The official "topics" of this year's City Council election are as generic and nebulous -- and exactly the same -- as they were two years ago.
As the campaign to elect five new City Council members heats up between now and election day, April 3, expect to hear such terms as "growth," "infrastructure needs," "transportation" and "public safety" bandied about by the 11 candidates who are vying for the seats. But don't expect -- particularly when the topic has the potential of being hot -- to get a clearly defined answer, promise or position.
In the past, Council members had their own pet issues, specialties and clear areas of interest that they brought to the Council.
For example, when Bob Isaac was mayor in the 1980s and 1990s, he was recognized for his expertise in the city's water systems and utilities. Vice Mayor Leon Young has long championed equal employment opportunities for city employees. Former Councilwoman Lisa Are, a retired accountant, was the self-described "bean-counter" on Council who was well versed in the city's budget. Former Councilwoman Cheryl Gillaspie was an ardent supporter of property rights, and vocal in her support of billboards and recreational vehicles. And ex-Councilman John Hazlehurst (a columnist for the Independent) was a strident opponent of the Pikes Peak Highway and the city's approach to environmental issues.
But today's representatives in general don't come to the table with defining causes. In marked contrast with the raucous councils of the early and mid-1990s, the order of the day for Council members now is to get along.
While the current Council doesn't always vote in lockstep, under the stern hand of Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace the policy-setting body has for the past four years voted in near-unity when it comes to important decisions.
And that seems to be fine with the pro-business and development lobby. This year the city's largest political action groups, including developers, realtors and business interests, have all largely thrown their support behind the incumbents who are seeking four more years on the Council.
But even representatives of those groups can't define specific accomplishments of their chosen candidates, opting instead to generalize with broad acclaim.
For example, Sarah Jack, a political consultant who is working for the Homebuilders Association and will be available to give campaign advice to the candidates the group supports, praised incumbent councilwoman Linda Barley for being "consistent in her positions."
Asked for specifics, Jack noted Barley's support for this year's tax increase ballot question SCIP 01 -- which all of the City Council is supporting. Jack also commended Barley for her commitment to public safety and the city's infrastructure, hardly a stance that would wow the average citizen as being anything other than what would be expected of an elected official.
When pressed on how Barley has stood out in any way since her election four years ago, Jack noted that the incumbent has worked hard while as a city representative on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments to come up with potential solutions to the city's drainage problems.
"There's no reason to go against the incumbent," Jack said. "When something's not broken, don't fix it."
Besides Barley, the developers' political action committee has also endorsed Kevin Butcher, who is a developer, Margaret Radford, who owns a small public relations business and the other incumbents in the race, including Councilman Jim Null and Councilwoman Judy Noyes.
Jack described Butcher as a "businessman who understands the bottom line," "a guy you can work with" and a "problem solver." Noyes, Jack said, is a small-business owner who has proven herself capable of learning in the job. Jack also praised Radford for owning a small business. And Null, she said, is a proven "bridge builder" who is known for his leadership ability.
But not everybody believes that the get-along, go-along style is conducive to strong leadership, particularly in a city that is undergoing dynamic growth and change.
"It's important for people to get along, but I also think good decisions aren't always made by agreeing on everything," said Sallie Clark, who is challenging Barley in what will likely be the highest-profile and one of the most expensive races this year. "There's sort of a feeling that we're not allowed to disagree on anything, but if I truly believe in something I'll truly fight for it." When asked which issues she will concentrate on, Clark identified the same basic issues as the other candidates -- growth and infrastructure.
A few candidates are still running because they got bit by the bug of activism and want to take it a step further.
Candidate Leon Kirk, who is running to succeed outgoing Councilman Bill Guman, worked on the committee to oppose turning Woodmen Road into an expressway and that issue propelled him to run for a Council seat.
As an activist, Clark is well-known for her battle to save Fire Station 3, which the city attempted to close. Unsuccessful in her bid to oust Makepeace in the mayoral race two years ago, Clark has also been a vocal critic of the city's refusal to reimburse homeowners for wastewater damage caused by outdated lines.
Several of Clark's close allies and fellow activists are also seeking seats in the April election, including attorney Tim Pleasant, land surveyor Tom Gallagher, and stockbroker Charles Wingate, who was Clark's campaign manager when she ran for mayor in 1999. Radford, who was endorsed by the business PACS, is a close friend of Clark's.
Grill the candidates
The following City Council candidate forums are currently scheduled. All are free and open to the public.
Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Senior Center, 1418 N. Hancock, from 7 to 9 p.m. Sponsored by the Police Protective Association.
Monday, Feb. 26 at the East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd., beginning at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Woodmen Committee.
Wednesday. Feb. 28 at 731 N. Cascade Ave. beginning at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Libertarian Party.
Thursday, March 8 at the Senior Center, 1418 N. Hancock, beginning at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Trails and Open Space Coalition.
Saturday, March 10 at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. beginning at 10 a.m. Sponsored by six local Republican clubs.
Thursday, March 15 at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. beginning at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO).
Tuesday, March 20 at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. Sponsored by Citizens Project.
Monday, March 26 at the First United Methodist Church, 420 N. Nevada Ave., beginning at 1 p.m. Sponsored by the Cheyenne Mountain Republican Forum.
Meet the candidates
Council Member At Large (Four Year Term)
Tom Gallagher -- Land surveyor
Judy Noyes -- Bookstore owner
Tim Pleasant -- Attorney
Council Member District 1 (Four Year Term)
James Null -- UCCS Professor
Council Member District 2
Kevin Butcher -- Developer and Realtor
Leon Kirk -- Retired
Charles E. Wingate -- Stockbroker
Council Member District 3
Linda Barley -- Incumbent
Sallie Clark -- Bed & Breakfast Owner
Council Member District 4
Kendell Kretzschmar -- Air Force employee
Margaret Radford -- Public relations business owner
Luis (Joe) Ybarra -- Retired