Columns » Public Eye

From best show to blahville


Leaders come in all forms the benevolent, the raucous, the uninspiring, the iron-fisted. Like most other places, Colorado Springs has had its share. Some remain larger than life, others have faded into oblivion.

And in many ways, the Colorado Springs City Council of today is not so very different from the Council of the early 1990s it even features a couple of the same faces.

But the style of leadership has shifted dramatically over the years, from Bob Isaac paternally overseeing a motley crew of bickering ideologues in the early 1990s, to the at-times-forced congeniality of the Mary Lou Makepeace years, to the business-as-usual attitude of today with Lionel Rivera.

First the venerable Isaac inarguably the most powerful mayor this city has ever seen, who ruled over the city through its boom, bust and boom again. Few dared to crossMayor Bullfrog (called so because of his famously raspy voice), with a few notable exceptions. Back then, Douglas Bruce, author of Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, was just a few years new to town and polishing his antigovernment chops.

During one famous clash at City Hall, Isaac bellowed at Bruce: "If you were a man, I'd take you out." The stunned audience was then treated to Bruce offering to drop his trousers and show what he was made of.

Isaac also had his hands full with Council members John Hazlehurst on the left and Cheryl Gillaspie on the right their constant bickering and posturing was, while it lasted, the best free show in town.

But the strife eventually took its toll and, after 18 years as mayor, Isaac stunned the city in 1997 when he resigned in the middle of his term. Gillaspie and Hazlehurst jumped in, trying to elbow their way into the mayor's office, but Makepeace, a longtime councilwoman, quashed them both effectively getting rid of the troublemakers and becoming the first female mayor of Colorado Springs.

Her tenure was marked with a moderateness that the city had not seen before and hasn't since. When she was first elected mayor, her City Council unanimously adopted a zero-tolerance discrimination policy for employees, which was widely interpreted as including gays and lesbians. (A councilman at the time named Lionel Rivera cast one of those votes.)

When Makepeace ran for a second term in 1999, she had opposition anew:newcomer Sallie Clark and car dealer Will Perkins, also the former chairman of Colorado for Family Values, which in 1992 had pushed through the anti-gay Amendment 2 (later ruled unconstitutional). But voters opted again for moderateness, and Makepeace was victorious.

After she was term-limited from office in 2003, Makepeace became executive director of the philanthropic Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado. By way of an update, here's what many of Makepeace's contemporaries are up to:

Gillaspie, who while in office was featured in a Time magazine spread proudly displaying her firearm, moved to the Tucson area within a couple of years after she lost the mayoral race.

Perkins is now retired, though he occasionally pops back into the limelight to voice his opposition to gay marriage and the like.

After he was creamed trying to run as a "Colorado Conservative," Hazlehurst began a long stint writing a column for the Independent. He now writes for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

For a while, it seemed like the flag scarf-draped Clark was running for everything. First there was City Council, which she won in 2001. She tried to run for mayor again in 2003, and lost. Next she ran for the Board of County Commissioners, which she won in 2004, and where she remains for now.

Which brings us to Rivera, this month elected to a second term as the city's first Hispanic mayor. He campaigned the first time around as a true conservative. Sure enough, the first thing his Council did was to eliminate a same-gender employees benefits package, muchto the delight of the Dobsonites. But the remainder of the first term was largely uneventful, with only the rambunctious Councilman Tom Gallagher to keep things lively.

Behind his poker face, it's impossible to tell what Rivera has in mind for where he wants to take this city during his next four years.

But he has to wonder: What will history have to say about him, even just 10 years from now?

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