Having bought a strong mayor, what now?

The mid-term elections last year brought some of the fringe radicals on all sides to illustrate how open a society we are, and how sometimes it is better to stay focused on local issues and worry about our own financial and social wellbeing.

When the local Chamber of Commerce endorsed a Democrat for the governorship, we know that the alternatives were off the charts.

So, are we indeed less ideological and more pragmatic? Are we reasonable citizens working for what is best for all of us?

The David and Chris Jenkins father-son duo were able to accomplish, with a hefty investment of their own money, what previous mayors, council-members, and commissions were unable to do almost since I arrived in Colorado Springs in 1986.

For this feat alone, they should be thanked by all of us, whether or not we are businesspeople or public servants.

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The question, though, remains: is having a strong mayor good for the city?

I recall many years ago, when I was facing unfriendly neighbors who called me a “foreigner” and expressed their dismay that someone like myself was developing what has become the Warehouse complex that I had to go before city council while Mayor Bob was in charge.

He listened to their complaints, found them to be without merit (but with much malice), listened to my plan and continued the hearing disregarding their threats to go after him personally.

Yes, he was one of those “good old boys” in more than one sense, and I didn’t know if I’d get a fair chance.

I prevailed and respected him for letting an upstart get a shot against the old establishment.

He died poor, as my late friend Dr. Ted told me. As poorly as he was paid, and as powerful as he was, he never personally benefited from his position. Whether you agreed with his decisions or not, he was a leader.

Having witnessed firsthand the mayoral forum at the Fine Arts Center, it seemed as if the gravity of the responsibility wasn’t fully acknowledged.

Nine candidates answered haltingly or dramatically — or, in some cases, not at all — fairly straight-forward questions.

Are any of them ready to take on a deficit and a demoralized constituency? Are they up to the challenge? Is running a private corporation similar to running a city?

There are really two dimensions associated with a strong mayor: accountability and leadership.

I think that previous mayors have been accountable and have felt that they owed us an explanation if and when they acted in ways that were deemed questionable (the USOC is a case in point).

So, would a strong mayor necessarily be a leader in ways that the previous model didn’t allow for?

“You get what you pay for,” we are reminded by some business mavens.

So, if we pay more for a mayor we are bound to get a better mayor. Is this a question of expectation? If we expect more of the mayor, now that the pay is much higher, will we indeed obtain a leader worthy of the title? Corporate America supports unequivocally the view that astronomical salaries and bonuses yield results.

Yet, if you were to ask 10 academic economists, you are bound to hear different appraisals of their empirical research on the correlation between CEOs’ pay and corporate profits. What about us, then?

Here is my wish list of a strong municipal leader, only some of its items were lightly addressed by the nine mayoral candidates at the FAC.

First, be a respectful leader. Be the first among equals, and treat council with the respect all its members deserve. But be their leader nonetheless. Come up with ideas and navigate through those of others. Compromise is not a bad word.

Second, be a promoter. Tell the world how great we are and what a great place Colorado Springs is to live in: the healthiest city in the nation! The USOC is here!

Third, remember to boost local morale. Taxpayers want to hear good news about their city and its daily accomplishments: find good news and make sure we all hear about them.

Fourth, find a goal worth leading us towards and set your eyes and heart on it (your mind, too). We are blessed to have some worthy goals, such as national athletics and intelligence research that would put us on the national map. It may be more appealing to talk about defense contractors who are located here than about military bases.

Fifth, make downtown significant. Every city of any significance in the world has a vibrant downtown. Make it the city’s mission to bolster the viability of our downtown and encourage all the residents to visit and support it. What about bringing the Sky Sox downtown? Remember what this kind of a move did for Denver.

I’m sure each resident has a wish-list of her or his own, and perhaps Santa Claus will be coming after all this spring. We owe it to ourselves to bring forth the best ideas we can come up with and expect the mayor to pick some and run with them.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS and a downtown entrepreneur.