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Recalling the early Indy

City Sage

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Do city politics just spiral along in endlessly repeating sequences of interlocking quadruple helixes, the demon DNA of local government? It certainly seems so, after reviewing some of my Independent columns from the 1990s.

I started writing for the Indy in mid-1997. After I'd finished a weak third in a three-person run for mayor that April (despite the Indy's passionate endorsement!), publisher John Weiss asked me to write a weekly column for the paper.

I demurred — didn't want to be seen as an embittered former politician (Rich Tosches' description) spouting sour grapes right after the election. Weiss solved the problem by suggesting that I write anonymously for a while. So I became "The Insider." My staff picture: a fly on the wall.

It was fun and liberating. After six years on City Council, I could write exactly what I thought and not have to worry about political consequences. It felt like the first day of summer vacation: "No more classrooms, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks!"

Those first, early-Internet-era columns aren't on the web. They're preserved in the Indy's closely guarded archives as bound volumes of yellowing newsprint.

A column in the Oct. 29, 1997, issue easily could have been written in 2014.

"Thursday evening's hearing on the city budget was can't-miss theater of the absurd," I wrote. "There sat the overly solemn, mocko-serioso, schoolmarmish city councilors listening to speaker after speaker beg for mo' money — for Fire Station #3 ($1 million), for the zoo ($100K), for the Humane Society. Councilmembers said little — their pained, friendly demeanor wordlessly communicated the party line: so many worthy projects, love to help but ... not enough money, grave financial crisis, blah, blah, blah."

Subsequent paragraphs were devoted to an analysis of the city's financial plight that blamed the "financial crisis" on a proposed $6.2 million salary increase for city employees, not to mention the Convention & Visitors Bureau's annual LART allocation of $2.3 million.

Next to the column was a strangely familiar news story, headlined "Drake plant gets popped for pollution." A study by the Environmental Information Center in Washington fingered Drake as the "70th least efficient power plant among 700 electricity producers studied around the nation." The problem: excess CO2 emissions. Utilities director Phil Tollefson pooh-poohed the study, suggesting that environmentalists target automobiles, not power plants.

A month later I was out of the closet, writing as "The Outsider," the fly replaced by a vulture. In a master stroke of irrelevance, one of those early Outsider columns compared the city's 1902 budget with the newly approved 1998 budget. Some findings:

Category 1902 1998

Number of mustaches worn by Councilors 6 0

Sales tax rate 0 2.1%

Deaths from tuberculosis 140 0

Passenger trains, per diem 33 0

Elevation of Pikes Peak 14,147 14,110

Number of horses belonging to city more than 100 0

Shares sold on Mining Stock Exchange 150,831,832 0

Sample rhetoric 1902 (The Ideal City, from Mayor John Robinson): "Few cities have made the progress and kept so closely to high ideals as has the city of Colorado Springs. From its founding until the present hour there has been ... the vision of a city of beauty, culture, righteousness and healthfulness — a city, in brief, where, in the words of Aristotle, men may lead a common life for a noble end."

Sample rhetoric 1997 (City Manager Jim Mullen): "Some degradation in service levels may occur in 1998."

Déjà vu all over again? It sure seems that way, but the Indy marches on. Marijuana ads have replaced the personals, and staffers have come and gone. Only three of us remain from the early Clinton era: Teri Homick, John Weiss and me.

Teri — so many memories! John — even more, and thanks for giving me my first journalism job! It has been a long, strange and wonderful trip. And the end isn't in sight.

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