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Progress, peace and profit tantalize a thirsty city in 2008

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Every new year brings fresh hope and promise, along with the instant wisdom that comes with looking back on the 12 months just ended.

In retrospect, we first have to acknowledge that 2007 was something less than a remarkable year for Colorado Springs.

Our city and county governments, in more than a few ways, failed their constituents or at least stretched their patience. It all began with the bottom line: They misjudged revenues and had to scramble, sheepishly, to make ends meet. We also were embarrassed by the arrests of senior citizens marching for peace in a downtown parade, which exposed police problems.

COSMIX has wrapped up its mammoth Interstate 25 project, meeting a Dec. 31 deadline that seemed like a pipe dream not so long ago. But the satisfaction for many local drivers was doused by the saga of Cimarron Bridge, another case of government dragging its feet until too late.

We spent much of 2007 watching our rookie congressman, Rep. Doug Lamborn, stumble and bumble his way to the ignoble status of being vulnerable to a quick rejection by his own Republican Party's 5th District voters.

We read story after story of troops coming home from Iraq and not being the same, leading to a multitude of psychological after-effects that thankfully, the military at last is beginning to accept as serious.

We cringed at other military-related developments that weren't about supporting or opposing the war. While the Iraq debate swept most of America, much of our attention focused on the Army's relentless effort to add more unspoiled Colorado ranchland for training purposes in Pion Canyon even as likelihood grew that we'd be reducing our Middle East presence after the next election.

Much closer to home, inside our second most-famous mountain (Cheyenne), we saw an increasingly stubborn, deliberate disregard for civilian authority amid efforts to move NORAD's main operations out of their proven fortress. It's ongoing, despite rising concern and opposition in Congress.

On the lighter side, we cheered the triumphant expansion of the Fine Arts Center and the turnaround for Air Force Academy football, still the area's single most unifying team-sports program. But then we shuddered, hearing that another signature organization the U.S. Olympic Committee might relocate its headquarters to a larger metropolis, such as Chicago.

Finally, we recoiled in horror in early December when a single, deluded gunman invaded the sanctity of our area's largest church, New Life, killing two teen sisters before being stopped short of his stated, chilling goal: giving Christians their Columbine.

Roll it all together, and we cannot close the book on 2007 with pleasure. The positives were largely overshadowed by the negatives.

Yet, as disruptive and at times repulsive as this past year was across our region, the calendar turns to 2008 with the realistic prospect of a satisfying reversal. Not a fairy-tale script by any means, because we're sure to encounter more turbulence, disappointments, anguish and frustrations in the months to come. Nowadays, it's impossible to fathom a year without tragedy touching us in some unexpected way.

But in looking at next year's newsmakers, issues, events, arts and sports stories and challenges, we've got some fascinating things to consider. To maintain the pentagonal symmetry, here are five elements to watch in each of those five categories.

5 newsmakers

1. City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft. There's a reason for putting her ahead of the mayor. The timing is perfect for Culbreth-Graft, with her background in acting boldly to make changes as needed in municipal government. No question about the need here for a new approach, and she'll probably develop that faster than anyone expects.

2. Mayor Lionel Rivera. Last summer, in his annual "State of the City" address, Rivera finished by saying, "Colorado Springs is a leading-edge and world-class city." That may be true in some respects, but certainly not all. We'll give Rivera and City Council credit for going outside to find a new city manager. Now we'll see how willing the elected leaders are to go along with her ideas.

3. State Rep. Douglas Bruce. Will the dinosaur thrive in Denver on the bigger stage? Bruce obviously feels he will have a noticeable impact on the Legislature. But his bullying tactics on the county commission won't work in the state Capitol. It would've been nice to leave him off this list, but the reality is that we'll all be watching to see when Bruce's first explosion will come followed by how the state lawmakers deal with him.

Gov. Bill Ritter's one to watch in 08. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Gov. Bill Ritter's one to watch in 08.

4. Gov. Bill Ritter. He's made it through his first year not only unscathed, but very popular. With friendly majorities in both the state House and Senate, Ritter should be able to continue pushing his priorities of improving public education and health care, developing renewable energy and supporting tourism. We should see even more of him in 2008, because he seems to understand that despite El Paso County's Republican leanings, we also have more registered Democrats than most Colorado counties.

5. House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. He starts his final year in the Colorado House trying to work with lawmakers on both political sides in crafting important new legislation. But Romanoff could end the year going to Washington as a major player in a new Democratic administration perhaps in the Cabinet, possibly inside the White House. Don't be surprised.

5 events

1. State Democratic Convention. It's coming to the Colorado Springs World Arena in May, and though the festivities will basically amount to just one busy day, the symbolism will be too much to ignore.

2. Democratic National Convention. Sure, we'll already know the nominee, perhaps even the running mate, before the party converges on Denver's Pepsi Center in late August. But it'll start the campaign's home stretch, and the nation will be watching. We'll get the overflow, and probably share in the buildup.

