Columns » City Sage

The Springs can be an example for America

City Sage



Thirty years ago, Spy magazine went after Donald Trump. Characterizing him as a "short-fingered vulgarian," Spy's editors depicted him as a greedy, ignorant, loutish barbarian. OK, he was rich and successful, but he was the jerk of jerks.

Thirty years later, Spy's brash young former editor is now the querulous old gentleman who edits Vanity Fair. Graydon Carter no longer skewers the rich; he serves as their handmaiden, presiding over a magazine dedicated to beauty, fame and wealth. And we know what has happened to Trump, whose detractors imagined by now he'd be bankrupt, broke, bald and imprisoned.

He's still a jerk, but along with his fellow jerks Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, he's on the short list to become president of the United States.

The polls tell us that this is the time of Trump, the sunrise of Sanders, the coming of Cruz. Forget the agreeably rich celebrities of Vanity Fair, the reasoned calm of Hillary Clinton, the dynastic entitlement of Jeb Bush or the understated accomplishments of Barack Obama.

How did this happen? Will America decide, like the city girl in the Eagles' 1975 "Lyin' Eyes" ... "A rich old man, she won't have to worry" and elect Trump?

Are we replaying the angst-ridden 1970s, when Peter Finch, playing TV anchor Howard Beale said in the movie Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"? Maybe so. You know weirdness prevails when conservative ranchers seize wildlife preserves, when a rambling, gambling, womanizing, godless, gay-friendly New Yorker leads Republican presidential polls and when a rambling, shambling New York-born "democratic socialist" might capture the Democratic nomination.

As spectacle, it's immensely entertaining. To see both The New York Times and National Review united in the 'Take a dump on Trump' movement is pretty sweet, as is the agony and impotence of the entitled political class, who fear Sanders or Cruz might derail the K Street gravy train. And for those of us who have reported on/participated in Colorado Springs politics since the '80s it's even sweeter — call it déjà vu all over again.

Our local political scene has often been dysfunctional. Let's recapitulate.

• 1980s — the failure of the overextended savings and loan industry led to the collapse of commercial real estate business in Colorado Springs. After the newly annexed 25,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch fell into foreclosure, The Wall Street Journal called us "the foreclosure capital of America." It took us two or three years to recover, just in time for...

• Amendment 2 and the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Thanks to "gonzo anti-tax activist" Douglas Bruce (so dubbed by the WSJ), Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson and Will Perkins' Colorado for Family Values, we became "ground zero of the radical right," national headquarters for anti-tax, anti-gay, and other militants. Ours was the "hate state," threatened by national boycotts. We were caricatured as America's Tehran, a city of armed religious fanatics. That image was bad enough, but we managed to elect folks to office who attracted national attention — and not in a good way.

• We had Charlie Duke, a state legislator who once claimed that Newt Gingrich broke into his house and stole his computer. We had County Commissioner Betty Beedy, who merrily referred to "normal white Americans" while being interviewed by Starr Jones on national TV. And let's not forget "Kickin' Doug" Bruce, censured by his statehouse colleagues after he kicked a newspaper photographer moments before he was sworn into office in 2008.

But just as the country seems to be moving from political paralysis to crazed dysfunction, Colorado Springs has gotten its act together — and then some. We're fixing our streets, thanks to a new voter-approved sales tax. Our downtown is finally blossoming, the 'burbs are booming (go to Polaris Pointe if you don't believe me), the west side is renovating, the North End is unaffordable and The Broadmoor is better than ever. We've got work to do in the southeast, but for the first time in many years it looks as if city and county governments are capable of taking effective action.

So here's a suggestion for our presidential candidates: Come to Colorado Springs and see what competent, collaborative, nonpartisan leadership looks like. If we can emerge from the shadows and move into the broad, sunlit uplands, so can all of America, even Washington.

But watch your step when you're here. As Petula Clark might have sung, "Don't sleep on the sidewalk, baby..."

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