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Dems miss an opportunity

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One familiar name will be missing from the Colorado Springs municipal election ballots when they go out in a few weeks.

Two years ago, that person looked like a near-certainty to run for City Council in 2009, as he did in 2007.

Instead, Tom Harold is on the sideline, watching instead of participating, as voters in the city's four districts determine their representatives for the next four years.

Harold isn't happy about it, to say the least. In fact, he's boiling. He makes it clear that he would be running for the District 4 seat being vacated by term-limited Margaret Radford, except for poor communication and a blown gift-wrapped opportunity within the local Democratic Party.

As the filing deadline neared, it looked like a crowded race. Former Council appointee Bernie Herpin was making a serious run from the right, Tony Carpenter had declared his perennial "reform" candidacy focused on clean government, and Rob Andrews and Regina Vigil two Democrats who had helped the local Barack Obama campaign were coming from the left. Andrews, a Sierra High School graduate who turns 25 in March, had raised hopes for a fresh, much younger presence on Council when he spoke at the local Democratic reorganization meeting Jan. 31.

Because of that, local Democratic leaders never followed up on a plan to gather all their potential candidates in District 4 for a strategy meeting. (City Council races are technically nonpartisan, but it's evident that all nine current members are Republicans, some in the middle, others leaning more to the right.)

Harold had expressed an interest after the city's recent redistricting moved him from District 2 into 4, covering eastern and southeastern Colorado Springs. Instead of perhaps opposing District 2 incumbent Darryl Glenn, which would have been a tough challenge, Harold saw promise in facing Herpin for a vacant seat. But Harold also realized party unity was important, and he knew Andrews was a hot prospect.

"Everybody was expecting me to help Rob Andrews," Harold says. "I figured with several center-left candidates, and the one quote-unquote 'rising star in the Democratic Party' and great Obama organizer in the race, that's how it was going to be."

But at the last minute, Andrews was disqualified because many petition signatures he had submitted were ruled to be invalid or illegible. From all indications, Andrews had become less certain about his candidacy, and didn't make sure he had far more than the required 50 valid signatures, which should've been a slam dunk. Vigil, too, failed to follow through and quietly dropped her candidacy.

But nobody knew until the Feb. 11 deadline.

Harold could have rounded up 50 signatures over a long lunch. Instead, he's out, penalized because he was trying to be loyal to the party.

"If I had known, I would be in this race," Harold says. "I've even thought about a write-in campaign, but that never really works."

So the 42-year-old consultant (his company helps small businesses, many minority-owned, get government contracts) is left wondering what could have been. He fell short in his 2007 campaign, despite having many endorsements and faring well in candidate forums, when voters opted to re-elect three at-large incumbents and just one newcomer, Jan Martin. Today, Harold still has the thankless volunteer job of chairing the city's stormwater advisory committee, and he's still the kind of young, knowledgeable, energetic, articulate leader that Colorado Springs needs more of the sooner the better.

But not now. He'll have to rethink his next step, whether trying for the El Paso County Commission in 2010 or City Council again in 2011, when at least three at-large seats (and mayor) will be open.

Meanwhile, this should be a lesson for local Democrats. Somebody, perhaps Harold himself, should have been more proactive in making sure District 4 (much of which includes the state House district that just elected Democrat Dennis Apuan) had a serious, committed City Council candidate. Andrews also should have been more open with fellow Democrats, if he was uncertain or needed help.

"But there's nothing to do at this point," Harold laments. "We've dug our hole."

And now they have to live in it.

routon@csindy.com

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