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The odd couple prevails


Jan Martin looked down at her lapel, saw the nametag that read "City Council candidate," and came to a sudden realization while celebrating with a large crowd at The Blue Star.

"I don't need this anymore," Martin said, taking off that tag with the knowledge she'd soon have one bearing the title of "City Council member."

On the other side of downtown, Tom Gallagher relaxed in a much different setting with a small group at the Red Martini, flashing his familiar, wry half-smile.

"I'm hearing they are shocked," Gallagher cackled, clearly relishing the fact his political adversaries would have to put up with him for another four-year term. "They really thought they were gonna bring me down."

Martin and Gallagher were the happiest winners Tuesday after the Colorado Springs city election results came out before 7:30 p.m., much earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, Tom Harold was trying to make sense of it all. And trying not to feel bitter.

Harold thought he had done everything right. He believed he had connected with voters at forum after forum. He felt he had support across the city, both geographically and demographically. He knew he had paid his dues on civic boards and committees, building knowledge and understanding of the community. He and Martin had formed an unofficial alliance, which they hoped would influence voters to put them both into office.

Yes, Harold is young at least by City Council standards. Yes, he's a Democrat and proud of it but he figured that would add votes, not take them away, in a nonpartisan election.

"But I'd rather lose being who I am," Harold said, "than win being who I'm not."

The speedy results allowed ample time for analysis and second-guessing, even on Tuesday night. For starters, those much-sought endorsements didn't make a huge difference. Some might say they were of no consequence at all.

Martin and Gallagher didn't receive money from the powerful Housing and Building Association (HBA) and they were the top vote-getters. Meanwhile, Harold had the HBA's full and monetary backing, along with the public support of the Chamber of Commerce, police, firefighters and current Councilors Jerry Heimlicher, Scott Hente and Margaret Radford.

Something else: Despite the fact more than 60,000 people voted, a decent turnout given the circumstances, not one at-large candidate was selected by 50 percent of the voters.

So winning wasn't about inspiring the masses. It was more about identifying a strong base of loyal backers.

Martin and Gallagher succeeded, perhaps leading the way to being a most uncommon political odd couple asking questions, wanting to change the status quo.

Randy Purvis and Larry Small, relying on the power of incumbency and their grasp of the issues, also had enough support.

What separated the winners from Harold and Bernie Herpin, the closest losers? Gallagher offered an interesting theory.

"Bernie is a nice guy, but he tried to be all things to all people," Gallagher said. "So did Tom Harold. But that's not the way to win this kind of election. [People] might like you, but that doesn't mean they care enough to vote for you."

Another topic dominated many election-night conversations. Mayor Lionel Rivera couldn't make it to 60 percent against three challengers who had no money, experience or organizations. If any of the at-large candidates had set their sights on Rivera months ago, we might have a new mayor-elect today.

Instead, the focus for many is already turning toward elections to come.

Greg Timm, who jumped in the race late and finished last but still got 26 percent says he wants to run for mayor in 2011 but wouldn't have opposed Rivera because of their friendship.

Harold also wonders now if he might have had a better shot going against Rivera than three incumbents and a cluttered at-large field.

Rest assured, we haven't seen the last of Harold. He says he'll learn from this experience and assess his options, which could mean going for mayor or an at-large seat again in 2011, a district seat in 2009 or perhaps the El Paso County Commission next year.

Meanwhile, with Martin being polite and Gallagher displaying his, uh, not-so-polite style, watch for the city to take a closer look at water options beyond the Southern Delivery System.

They were the smartest outsiders in this campaign. Tom Harold got caught in the middle, with establishment support and not enough grassroots backing. His self-portrayal as a progressive didn't resonate.

But someday, in the right situation, his turn will come.

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