If not for four vocal challengers, this year's City Council races might be one big group hug.
But rather than being allowed to simply brag about what a terrific job they've all done together while serving during several years of harmony on the City Council, three incumbents are being forced to tackle issues they have not previously focused on -- including the city's persistent affordable housing crisis.
They must also answer for their controversial past decisions -- notably their approval of a mega-shelter for the homeless that now threatens to destroy a neighborhood south of downtown.
On election day, April 3, voters will be asked to pick five of nine people who will represent them in City Hall.
Three key races have become increasingly acrimonious in tone. Incumbents Linda Barley and Judy Noyes, and newcomers Kevin Butcher and Margaret Radford, are being aided by hefty financial contributions from the powerful Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association and their political operative, Sarah Jack, who is on loan to assist the HBA's chosen candidates.
During one recent candidates' forum, at-large candidate Tim Pleasant lambasted the cozy arrangement and noted that he hadn't even been given the courtesy of an interview with the HBA before it threw support behind his opponent. "Just look at the amount of money some people are throwing at some candidates," he said. "Everyone knows what will be expected for that -- more power, more clout." (The Independent will publish a complete accounting of all campaign contributions in the April 29 issue.)
The challengers represent a loose bloc. Four of them -- Pleasant, Sallie Clark, Charles Wingate and Margaret Radford -- have worked together on past key issues in City Hall. They all want to shake up the status quo, and have helped steer the debate to niggling issues that aggravate the incumbents, including continuing allegations that the city too often operates in secret.
Incumbent Jim Null is the only unopposed candidate running for reelection. A CU-Colorado Springs professor, Null represents the city's northwest quadrant of District 1 and is using his bully pulpit at candidates' forums to promote the proposed SCIP-01 tax that voters will also decide in April. He has also expressed support for his council colleagues who seek reelection.
Diamonds in the rough
Diamonds in the rough
Kevin Butcher doesn't like to be called a developer. He prefers the more touchy-feely term "real estate problem solver."
But his two opponents say that no matter how much of a positive spin he tries to apply, Butcher is a developer who is already bringing conflicting interests to City Hall.
Butcher, 41, a partner/owner of the Colorado Springs-based London Real Estate group, is currently involved in a lawsuit against the very city that he wants to serve in office. He seemingly came out of nowhere to run for City Council. And, as the trustee of a chunk of the huge Banning/Lewis ranch that the city annexed in 1986, he is trying to force Colorado Springs to relax a requirement that developers foot the bill for infrastructure costs as a term of developing the property.
The suit was filed after he announced he was running for Council.
"This [man] is one gem of a conflict of interest," said Charles Wingate, who, along with Air Force retiree Leon Kirk, is also running for the seat. "And the strange thing is, he doesn't seem to even realize it."
Councilman Bill Guman, who has represented the northeast portion of the city for the past eight years and is term-limited from office, calls the situation "awkward."
Guman said he has reservations about Butcher's possible conflict of interest and his one-dimensional financial support from the development community. Guman hasn't decided whether he will offer a formal endorsement in the race.
"I like Charles [Wingate] -- he's impressed me more so than the others with his knowledge of what's going on," Guman said. "Kevin [Butcher] seems like a nice enough individual, but Charles has really done his homework."
Wingate, a 32-year-old stockbroker who ran unsuccessfully two years ago for the chairmanship of the local Republican Party, is running on a strong public safety platform. A former supporter of ultra-conservative candidates like North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and El Paso County Commissioner Betty Beedy, Wingate has raised some progressive eyebrows but maintains fairly moderate positions on the issues.
Endorsed by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Wingate believes that ensuring infrastructure and police and fire services are the most important challenges facing the fast-growing northeast district he wants to serve.
Developers, he said, need to be held responsible for adhering to the comprehensive plan. Like the other challengers in this year's election, Wingate is also critical of what he perceives as an unhealthy balance of power between the elected body and their "autocratic-styled" city manager appointee, Jim Mullen.
The third candidate in the race, Leon Kirk, was heavily involved in organized opposition against turning Woodmen Road into a major thoroughfare. Kirk, 70, recently withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Wingate. At the time, Kirk said he worried that he and Wingate, whose campaigns have little money, would split votes and put the moneyed Butcher into office.
"Kevin has been bought and paid for ... he would consider infrastructure as an afterthought," said Kirk, a retired Air Force officer.
But when the City Clerk told Kirk it was too late for him to legally withdraw -- that his name would be on the ballot and votes for him counted anyway -- Kirk reentered the race. "I feel I can help bring order to the business of government," he said.
