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Revolution at the door

City Sage


Editor's note: This column has been updated to correct a misstatement in the third-to-last paragraph.

John Hickenlooper or Bob Beauprez? Mark Udall or Cory Gardner? Tens of millions will be spent to influence the two statewide races for governor and U.S. senator. But will it really matter who wins in November?

Beauprez, like Hickenlooper, is a cautious centrist. Neither are eager partisans, ready for scorched-earth political warfare. Beauprez was a banker, Hickenlooper a businessman. The names may change, but the policies won't.

If Gardner dislodges Udall, the Dems may lose control of the Senate. That will ensure another two years of gridlock, with an impotent and furious Congress fighting with an impotent and furious president.

In other words, nothing will change.

Next April, we'll elect a mayor and three at-large City Council members. This election may define Colorado Springs for years to come.

Historically, City Council majorities were pragmatic, progressive and business-friendly. Neither strident conservatives nor outspoken liberals ever had much traction on Council, though they've made a lot of noise. Leadership and influence came from the moderate right (Bob Isaac, Scott Hente, Lionel Rivera), the moderate left (Mary Lou Makepeace, Jan Martin) or the conservative center (Sallie Clark, Randy Purvis).

The election of 2013 brought radical change. Led by Council President Keith King, a coherent, strongly ideological, five-person majority took control of Council. King, Joel Miller, Don Knight, Andy Pico and Helen Collins have transformed City Hall into a partisan arena, a permanent cagefight between the legislative and executive branches of government.

That 5-4 majority may mean downtown apartment projects will die on the vine, Martin Drake Power Plant will remain in operation for at least 20 years, southwest downtown will not be reborn and companies such as SunShare (which already left) won't be welcome here. It means the city's mayor can't implement the agenda that brought him a 57-43 victory in 2011.

But things could be much worse. Council's power is limited by Mayor Steve Bach's veto. Under the charter, six votes are required to override. Add another ideologue, and the radical conservatives will run the city.

The "feckless five" can't lose their majority because none of them are up for re-election. At-large Councilor Martin is term-limited and can't run. Merv Bennett and Val Snider can run if they choose, but at-large races often have been crapshoots for incumbents.

Who will run to replace Martin? The only semi-declared candidates are Bill Murray (slightly to the right of the present majority) and Kanda Calef (slightly to the right of Helen Collins). If either wins, a new era begins — and it won't matter whether Bach, John Suthers or somebody else is mayor. The bolsheviks will control the city and the mayor will be as irrelevant as Alexander Kerensky, swept away by the tides of history.

There's a better scenario. The permanent leadership class needs to rise from its accustomed torpor, take some risks, and rescue the city from Council's nattering nabobs of negativity.

Are they displeased with King and Miller? Force a recall election so that their seats will be in play as well. Find credible candidates to oppose them, and to run for Martin's seat. Most of all, put up the money!

David Jenkins and other business leaders spent nearly $1 million to pass the strong-mayor initiative. We're now seeing the unanticipated consequences of that measure, and the authors of the charter change need to accept responsibility. It's about city government, guys — you broke it, you fix it!

Re-elect Snider and Bennett, say goodbye to Miller and/or King, elect a sensible moderate to replace Martin, and the city will be poised for an era of prosperity and growth. [Editor's note: This paragraph was updated Aug. 13 to read "Miller and/or King," as the author originally intended, instead of "Bach and/or King."]

Give the five another vote, and they'll be in charge. Those of us with other options (the young, the entrepreneurial, the creative, the skilled and the otherwise employable) will consider leaving town. The rest, like the city itself, will age in place, hoping things get better.

I'll stay and hope for a miracle. Maybe a meteorite will strike City Hall, cause no deaths or injuries, but persuade the feckless five to leave office and take holy orders. Call me a prattling Pollyanna of positivism, but there's always hope ... isn't there?

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