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The Outsider


The other day, I was reviewing my so-called career in public life.

Let me see -- ran for D-20 School Board in '89 (defeated!), applied to be on Park and Rec Advisory Board '90 (rejected!), ran for City Council '91 (elected!), ran again in '95 (elected!), ran for Mayor in '97 (thrashed!), and, in a ghostly coda, began writing this column in '97.

Looking back, I'd like to remember the times when I saw myself as a lonely, principled voice for Truth, Justice and the American Way. But it might be more useful, especially to our current crop of pols and wanna-be pols, to come clean and admit a few mistakes.

One of the obvious truths of American politics is this: Most elected officials are usually wrong. They're lazy, or ill-informed, or pandering to the powerful, or intellectually dishonest, or they just screw up. That's fine; it's part of our untidy democracy.

You'd think that pols, and the governments that they serve, would occasionally admit their mistakes. But remember: George Romney's presidential campaign was derailed a generation ago by his admission that military commanders in Vietnam had "brainwashed" him into supporting the war. Lesson learned: Admit nothing, and if you're caught red-handed, use the passive voice, as in "mistakes were made. ..."

And here are a few ...

The Great Wall of Interstate 25. I opposed it, because I neither researched it carefully, nor talked to the people most affected by its construction -- the residents of the near West Side. Together with its parallel linear park, the wall has revivified that neighborhood. If it had been up to me, tandem trailer-trucks would still be motoring down the highway 10 feet from residents' backyards.

The new pedestrian bridge over I-25. I predicted a year or so ago that it would ruin part of Monument Valley Park, and be virtually unused. Wrong on both counts. As such structures go, it's graceful, user-friendly, and has made the park easily accessible to Westsiders.

Ordinances severely regulating adult uses adopted by the city a few years back. I sanctimoniously supported 'em, certain that my career in politics would be over if I sided with the purveyors of smut. Privately, I thought that they were an unwarranted, and probably unconstitutional, attempt by government to regulate private behavior. But I didn't have the guts to say so.

The SCIP process. Mine was the tie-breaking vote which led to the creation of the so-called Springs Community Improvement Program. Thanks to SCIP, much has been accomplished. Yet because of SCIP, citizen involvement in city government has been channellized, bureaucratized, and codified. As a result, city government is generally less accessible, less susceptible to outside influence, and more secretive than in the recent past.

And finally, I supported the appointment of Jim Mullen as city manager. I thought we needed new blood, that we needed to shake up a distant and ossified city bureaucracy. I saw Mullen as a capable, eminently reasonable, fair-minded, and intelligent man who could help lead our city into the 21st century. What was I thinking?, I wonder. I must have been brainwashed!

But just as a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn, even the laziest pol can make a good decision every once in a while.

Back in '92, I was, along with our present mayor, one of two or three council members who were slated to interview candidates for the Park and Rec Advisory Board. One of the applicants was a neighbor, a smart, energetic woman who, I thought, would be a great choice.

At some point in the process, now-mayor Mary Lou pulled me aside and asked me to support one of the candidates: my neighbor Jane Titus! Such a deal -- Jane got the appointment, and I had a political IOU from Mary Lou.

I can't remember whether I ever cashed the IOU, but that appointment started Jane's involvement in local government.

She served for a while on the Park Board, became a trustee of the Fountain Valley School, and for the past several years has been working to put together a deal to preserve the land surrounding the Big Johnson Reservoir.

It looks as if her efforts have come to fruition. Thanks to Jane, and to dozens of other volunteers, and to Fountain Valley School, and to the city, and even to a cooperative developer, we may be able to preserve as open space as many as 3,000 acres surrounding the reservoir. This is an extraordinary achievement, one that will benefit this community not just for years, but for centuries.

You go, girl!


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