings us to the purpose for this column.
You, and every other voter, should feel threatened. This city's future is on the line: its personality, its identity, its appeal. And if you don't do something about it, brace yourself for the consequences ... and blame.
Bruce and his followers are counting on you to be stupid and/or apathetic. They're depending on you not caring enough to vote. If enough of you don't, they will win. Or at least Bruce will, giving his huge ego a new mandate.
Cynics have insisted that too many people hate Bruce, that "he could never win." That's wrong, and here's why. In city elections, voters get as many at-large choices as there are seats available. That has been four in recent elections, but now five. In 2007, the fourth-place finisher had 26,409 votes out of 61,338 total voters, or 43 percent. But in 2003, when 81,723 voters took part, fourth place received 28,159 votes, only 34 percent.
We're hearing that 100,000 might vote this time, with 16 at-large candidates. Nobody knows a magic formula, but 30,000 to 35,000 votes should be enough for fifth place.
Trust me, Bruce believes he has at least 35,000. My guess is, he's sure he has enough loyalty among voters to pull in a few comrades with him, if everyone follows his instructions.
It doesn't matter if 380,000 people in Colorado Springs totally despise Bruce. He may only need 35,000 on his side. He's thinking so many other candidates splitting votes will work in his favor. And it might, as Bruce fans the flames of anger and distrust.
That is, unless the city wakes up. And this is the challenge: If Bruce thinks he has 35,000, the anti-Bruce masses need to produce at least 35,001 votes for five others from the non-Bruce 11.
(For those who need to know, the others on Bruce's Reform Team include Ed Bircham, Helen Collins, Richard Bruce (no relation) and Gretchen Kasameyer.)
Residents who truly care about helping Colorado Springs recover from these difficult times, and who want this city to reach its potential, have to see this as a referendum for our future.
It will take many inactive voters reactivating their status and filling out ballots. And it will take thousands more residents comprehending this threat and doing something about it — by voting.
That's your challenge, Colorado Springs. The time has come to repudiate Douglas Bruce, once and for all, and move forward.
Do you care enough to make it happen?