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Outsider

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One of the pleasant consequences of losing an election is that it enables you to become friends with old foes, and to discard some of your favorite political positions. While on Council, I often thought that then-Mayor Bob Isaac was the chief obstacle to sensible, progressive reform in Colorado Springs. Thanks to his adroit maneuvers, or so I thought, the bad guys always won, and the forces of truth, justice, and the American Way were left in the dust. How I used to yearn for those halcyon days to come, when Bob would exit the stage, and progressive folks like Mary Lou Makepeace would guide our city!

After all, if mean ol' Bob continued to rule the roost, nothing would change. Developers and other big-bucks business folks would control city government, we'd have rampant, runaway growth that the city wouldn't even pretend to regulate, much less control, and Council would become even more smugly unresponsive. Citizen groups would end up being cowed, co-opted or marginalized. It'd be a time of hollow prosperity -- developers would erect the most god-awful structures imaginable, and the city would sit idly by while important historic buildings were demolished. Why, there might even be proposals to sell off hunks of Monument Valley Park for the convenience of the highway builders or to permit the expansion of a non-profit!

Sound familiar? Of course it does; that's our city, minus Mayor Bob. And as I've become friendly with hizzoner, I've had to make what John Foster Dulles once called "an agonizing reappraisal" of our city's recent history.

Cherished Belief # 1: Mayor Bob, operating hand-in-glove with the business community, created and promoted the Wild West anti-regulatory, pro-sprawl, pro-growth philosophy that has so disfigured our city.

Agonizing Reappraisal #1: Isaac opposed and voted against most of the massive annexations of the 1980s. Far from working with him, a majority of the business community disliked and distrusted him. Why? Because his enormous popularity enabled him to ignore both the Republican Party establishment and their business allies. In fact, his unwillingness to prime the eco-devo pump with city dollars led most of the business community to support Mary Ellen McNally's bid for mayor in 1991.

Cherished Belief #2: Isaac was a typical stick-in-the mud Republican conservative, blindly opposing common-sense changes in the role of government.

Agonizing Reappraisal # 2: Isaac was (and is) a serious student of the American Constitution. He consistently opposed what he saw as the inappropriate intrusion of the federal government into areas that ought to be reserved to the states. As mayor, and as president of the U.S. Council of Mayors, he brought the whole issue of unfunded state and federal mandates to national attention. Sounds like pretty dry stuff, but it led to sweeping reforms of a kind that any progressive would be glad to embrace.

So let's get this straight: Under Mayor Bob (West Pointer, lawyer, judge and lifelong Republican), is it possible that city government was actually more progressive and more independent than under the present regime? After all, the Mayor is a former social worker, and Council seems to be much farther to the left than it was in Isaac's era.

The principal change has to do with the way that Council elections are contested. In 1991, the winning candidates for Council spent, on the average, about $8000 on their campaigns. You could put a race together with contributions just from your family and friends, and maybe a check for five hundred bucks from rich Uncle Henry. In 1999, winning candidates needed at least $40,000, and a couple of 'em spent over $100,000. Rich Uncle Henry can't write those kind of checks; you've gotta go, hat in hand, to the business community. And they're careful with their money; prudent business people are disinclined to fund mavericks like Cheryl Gillaspie, Frank Parisi, Wayne Fisher, or Bob Isaac.

Will this state of affairs change anytime soon? Well, if mean ol' Bob Isaac has his way, it will. It's interesting to note that our two most independent pols -- Councilman Ted Eastburn and probable future Councilmember Sallie Clark -- are both Isaac proteges. Who knows, when Mary Lou is forced out by term limits in 2003, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them take her place in the Mayor's office.

And what about Bob himself? F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, there are plenty of second acts in American lives. Something tells me that, come November 2002, Bob Isaac just might be our U.S. Congressman-elect.

You read it here first.

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com

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