3. U.S. Senior Open. Big-time golf returns to the Broadmoor Golf Club from July 31 to Aug. 3, with the likes of Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Mark O'Meara, Craig Stadler and Ben Crenshaw. With smartly priced tickets, the tournament should smash attendance records.

4. Elections. Will the state have an early say in the presidential race? We'll find out Feb. 5 with the party caucuses. Come August, the state's Republican Party primary will almost certainly settle the 5th District congressional race. And in November, Colorado appears likely to fit among the ranks of "swing" states in the White House sweepstakes, which means attention and campaigning from both sides.

5. St. Patrick's Day parade. If anyone expected the annual parade to be any different in 2007, it was just in its move from Old Colorado City to downtown. The controversy over police removing The Bookman's contingent of peace marchers far overshadowed that, and everything else. The 2008 parade will be a test for all involved.

5 issues

1. City budget. In a slower economy, having a budget that's 55 percent funded by sales-tax revenue is a recipe for trouble, and banking on more windfalls in brigades and facilities from the Pentagon isn't the way to more prosperity. It's time for City Council to take steps toward de-Bruce-ing the Springs, before the city's infrastructure totally crumbles.

Will the city budget continue to crumble like Cimarron Bridge? - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Will the city budget continue to crumble like Cimarron Bridge?

2. County finances. As for the county, many employees already are looking at four-day workweeks. So many important programs and services already have been whittled. The commissioners must be brave enough to lay out their plight to voters and ask for more money.

3. Definition of a human. This is one of several ballot initiatives that will define Colorado in this election. Another is the idea of taxing carbon dioxide. But if the "egg is human" measure passes, we'll deal with the aftermath for years.

4. NORAD. Strangely, this has remained almost entirely a local story, even as Congress has been stirred into action, trying to stall the move of North American Aerospace Defense Command's vital operations to Peterson Air Force Base and California. This story could evaporate, or it could turn into one of the persistent headlines of 2008.

5. City enterprises. Our elected leaders know that, at some point, they'll have to persuade residents that a tax hike, even a slight property-tax increase (still keeping us far below state and national averages), would make a huge difference in services, infrastructure and police and fire operations. Without an increase, will we be able to avoid mortgaging the city's invaluable assets (Colorado Springs Utilities, Memorial Health System)?

5 arts/sports topics

1. Air Force football. By maintaining or improving upon their 9-3 mark this year, the Falcons could bring home their first Mountain West football title in 2008.

2. Colorado College hockey. The Tigers are off to a great start in 2007-08. If they can make it to the NCAA Tournament, they'll play in the West Regional here, followed (perhaps) by the Frozen Four in Denver. The national title is a lot to ask, but it's possible.

The FAC's got a pivotal year to come. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The FAC's got a pivotal year to come.

3. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. It was a tumultuous 2007, with the FAC opening its ambitious new expansion and then immediately being jilted by president/CEO Michael De Marsche leaving for Armenia. The next year looms as pivotal for the FAC, trying to find the best possible replacement for De Marsche and continuing to make the museum more appealing to everyday people.

4. Summer Olympics. It happens like magic every four years: The Summer Games arrive, and many Colorado Springs-based athletes from the Olympic Training Center have their chance on the world stage. This Olympiad in Beijing starts on the auspicious date of 08-08-08, with the obvious subplot of China trying to steal the show.

5. Cornerstone Arts Center. Colorado College's cutting-edge $30 million project, with academic as well as display and performance functions, is scheduled to open in the fall. The FAC's new neighbor definitely will add another major presence to the developing cluster of arts-related facilities on and adjacent to the CC campus.

5 challenges

1. Economy. Let's see ... stock market shaky, high gas prices, uncertain tourism, potential post-war uncertainty for a military town. This could be a year to hunker down and wait for the next upswing, perhaps in 2009.

2. Housing market foreclosures. The bad news snowballed during 2007. Will that change in the new year? Probably not. But if you're a homebuyer with decent credit, you can be as picky as you want.

3. Lamborn vs. Jeff Crank and/or Bentley Rayburn. Many local GOP veterans are wishing Rayburn would step aside, especially if he doesn't have much support after the caucuses; Crank, with his connections, would have a good shot in a two-man race for 5th District representative. In the Senate, another election challenge will be Mark Udall vs. Bob Schaffer in November. Democrats are giddy about possibly having both of Colorado's U.S. Senate seats, with Wayne Allard stepping aside. Like the 5th District race, it will probably get nasty.

4. TABOR. We've been dropping hints all along, but here's the hammer: It's time for Colorado Springs to shed the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. If it has to happen in stages, so be it, but momentum has to pick up in 2008. Again, the argument has to be presented convincingly, and that's up to our leaders.

5. Our image. There has been progress, such as the "Everybody Welcome" downtown event that debuted successfully last summer, but the city (and people who care) can't let up. It's as simple as remembering two words: diversity and tolerance. The more of both we have, the better our city becomes. Not just in 2008, but every year.

routon@csindy.com

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