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Time to look ahead

Between the Lines



While most of Colorado Springs spent the final days of this runoff election still wondering who would be the city's first strong mayor, Steve Bach knew.

He was certain enough of the outcome that, even with no voting results, Bach already was reaching out to schedule post-election meetings with leaders of City Council, departing Mayor Lionel Rivera and even Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Cocky? Pretentious? No way. Bach surely had seen how numbers and geography foretold the story of this runoff.

Going into the final day of voting Tuesday, more than 84,000 residents had cast ballots. Far more important for Bach was where those votes came from: Districts 1 and 2, in the more conservative north and northeast areas, had produced nearly 50,000 ballots; Districts 3 and 4, in the far more moderate southeast, south and west sections, had totaled only about 34,000.

Game over. Right there, Richard Skorman had no realistic chance. Bach had it in the bag. The only question would be Bach's margin of victory, which settled at 57 percent to 43 percent.

With that advance notice, Bach could be totally magnanimous in victory, and Skorman eloquently gracious in defeat.

But the sneak previews are done. Bach has won impressively, but now the hard work begins, even before he takes office June 7.

He says he'll begin making things happen immediately, and that's essential. He has to choose his chief of staff, begin forging relationships with Council and top-level city employees, figure out how much influence he reasonably can have on a 2012 budgeting process that's already in motion, and set priorities for what he can get done.

There's pressure involved, because Bach can't be sure which paths to take and which to avoid. Every move he makes will set new precedents, and because of the strong-mayor setup, all kinds of decisions will come to him from Day One. In other words, Bach won't have the luxury of a slow, cautious adjustment period. He has to step into the job at full speed. Some issues and dreams can wait, but many can't.

He also has said he wants input from the community. So here are some suggestions and advice:

• Send some inclusive signals early. Bach has said he won't sign a proclamation supporting Gay Pride events, but he'd be prudent to rethink that. He doesn't have to march in the parade, but he can be welcoming. After all, he'll be the mayor of all of us. Bach also should forget earlier negative assessments about the revival of the Human Relations Commission. He has too much on his plate to worry about the HRC, so why not just let it happen and be tolerant?

• Create something special for July 4. It could mean resurrecting the celebration in Memorial Park with the Philharmonic and fireworks, or whatever. Just something big to make people feel good about the city and its future. Also, Bach should make himself highly visible around such upcoming events as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Springs Spree, the U.S. Women's Open and the Everybody Welcome diversity week — all in his first couple months. Symbolic, energetic support from the new mayor will go a long way.

• Hire the right chief of staff. Bach already might be leaning toward a brilliant choice: interim City Manager Steve Cox, who has run the city operation competently and efficiently (saving money along the way) for more than a year. Cox, who is definitely not political, could help the mayor find his way through the maze of problems and issues that must be addressed (and others that can wait), and his invaluable knowledge of the current people and structure would make the adjustment easier and faster for Bach.

• Do all that, and the honeymoon from that nice runoff mandate will last longer, giving the mayor more time to apply his instincts and learn which sticky problems he can tackle first, and which tough decisions he can't delay.

There is no clear-cut route for Bach. Just lots of choices, lots of people watching his every move, and lots of opportunities to thrive — or falter.

Colorado Springs needs Steve Bach to succeed now. But he doesn't have to be too bold. Just smart. Realistic. And wise.

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