Someday, we can assume, people across Colorado Springs will look back at this municipal election as having been a major turning point for the city, positive or negative. And though the choice for mayor obviously weighs heaviest on the minds of voters, it's also true that the new "Class of 2011" for City Council could have a huge impact on the years ahead.
Because the mayor no longer actually serves on Council (opening up an at-large seat), and Darryl Glenn and Jerry Heimlicher left office early, seven of the nine positions are at stake in this election.
Technically, this race of 16 candidates for five spots features only one incumbent. That, of course, would be Jan Martin, who led the at-large field with the most votes when elected to her first term in 2007.
It's true that another contender now is Sean Paige, appointed to the District 3 seat in fall 2009 to replace Heimlicher. But Paige hasn't been on the ballot before. Though he has learned much in the past 18 months, and some of his views (such as supporting medical marijuana) have aligned with ours, we have larger concerns about how Paige would fit into the next Council, and whether his limited-government philosophy is best for our city as it tries to move forward.
What we need most now are Council members who understand and embrace the need for local government to provide first-rate services in areas such as public safety, transportation, community centers and recreation. What we don't need are elected leaders whose mission — in some cases, obsession — is to oppose guaranteeing many of those services, even to the point of ignoring quality-of-life essentials.
Some would say that having a mixture of backgrounds and beliefs would be helpful, but that's not necessarily true when some people believe that the best reaction, at least at first, is to say no to everything.
So we looked through this field for people with previous civic involvement, professional expertise and a passion for making Colorado Springs a better place. At the same time, we wanted to be sure that everyone would emphasize rebuilding the people's trust in their city government.
Martin is an easy choice. Yes, she's pushed tax-increase issues that have gone nowhere with voters, but her motives were sincere in the face of drastic budget cuts and the economic maelstrom. She's a level-headed, tolerant leader who controls her emotions, listens to others, and doesn't pre-judge people or issues. She'll be a great asset, not only for the new strong mayor but also for the many newcomers on Council.
From there, though, it's not so easy, and we feel it's important to explain our choices listed below. We've based them on a combination of factors: candidates' responses to a questionnaire we sent to everyone, their knowledge of the issues, their performances under pressure at public forums, and their interactions with us at the Independent.
We feel it's worth saying that a few other candidates — such as Merv Bennett and Tim Leigh — also have good credentials, and could be effective members if elected. But today, we simply feel they wouldn't provide what this next Council will most need.
Some of our choices are little-known. But reputation isn't the primary qualification here, and anyone breaking into politics for the first time is doing so in a fairly low-profile race in a severely limited time frame.
A final point: We implore all voters to beware of Douglas Bruce and the rest of his "Reform Team," most notably Ed Bircham. Either, and especially both, would severely hamper efforts to help the city through an economic and emotional recovery.
That said, to the right (and on the next page) are our choices, listed alphabetically:
Useful info: Grew up here (influenced by spending much time at the former Boys Club and the YMCA) and spent his career in the Springs Fire Department, rising to battalion chief with budget responsibilities.
What we like: Brings perspective of a retired city employee. Has helped organize Olympic Training Center events, which could become a higher priority. Understands the vital need to find partners and funding for the city's community centers.
What we don't like: Has run a low-budget campaign that might not be good enough to win a spot.
Bottom line: This City Council would benefit greatly from having someone who knows the inner workings of public safety in Colorado Springs.
Useful info: Served four years on City Council (2007-2011); community activist prior to that; Colorado Springs native; was part of longtime local family-owned auto-dealer business; master's in business administration.
What we like: Her experience, historical perspective, passion for the city and willingness to listen.
What we don't like: We wish she would be more vocal and forceful in Council meetings, because others respect her opinions.
Bottom line: She's earned a second term, without question, and should emerge as the first Council president or president pro-tem, either of which will be a powerful position in the strong-mayor government.
Useful info: Retired Air Force colonel, continues to do project work for Space Command; member, Memorial Hospital citizens commission.
What we like: Intellectual, quick and sharp, far ahead of many other candidates (including mayoral) with out-of-the-box ideas on advancing technology across the city.
What we don't like: Sometimes he needs to hold back on his comments, allowing others to share their views.
Bottom line: He would bring great technological expertise to Council.
Useful info: Two terms as member of City Planning Commission; member, Downtown Parking and Transportation Committee; chair, Colorado Springs Streetcar Feasibility Task Force; member, 2005 City Charter Review Commission; board member, Pioneers Museum Foundation.
What we like: History of civic involvement; willing to tackle the idea of reducing TABOR's negative impacts.
What we don't like: Tends to talk too fast; still needs to overcome not being as well-known as some other candidates.
Bottom line: Snider deserves a chance.
Useful info: Third-generation Springs native; civil engineer; worked in the campaign for the strong-mayor form of government; member, Academy Boulevard Corridor Revitalization Committee; member, El Paso County Park Fee Advisory Committee.
What we like: Dynamic and eloquent in saying "we need to turn the paradigm on its head" in regard to development around shopping centers and major thoroughfares; brings new ideas for making the city appeal to younger people; with engineering background, would be an instant expert dealing with many Utilities, planning and infrastructure issues.
What we don't like: She only needs to become better educated on some issues.
Bottom line: Council needs experience, but there's room for such a refreshing newcomer.
This seat, vacated when Darryl Glenn left to become a county commissioner, has attracted an interesting four-way race. Glenn has done his best to orchestrate his succession and is supporting his former campaign manager, Angela Dougan, for the position. But Dougan has been joined in the race by three legitimate opponents: Larry Bagley, David Jensen and Mike Terry (in alphabetical order).
Bagley and Terry, retired military officers, have been involved with civic efforts. Jensen, a retired small-business owner, is the only full-time transit user on the ballot.
In the end, for us, it helps that Bagley has lived in the district for nearly 20 years, has owned the same north-side home since 1978, and has good perspective on infrastructure issues in that area and the whole city. (Terry has resided in that part of the city just over two years.) While in the military, Bagley developed many strong business skills in dealing with personnel, large budgets and contract management.
(no campaign website)
Useful info: Board member, Council of Neighbors and Organizations; member, citizens advisory group for Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
What we like: Aside from knowing infrastructure issues and history, has good ideas about creating new higher-education partnerships among local colleges.
What we don't like: Against three opponents, he might not have done enough yet to distinguish himself publicly.
Bottom line: Business sense and deep ties to the District 2 area set Bagley apart.
This has been the closest thing to an acrimonious race, at least on one side. Lisa Czelatdko, 40, has taken criticism for being a bit myopic in focusing on District 3, and for speaking negatively about her opponent far more than selling her own credentials. Michael Merrifield has been pummeled for his losing campaign for county commissioner last November and for his skepticism about the Southern Delivery System.
Czelatdko has spent the past few years getting involved on the local level. But that still pales in comparison to Merrifield's political experience. He's focused on smart issues, such as bringing back better transit service for District 3 and the city as a whole. He's more determined to "get our hands untied from" the local, more restrictive TABOR. And we like his idea of suggesting a short "pause" in the Southern Delivery System, simply to have an unbiased, outside consultant reassess all the circumstances and make sure it's the best strategy.
Useful info: Eight years in the state House, representing much of what is also this district; served on Manitou Springs City Council prior to that.
What we like: Knows all the issues thoroughly, and how to broker agreements. Would make the city's case at the state level (testifying at hearings, negotiating the maze of the state Capitol scene), instantly and effectively.
What we don't like: Probably a little too callous from having to be thick-skinned in Denver.
Bottom line: While other newcomers are learning government from the inside, he can help set a new, forward-thinking Council agenda.