Former mayor Mary Lou Makepeace says she's "99 percent" sure she'll join two others in a race to become Colorado Springs' chief executive.
State Attorney General John Suthers, 62, and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, 46, declared their intentions to run for mayor earlier this month. Mayor Steve Bach, 71, hasn't revealed if he'll seek a second term, though weeks ago he reportedly told one Republican group he would not.
Makepeace, 74, was mayor from 1997 to 2003 under the council-city manager form of government, and served as a councilor before that. She says as a strong mayor, she'll emphasize involving more people in city operations. In the last decade, she's worked with numerous nonprofits and led the high-profile Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado. "I'm quite comfortable interacting with citizens," she says. "I absolutely believe government should be open to the citizens."
Suthers says in an email that Makepeace's bid "won't change my approach to the race." Lathen writes via email that her "positive, collaborative, common sense, team oriented" leadership sets her apart from other candidates, including Makepeace. And one political observer says anyone who is viewed as left of center, as Makepeace may be, simply can't win.
Earlier this month, Makepeace (who has served as executive director of the Independent's Give! campaign) told the Indy that she was leaning toward running. She says local feedback has left her "overwhelmed with positive responses" and with the realization that "I do have some skill sets that others don't have."
First, she says, she has municipal government experience. Second, she says, she has a talent for building consensus by listening closely to all perspectives. And third, since arriving in 1973, "I haven't worked outside the community. I haven't lived outside the community. This is my home," she says. That's an obvious reference to Suthers, who's spent about 12 years working in Denver, though he lives in Colorado Springs.
In addition to serving as executive director for the Gay & Lesbian Fund and as a vice president for Colorado programs of the Gill Foundation, she has been executive director for Leadership Pikes Peak. She says she'll leave the Give! campaign at year's end.
While Suthers and Lathen have voiced support for City for Champions, a four-venue tourism venture to be partially funded with state money, Makepeace has reservations about the downtown stadium because significant local tax money will be needed to build it.
"I can't endorse it at this point," she says, "because it hasn't been defined. Who's going to end up paying for this? Can it sustain itself? Many cities have built stadiums that haven't been able to sustain themselves."
She also wonders if committing local tax money to the project would leave the city unable to fund a "brilliant idea" that emerges years from now. "Because we haven't had the community conversation," she says, "we don't have the answers."
Makepeace says she represents a segment of the community "that doesn't currently have a voice," and that she wants to combat local malaise. If citizens aren't engaged, she says, they won't support community projects like they did in the late 1990s, when she led an effort that involved hundreds of citizens choosing capital projects to be funded with a bond issue.
"Bringing more jobs is critically important," she says, "but it's not going to work until we make this an attractive community. Our curb appeal is nonexistent. We just look tired. We're not going to get things done until we start working together."
Randy Purvis, an attorney who served 20 years on City Council, puts Makepeace's chances on par with those of Richard Skorman, the former vice mayor who was routed by Bach in the May 2011 runoff. That election was made necessary because no one captured a majority in the April election.
"Colorado Springs has elected its last left-of-center mayor," Purvis says, "because the way the process is set up, someone who is left of center will never get more than 50 percent of the vote in the first balloting, and whoever comes out of that first balloting, all they have to do is stay to the right, and they will collect 55 percent of the vote."
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs political science professor Josh Dunn generally agrees, but says if the stars aligned so that several conservatives divided the vote badly, and gave two liberals top bill for the runoff, the city would elect a left-of-center candidate.
"The fact I'm running," Makepeace responds, "says that I believe the stars have aligned. I'm a registered Republican, but I have some liberal views and some conservative views. I think people want good government and good service. There's no such thing as a Republican or Democratic pothole."