One by one, across three full days last week, nearly all the candidates for Colorado Springs City Council in the upcoming municipal election came to the Independent's offices at 235 S. Nevada Ave., spending an hour or so with us to talk about their races and how they might help influence the city's future.
They weren't confrontational, and neither were we. Each conversation began with a common starting point: We all want what's best for Colorado Springs, even if we don't always agree on the specifics. In fact, putting together our endorsements for this election, we've checked out and studied everyone — including the few who didn't schedule an interview.
For 24 years now, the Independent has built a fascinating relationship with our audience, ranging from mutual affection to peaceful coexistence and love-hate. As the city and region have evolved and matured over the past quarter-century, so has this newspaper, and we realize how many readers look to us for guidance and perspective.
That brings us to one thing that hasn't changed in the Indy's history: From the start, we have embraced the responsibility of making election endorsements, from local to national. Personally, I've been around to help shape that process for more than a decade, and the sense of duty to our readers hasn't wavered.
It's never felt more important than now, and this municipal election.
In this issue, we begin our involvement by giving our stances on the three ballot issues, and next week we'll offer our picks for the six City Council district seats.
My purpose here is to whet your appetite. So many people don't pay attention to city government, then pretend to know far more than they do. But starting now, if you're a Colorado Springs resident, you should care enough to a) make sure you're registered to vote, b) know which Council district you live in, and c) learn enough about what will be on your ballot to make informed decisions.
Depending on your Council district, you might discover — as we did — that your choice for that position among the city's elected leaders isn't so easy. Remember that municipal elections are nonpartisan, so you won't see an "R" or a "D" beside anyone's name. And what we learned from our visits with the candidates is that we're often not comparing good and bad; we're seeing close calls between very good and excellent. Or we're even splitting hairs between degrees of excellence.
One example of that is in Council District 4, where incumbent Helen Collins is facing Deborah Hendrix and Yolanda Avila. Many have labeled Collins as negative, often on the short end of 8-1 votes during the past four years. But when you listen to how much she has communicated with constituents and dealt with their problems, you can see why she might win another term. Yet, Hendrix and Avila are capable challengers, each with distinct areas of expertise, and one can't help but admire how Avila has battled with blindness that struck her in the prime of life.
Likewise, in Districts 1 and 5, the conversations with incumbents Don Knight (1) and Jill Gaebler (5) jumped quickly to a higher level because they aren't talking about unknowns, instead knowing the lay of the land and what unfinished business is most important.
Yet, Greg Basham offers a worthy alternative to Knight, and Lynette Crow-Iverson is making a serious run against Gaebler. Basham and Crow-Iverson (as well as Hendrix in District 4) have money and endorsements from the business community on their side, but it was clear to us from their nuanced views that those three are not pre-programmed with the same positions on every critical issue.
Our job is to analyze them all and make informed endorsements. But the bottom line here is this: For whatever reason, the overall quality and depth of City Council candidates in this election has improved noticeably.
And that bodes well for the next four years in Colorado Springs.