Columns » Outsider




One of the enduring mysteries of Colorado Springs politics is the disconnect between our elected representatives and the people that they supposedly represent.

As one who has run for election for various city offices four times, and been elected twice, I've noticed that the voters always seemed like a pretty straightforward bunch -- sensible, conservative and skeptical about government, they tended to elect folks that reflected those values.

Remember Mayor Bob, state Sen. Jeff Wells, House Speaker Chuck Berry and Councilman Randy Purvis? Oh sure, there were a few crazies in the legislature, and a liberal or two on Council, but by and large our elected officials were fiscally conservative, socially moderate, and disinclined to get in bed with extremists of any kind.

And now look at the local lineup. Except for the term-limited state Rep. Marcy Morrison and Senate President Ray Powers, our legislative delegation is uniformly nuts. As the Indy pointed out last week, even the once-moderate Andy McElhany has migrated to the extreme right (something in the water at Republican headquarters, maybe?).

I've given up trying to figure it out. Instead, I'm rooting for candidates who are flamboyantly nuts, not just gray flannel suit loonies. Why vote for Ron May or Lynn Hefley, when you can have Doug Bruce or Charlie Duke? The four are ideologically identical (no taxes, no gays, no abortions, no money for public schools, no laws between me and my gun!) but at least Charlie and the Dougster are fun to watch and their logic is an intellectual challenge to follow.

Meanwhile, the cheerful liberals who make up the majority of the current City Council aren't all that representative of our city either, but they do their best to pretend to be sober-sided conservatives. But really -- real conservatives don't spend their time improving downtowns, building parks and swooning over fountains. No, real conservatives build roads and cut taxes.

But regardless of labels, it's interesting to note that our mayor is now halfway through the six years that term limits will permit her to serve. Let's look at her record, and make a few early judgments. How has she done? And what can we expect in the future?

When Mary Lou Makepeace took office, she was elected on a platform of "Kids, Cars and Cops." It was a slogan that was both jazzy and effective; it told the voters that their concerns were hers as well. Three years later, crime is less a concern, traffic is still bad and public education is unchanged.

Major initiatives -- like school testing and I-25 reconstruction -- have come from the state, not from the city.

Campaign slogans aside, it seems to me that the mayor has largely achieved her real goals. She wanted to transform Council from a combative, bickering group of prima donnas into a reasonably cohesive body working to realize common goals. She did so.

She wanted to institutionalize the process by which the city reaches out to its citizens and seeks their input. By supporting and helping to create the SCIP process, she did so.

She wanted to empower the city administration by making them believe that Council, once having set goals, would not interfere with the administrative process. Once again she succeeded.

She believed that the mayor of the city ought to be involved and visible at events where city leaders were once absent. She has succeeded; it has been heartening and energizing for organizations such as, for example, the Southern Colorado Aids Project, to see the mayor in attendance at their annual fund-raiser. And she has democratized the office of the mayor; as she once said, "The mayor's office is not a church."

She has long believed that the city has failed to invest in its future; by orchestrating voter approval of the SCIP bond issue in 1998, she has helped spark a mini-renaissance of new projects -- the Humane Society's recently opened shelter, Confluence Park and the Pikes Peak Greenway. This city had never passed a comparable bond and so her success was, and is, an extraordinary political achievement.

So what grade do we give our mayor, halfway through her term? Forget her failings: a certain arrogance, her misplaced loyalty to the eccentric city manager, her penchant for wanting to manage the news. Her accomplishments still deserve an A.

Will her next three years be as successful as the last three? Maybe, but she'll have to do what all great politicians do -- reinvent herself. Like Bill Clinton, like Roy Romer, she'll have to adapt to a changing political landscape. Can she do it? Sure. Will she?

Ask the mayor.


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