Guman said he asked for an opinion from the city attorney's office on whether Butcher's lawsuit might constitute a conflict of interest. He was told it would, he said, particularly if Butcher is elected to office.
Almost all of the "real estate problem solver's" contributions have come from real estate and development companies. Butcher has raised a whopping $24,845, compared to Wingate's $2,510 and Kirk's $3,300. That single-industry support could easily be perceived as an effort to buy a candidate, Guman acknowledged.
Other than his claimed expertise on land use issues, Butcher has not highlighted strong positions on other issues facing City Hall, including affordable housing, transportation, capitol projects or neighborhood preservation.
Butcher denies that his industry involvement will influence his decision-making if he's elected.
"I'm a two-edged sword for the development community," Butcher said. "I'd be the only person on Council who truly understands land use. When staff or a developer are pulling a fast one, I'd know it."
Barley attacks Clark
Barley attacks Clark
Last week, incumbent Linda Barley decided to attack her opponent, accusing populist Sallie Clark of sucking up to developers and trying to bring "big unions" to town.
Barley's negative literature is not only misleading, but incorporates outright lies, said Clark. She does support the police and fire unions -- and has gotten their endorsement in the race -- but she is hardly known for her pro-union views.
And, incumbent Barley's own campaign has been bankrolled in large proportion by the same developers she accuses Clark of suckling up to.
"It was really news to me that I was in bed with developers -- they endorsed my opponent," Clark pointed out. "More importantly, I am disappointed. I intend to run a positive campaign."
Two years ago Clark, 41, unsuccessfully challenged Mary Lou Makepeace for mayor. With former Mayor Bob Isaac serving as her honorary campaign chairman this year, Clark now faces Barley in the recently redrawn district in the southwest quadrant of the city.
Barley, 53, is a close ally of Makepeace and has inherited the mayor's former campaign manager, local advertising executive Kyle Blakely who, up until last month, was a spokesperson for Zydeco, a developer that has been lobbying the city to annex the Red Rock Canyon property.
Barley's own positions have been decidedly pro-development; she favors annexing at least part of the Red Rock parcel and supports building in geologically hazardous terrain in other parts of the city. She argues that engineering technologies have been developed to mitigate most problems. "It's unrealistic to sanitize the land because someone's afraid something might happen," she said.
Alongside her negative attack on Clark, Barley's mailer claimed political credit for a long list of city-adopted programs during her past four years on Council, including completing 44 tax refund projects on time and on budget, lowering the city's crime rate, hiring new police officers and EMTs, building a police helicopter hangar and creating both the new red light enforcement program and a regional emergency communications network.
Though Barley may have supported those measures, she didn't take the singular lead on pushing through any of those programs. Since serving on the City Council, her major accomplishment has been speaking out in favor of equalizing TOPS tax fund citywide, rather than focusing on the western mountain-view borders. She was a proponent of securing the land surrounding Big Johnson Reservoir in southeast Colorado Springs for permanent preservation from development.
Clark, meanwhile, is a politically ambitious Westside bed and breakfast owner whose specific accomplishments as an activist are well-documented. She led the battle to save Fire Station 3 from closure three years ago. She also successfully challenged the city's firefighter gag policy and has been a vocal critic of City Manager Jim Mullen's closed-government policies -- last year he even kicked her out of a media briefing session.
Still, she insists, "I can work with anybody." And, she said, her accomplishments outside city government's inner circle are testament to what she could accomplish in an elected policy-setting role. If elected, Clark said she wants to focus on growth planning, affordable housing and transportation, and, because of her own experiences, she will be an unwavering advocate for open and responsible government.
"The problem is not so much with [Mullen] as with the leadership," Clark said. "Council needs to give him firm direction, and not be afraid to speak out. I'm unhappy with the city's policy regarding open records and I'm unhappy with meetings being held behind closed doors."
But some of Clark's supporters have left some progressives' eyebrows raised. She has accepted hefty contributions from former Colorado for Family Values chairman Will Perkins (who led the drive to enact Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992) and Dave Schultheis, an ultraconservative who was elected to the state Legislature last fall. Clark said she does not agree with Perkins' or Schultheis' social views, but agrees with their fiscal conservatism (except for Perkins' support for selling city-owned Memorial Hospital.)
In fact, as Clark notes, as of March 5 she had 284 donors, and the list includes a liberal dose of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.
Radford dances with phantoms
Radford dances with phantoms
There Margaret Radford sat, an empty chair on her right, an empty chair on her left.
