Mayor Steve Bach’s brief Monday announcement that he won’t seek re-election came as no surprise. Nearly a year ago, Bach met with John Suthers at the latter’s request. Suthers, who would be term-limited as Colorado’s attorney general at the end of 2014, told Bach that he intended to run for mayor, citing an oddly disingenuous reason for doing so.
“I’m running because I want to make sure that Sallie Clark doesn’t get elected,” he said, according to Bach.
“You don’t have to worry about that, John,” said Bach, “because I’ll beat her if she runs.”
Yet Suthers sensed that Bach was vulnerable, and set about quietly picking off the mayor’s supporters. And despite his quick riposte to Suthers’ remark, Bach hadn’t shown any signs of running for a second term.
In the runoff election of May 17, 2011, Bach won an overwhelming victory, beating former City Councilor Richard Skorman by a 57-43 margin. Bach moved quickly to put his stamp on city government, seeking to re-deploy limited resources to better serve the community. Unpopular Council decisions such as cutting park watering and turning off streetlights were reversed, and Bach didn’t hesitate to intervene in Council matters, even from the start.
When a majority of Council seemed ready to transfer ownership of Memorial Health Systems to an independent nonprofit group headed by then-Memorial CEO Larry McEvoy, Bach suggested that Council take another look at other potential buyers/lessees.
Thanks to Bach’s intervention, University of Colorado Health eventually took over Memorial. The deal brought many benefits to the city, and guaranteed that Memorial would remain a solvent, powerful and modern health care provider.
On June 23, 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire erupted into Mountain Shadows. During the fire and its aftermath, Bach was a visible, reassuring and competent leader. He rose above petty political skirmishing to symbolize community resolve in the aftermath of disaster. At that moment, he was the city’s unquestioned commander in chief.
But then things began to fall apart.
Bach made it clear that he wanted to get the city out of the electric utility business and shutter the Martin Drake downtown coal-fired power plant. His clashes with City Council became bitter and frequent. In the 2013 Council election, his two most consistent supporters on Council, Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan, lost their bids for re-election, as did Councilors Bernie Herpin and Brandy Williams. Six new Councilors were elected, including five who ran on platforms denouncing Bach’s agenda for Utilities.
The Mayor/Council wars intensified. Council’s attempts to stake out some areas of administrative control were stymied by Bach, who ignored Council veto overrides that he believed illegal.
What should have been Bach’s crowning moment of success came a year ago this month when the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved $120 million in state sales tax increment financing to help fund the City for Champions proposal. Instead, a majority of City Council members worked in concert to sabotage the deal, questioning its economic benefits and mischaracterizing its proposed financial structure.
Councilors accused Bach of being autocratic, unbending and unwilling to compromise. Bach in turn made no secret of his contempt for Council’s scheming obstructionism.
With Bach out of the race, who benefits?
Bach’s name recognition might have guaranteed him a place in any potential runoff. It’s reasonable to assume that mainstream conservatives Suthers and Amy Lathen will benefit most from his absence. Mary Lou Makepeace might also pick up a few votes, but former Councilor Joel Miller, who positioned himself as the anti-Bach, could lose steam.
Absent Bach, the race will be much less interesting. Candidates will strive to seem reasonable, accommodating and committed to working with Council. City for Champions will fade into the background, and Bach will morph from villain to grand old man.
“It has been an honor to serve alongside Mayor Bach during this first term of our strong mayor form of government,” as Amy Lathen wrote in an email. “Under his leadership, many important initiatives have been launched, including City for Champions, and I appreciate his dedication and efforts in moving our city forward.”
So whom will Mayor Bach support, if anyone, as his successor? Certainly not Miller. Not Suthers, whose year-long candidacy has attracted many of Bach’s supporters and affected his ability to govern. Maybe not Lathen, thanks to her stormwater advocacy. By elimination, that leaves former Mayor Makepeace.
Meanwhile, Bach seems to be at peace with his decision.
“I have tried to do the right thing since the beginning,” he wrote in a text, “and know I did so today.”