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A politican for the people

City Sage



It's a fine autumn day in 1991. Mayor Bob Isaac is sauntering down Tejon Street after lunch at the El Paso Club. Council will reconvene in 20 minutes, so there's plenty of time to get to Council chambers ... or is there?

Everyone on Tejon Street wants to talk to Mayor Bob.

It's a fascinating show. Isaac loves being mayor, loves interacting with city residents, and treats everyone respectfully. He receives compliments, listens to gripes, and gracefully ends conversations when appropriate. The minutes go by and 1 o'clock approaches. Isaac doesn't care.

Then a shabby, wild-eyed character approaches, yelling "Mayor! Mayor!"

I'm a little nervous. Is this guy dangerous? Isaac is unworried. For one thing, he's a West Pointer. For another, he has command presence — he knows how to defuse threatening situations. He engages the guy, who mumbles incoherently for a while. Isaac is calm, reassuring and friendly.

"You're a great guy, Mayor," the suddenly articulate man says. "I don't know your friend, but he must be a great guy too, if he's your friend."

Continuing his walk, Isaac chuckles.

"Those are our people, John," he says. "Every one of them."

Mayors, county commissioners, school board members and city councilmembers are at the leading edge of American democracy. In cities like Colorado Springs, they should be accessible, unpretentious and easy to engage.

But things have changed. 9/11. The War on Terror. Iraq. Afghanistan. Columbine, Aurora and Newtown. The National Security State. The TSA. Gabby Giffords. Syria. Egypt. Bradley Manning. Edward Snowden.

It's a world of threat and counter-threat, of dangers seen and unseen.

Despite the background noise, most local elected officials follow Mayor Bob's example. Isaac protégée Sallie Clark has been in the public eye as a county commissioner, City Councilor, owner of a popular bed-and-breakfast, and as a senior official in the National Association of Counties. She has no visible security apparatus, nor do her commissioner colleagues.

That's true of our nine City Councilmembers as well.

There's a certain amount of security at City Hall and at Council meetings, but the public is free to come and go. To enter the magnificent building where elected officials first met in 1905 is to participate in history.

It's the simplest of civics lessons: government of, by and for the people.

It's a different story at the City Administration Building, where Mayor Steve Bach holds court. Visitors now must sign in with a security guard, state the purpose of their visit, show ID and get a badge.

Granted, Bach is a busy guy, so he hardly has time to meet with random visitors. And vitriolic posters on newspaper websites and social media have made it clear that they wish the Mayor ill.

It may be that the Mayor has received credible death threats. If so, that accounts for the extraordinarily high level of security that the police department provides for him at every scheduled public appearance.

Last week, the mayor stopped in at Ivywild School for another in his "Wednesday Night Art with Mayor Bach" series and listened to Holly Parker Dearborn talk about art and the new ModboCo school.

Approaching the room, the way was blocked by the broad shoulders of the uniformed cop who shadows Bach during the day. It was mildly intimidating, so we headed for the cheerfully unsecured bar a few steps away.

An earlier chat with a veteran of local politics yielded another perspective on local security measures. She served for several years on the council of a small Midwestern city.

"When I came on council they had just built a new city hall," she said. "It was ridiculous — it cost millions. It had bullet-proof glass in the city clerk's office, and all these security measures. It was just an enormous waste of money."

Bach is an amiable, unpretentious guy. But he suffers from a bad case of "Mayor-anoia." He's too ready to listen to overprotective staffers, too ready to be isolated from those who so decisively elected him, too afraid of the harmless liberals who throng the halls of Ivywild.

Mayor, ask yourself what Bob Isaac would have done.

We both know. He wouldn't have bothered with the art — he would have been in the bar having a shooter with his people.

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