Columns » City Sage

Election season's just beginning

City Sage



The election's over! Kind of like the last day of school, isn't it? Remember the old chant: "No more classes, no more books! No more teachers' dirty looks!" Now it's "No more commercials — we're not sad! We've seen the last political ad!"

Don't want to rain on your parade, but we have less than five months until the municipal election on April 2, 2013. Get ready for a spring blizzard of amateurish local ads touting a fresh crop of Colorado Springs City Council candidates. Expect to see "business-friendly conservatives," "true conservatives" and "military-friendly conservatives."

In the past, other types served in city government. Even early last decade, Mary Lou Makepeace led a Council that included Ted Eastburn, Jim Null, Bill Guman, Sallie Clark, Margaret Radford and Judy Noyes. A moderate supermajority ... imagine that!

City elections were sleepy, low-turnout affairs every other April. Few candidates prevailed without support from city employees, including those at Utilities and Memorial Hospital. The mayor and four at-large Councilors were elected together; four district reps were chosen two years later.

That allowed voters to reshape Council every four years, with sometimes curious results.

In 1995, Cheryl Gillaspie and I were four-year at-large incumbents running for second terms. Gillaspie was the most conservative Councilor, and I was usually tagged as the most liberal. In those times, most votes were cast at polling places on election day. At 7 p.m., election officials transported locked ballot boxes to the City Administration Building, where ballots were counted and results gradually released.

Cheryl and I happened to arrive at the CAB at about 7:45. A line of volunteers carrying ballot boxes snaked out the door and halfway down the block. One volunteer called out to us. "Good luck, you guys!" she said. "You're both going to win. I voted for you."

"So did I!" said another volunteer, and a dozen more followed suit.

That seemed bizarre, so I asked one to explain her vote.

"Well," she said, "I know you never agree, but I figured with both of you on Council, you won't let the rest of 'em get away with anything!"

The two of us finished first and second. Most voters apparently chose to build a representative Council, not a uniformly conservative or liberal body.

Such high-minded decision-making no longer is an option. Now voters will choose six district Councilors in 2013, then the mayor and three at-large Councilors in 2015. Looking at the districts, conservatives almost certainly will prevail in four of six, and are good bets to win in the other two. The election may be nominally nonpartisan, but nothing will prevent candidates from emphasizing their conservative cred. And nothing will prevent deep-pocketed conservatives from contributing liberally to their favorites.

Mayor Steve Bach has made it clear that he's not happy with the current Council. He'd prefer a more cooperative group that would comfortably accept his leadership. That dynamic was crystal-clear last week when five Councilors apparently blew off Bach's monthly "counsel" meeting. The room was packed, but from Council only Tim Leigh, Angela Dougan, Brandy Williams and Merv Bennett showed up.

It was a telling moment. Of the nine current Councilors, only Leigh and Dougan can be counted on to support Bach. That's why the rumor mill has been working overtime of late, speculating about Bach's efforts to find new allies.

Lots of names have been bandied about, but rest assured the mayor's choices will mount well-funded, professional campaigns. Six incumbents will be gone (Scott Hente is term-limited) unless Leigh, Williams, Dougan, Lisa Czelatdko and/or Bernie Herpin choose to run again.

Whom will Bach support? Dougan and Leigh for sure, but the others might not be so lucky.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines: The next race is on.

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