As the names of the three District 4 candidates were announced at a recent forum, Radford held up her hands and shrugged. The audience burst out laughing. Such have been the trials of running against two phantom opponents.
Radford, 44, an ex-Gazette writer, who identifies herself as a journalist and public relations consultant, is a first-time candidate running against Luis "Joe" Ybarra, a retired wastewater technician, and Kendell Kretzchmar, a retired civil service employee, to represent the city's southeast quadrant.
As he did in his unsuccessful effort to win an at-large council seat two years ago, Kretzchmar, 59, has opted not to participate in most of the dozen or so scheduled candidate forums designed to debate the issues and present his views.
Ybarra, 43, has missed about half of the candidates' forums, reportedly because his wife recently had a baby.
He and Kretzchmar report they have raised and spent no money on their campaigns.
Radford, by contrast, has sought and received endorsements and campaign cash from the developers' lobby, the Chamber of Commerce, the Realtors PAC, the Colorado Springs employees PAC and the city's firefighters' PAC.
She has also accepted a $50 contribution from Bernie Herpin, the outspoken board executive of the pro-gun Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition. "We both believe the government should be held more accountable," she said. "[Also] I believe in the Constitutional right to bear arms."
With nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions, Radford, who resigned as vice president of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO) to run, believes that her recently redrawn district has been poorly represented.
Much of the district she is seeking to represent is currently represented by Linda Barley, whose Broadmoor neighborhood now incorporates the southwest quadrant of the city. Radford believes that public safety funding in her district -- specifically regarding police and fire response times -- has taken hits in recent years.
She, like her challengers, has also been highly critical of the perception that the city is operating in secrecy.
And, the city's public transit system is a dinosaur that fails to serve her would-be constituents, she said. Working parents simply can't take their kids to day care or school on the bus, get to work, do extracurricular activities, go shopping, get to the doctor's and run all the other errands and get home again on the bus.
This, Radford said, is unacceptable. "Grown-up cities have a good bus system," she said.
Opposites don't attract
Opposites don't attract
Incumbent Judy Noyes was appointed last year to fill out the term vacated by at-large councilwoman Joanne Colt and is now seeking a two-year term in her own right. A 44-year resident of the city, Noyes, 69, is co-owner of downtown's Chinook Bookshop and has served on a multitude of boards and commissions in the public and private sector.
She supports the idea of an arts and sciences tax and has targeted transportation, traffic, open space and historic neighborhood preservation as the major issues facing the city.
"Housing will be one of the most important decisions the City Council will face," said Noyes, who supports encouraging mixed-use neighborhoods, more urban village-type developments and pursuing employer-subsidized domiciles.
Approving the Red Cross Shelter's new mega-homeless shelter, she said, was "the hardest decision I've had to make on Council."
"I have the experience of many years working in the community on nonprofit boards, including arts, business and government committees, and it has been wonderful preparation for serving on Council," she said. "I know my way around."
Her problem-solving skills also make her better qualified than her opponent, she said.
Her challenger is Tim Pleasant, 42, a criminal defense attorney who has called Colorado Springs home for five years and is appalled, offended and outraged by what he perceives as gross ethical violations at City Hall.
When asked for examples of how City Manager Jim Mullen has overstepped his bounds, Pleasant doesn't hesitate. There was the city's inexcusable manipulation of a developer fee structure at Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard, he said. There was also the firefighter's gag order, the $1 million-plus cost overrun during renovation of the old City Hall and the city's current effort to condemn as blight longtime businesses south of downtown to make way for Confluence Park and a convention center.
The city manager's documented feuds with outgoing Councilman Bill Guman are also problematic. "Mr. Mullen needs to be reminded sometimes that he's the subordinate, and not the other way around," Pleasant said.
"If I am unpleasant it is because I am reminding some people of unpleasant truths. I will continue to stand up and tell the truth and if people are uncomfortable with that then that is just unfortunate."
The attorney is the only candidate running who doesn't support the SCIP-01 sales tax proposal, arguing that voters should have been able to pick and choose between the long list of projects.
He said he doesn't support government-subsidized housing, yet doesn't have the answers to solving the shortage of affordable domiciles for the working class. He is amazed by his opponents' stance anyway.
"I've listened to the incumbents say there's a need for affordable housing, and yet what they have done for affordable housing is tear down the little affordable housing the city has," Pleasant said. "I'm a conservative guy running against a liberal woman," he said. "We need more conservative government in this town."