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Colorado Springs City Council fields are set for six district seats

Campaign kickoff

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In the week prior to the Jan. 23 filing deadline for Colorado Springs City Council, not a day passed without a major new development.

Three candidates dropped out before submitting paperwork; former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, leader of a nonprofit that's taken the city to court, tossed his hat into the ring; and another candidate apparently referred to her district as a "ghetto."

Those unexpected twists might set the tone for the nine-week campaign leading to the April 4 election in which campaign funding is sure to be a factor. Political activist business nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward has vowed to take an active role, and developers already have shoveled $22,000 into two campaigns.

By the filing deadline Jan. 23, all six districts had contested races, and four other candidates filed in time but were short signatures. They have until Jan. 27 to produce more.

Of those races, two are open seats, because Larry Bagley in northern District 2 and Keith King in southwest District 3 chose not to seek another term.

Don Knight - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Don Knight

In Northwest District 1, incumbent Don Knight faces political newcomer Greg Basham, a manager for Champion windows. Basham is possibly the choice of Colorado Springs Forward, because CSF has hired Sarah Jack as a political consultant, and she's listed as Basham's contact person on campaign documents.

Basham picked up an early endorsement from Realtor Tony Gioia, who dropped out of the race on Jan. 22, noting in a release that he and Basham "would like to see new leadership in District 1."

Knight says he'll focus his campaign on ideas for spurring development on North Nevada Avenue and Garden of the Gods Road, as well as roads and stormwater needs citywide. But he doesn't want to raise taxes. One idea, he says, is to declare the entire city a commercial aeronautical zone, which would remove the city's use tax on aircraft parts. Such zoning was applied to land around Colorado Springs Airport a few years ago and spawned creation of 2,000 jobs, he says, 10 times the number city officials predicted.

"What's good for one part of the city ought to be good for the entire city," Knight says.

In District 2, attorneys Tim Dietz and David Geislinger will face off. Despite rumors, former District 2 Councilman Joel Miller's wife, Anita Miller, confirmed she would not run. Another person once thought to be considering a run, Republican operative Kanda Calef, announced support for Dietz, who she said via email "has assisted former Council Member Joel Miller with a lawsuit against the city for withholding information from citizens."

In District 3, Chuck Fowler appears to be CSF's choice, based on talk from political insiders, but Skorman will be a formidable opponent. Fowler, a homeowner association consultant, is well connected with the Colorado Springs Forward leadership.

Richard Skorman - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Richard Skorman

Skorman, a downtown businessman who helped pass the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks tax in 1997 (and an extension in 2003), served on Council from 1999 to 2006 (including as vice mayor, 2003-05), before leaving a year early to work for then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar. Skorman, who lost the mayor's race in 2011 to Steve Bach, says he wants to help steer the city's comprehensive plan and help combine trail opportunities with stormwater projects.

Skorman recently made headlines as president of the nonprofit group Save Cheyenne, which has appealed a district court ruling that dismissed a challenge to the city's Strawberry Fields land swap with The Broadmoor.

Fowler didn't return phone calls seeking comment. We also could not reach Jaymen Johnson, owner of SpeakEasy Vape Lounge and a T-shirt company, who's been certified as a candidate.

Joseph Carlson, a disabled Army vet, dropped his bid.

Kurt Bunch, who is Broker in Charge of The Property Bunch Ltd. and a co-owner of Shuga's Restaurant, filed Jan. 23, but announced on Jan. 24 that he was dropping out of the race.

Deborah Hendrix - COURTESY DEBORAH HENDRIX
  • Courtesy Deborah Hendrix
  • Deborah Hendrix

In southeast District 4, Deborah Hendrix, who didn't have enough signatures by Jan. 23, wants to unseat Helen Collins. Hendrix was defeated by Collins in the 2013 election and in 2015 led a recall effort against her.

Collins survived the recall but later was censured by Council for her role in a land transaction with tax activist Douglas Bruce, convicted of tax evasion in an unrelated case.

At a Jan. 16 El Paso County Republican Women's Club meeting at GOP headquarters, Hendrix, who's black, referred to the district as a "ghetto," multiple sources say. The southeastern district lies within House District 17, where minorities comprise roughly 56 percent of the population. Hendrix, former president of the Harrison School District 2 board, has received $11,000 in campaign donations from developers, records show.

Collins seized on the "ghetto" remark, telling the Indy via email, "I was stunned and dismayed by Deborah's arrogant and contemptuous comment about District 4, which I am proud to represent.... Is that how our council representative should describe our community? ... Do you want your vote to endorse such hateful, reckless, and negative views?"

Hendrix didn't return the Indy's phone calls and emails seeking a comment on that and the question of whether she's paid off a $21,982 IRS lien against her and her husband, Charles, filed in November 2015, as reported by the Indy two years ago ("Glass meets stone," News, Jan. 7, 2015).

Yolanda Avila - COURTESY YOLANDA AVILA
  • Courtesy Yolanda Avila
  • Yolanda Avila

Another District 4 candidate is Yolanda Avila, who ran for Council in 2015. Legally blind, Avila belongs to the National Federation of the Blind and hopes to be a voice for people with disabilities. In the past, she's expressed support for ending the city's prohibition on recreational marijuana and a desire to sideline Martin Drake Power Plant in favor of renewable energy.

In central District 5, Councilor Jill Gaebler knows she has a battle ahead. She tells the Indy in an email that Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer, "has a target on my back" because she opposed full funding of its grant request to the Downtown Development Authority for a downtown apartment project. (Nor'wood didn't respond to an email seeking comment.) She also opposed the city's land swap with The Broadmoor. CSF supported the trade.

Lynette Crow-Iverson - COURTESY LYNETTE CROW-IVERSON
  • Courtesy Lynette Crow-Iverson
  • Lynette Crow-Iverson

CSF's reported choice is Lynette Crow-Iverson, a former CSF board member who has connections through various nonprofit boards. Her candidate announcement said the district lacks leadership and noted her "innate leadership skills." The release also said she "led the effort" to pass the city's street tax in 2015. Owner of a drug-testing business, Crow-Iverson opposes expanding the marijuana industry.

Crow-Iverson took in $11,000 from four developer donors as of Jan. 17, records show, compared to Gaebler's $10,870 from 78 donations.

Andy Pico - COURTESY ANDY PICO
  • Courtesy Andy Pico
  • Andy Pico

In eastern District 6, incumbent Andy Pico faces Janak Joshi, a right-wing Republican who last year lost his state House District 16 seat to Larry Liston after a mud-slinging campaign for the GOP nomination.

Another candidate, Chris Houtchens, dropped out due to unforeseen family health issues, he said Monday.

Pico chairs the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, comprised of Council members, and voted last year not to change Utilities' governance — against the wishes of CSF. But insiders predict Pico will get the CSF nod in a district where the biggest issue could easily become revising the Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement. At more than 18,000 acres, the ranch flanks the city's eastern boundary and will require significant infrastructure investment.

Robert Burns and Melanie Berkhardt filed Monday but are in need of more signatures.

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