John Suthers and Mary Lou Makepeace might not have a lot in common, but they shared remarkably similar levels of surprise Tuesday night.
From their reactions, it felt like they just had seen, without warning, the ending of a movie that they assumed to be far from over.
Suthers, with the uncharacteristic giddiness of a teenager, clearly now could see himself likely becoming the next mayor of Colorado Springs.
Makepeace, with the brave smile of a seasoned but realistic political veteran, just as clearly could see the inevitable end for her quest to return as the city’s top elected official.
Both truly were stunned. They came into Tuesday night fully expecting the first results to be inconclusive. Both assumed their race would continue into a runoff, lasting until May 19. But nobody knew for sure what the margin would be, especially with a lower-than-expected turnout.
Most onlookers, supported by polling data, figured Suthers would pull somewhere in the vicinity of 38-40 percent, with Makepeace in the range of 30-32 percent.
That would’ve put Suthers in early command, but with Makepeace still seeing a potential path to victory.
Then came the first yet irreversible results from City Clerk Sarah Johnson, based on 70,000 counted votes: Suthers with 47.4 percent, Makepeace with 23 percent, Joel Miller at 15.5 percent, Amy Lathen fourth at 11.2 percent.
Suthers, always known more for his lawyerly calm, couldn’t suppress his glee with a rousing victory speech that showed more energetic spirit than Colorado Springs has seen in a mayoral race since … well, perhaps since Makepeace was first elected mayor in 1997. He started by reciting his basic goals to an audience at the Mining Exchange Hotel filled with local leaders of the past generation:
“First, we wanted to make the runoff. Check. Second, we wanted to be first in the voting this time. Check. Third, and most important, was to get elected as mayor on May 19, and the work for that starts now,” he said. “But I think we were successful because our message got through to the voters — we want to get this city moving again.”
Meanwhile, a few blocks away at Nosh in Plaza of the Rockies, Makepeace obviously was having more trouble than expected seeing that pathway back to the mayor’s office.
She talked about trying to take advantage of the apathetic turnout, lighting a fresh fire under the many thousands (including high percentages of moderates and the 21-40 age group) who didn’t care enough to weigh in.
It was fascinating to see the two candidates, both of whom sincerely care about Colorado Springs, having such similar reactions.
Some of their feelings were identical, from seeing glimmers of hope for City Council to sharing remorse over promising 37-year-old Jariah Walker falling short in his bid for an at-large Council seat. You could tell Suthers and Makepeace wanted to nurture Walker as much as anyone, seeing a bright future for the optimistic young professional from a family real-estate business.
That became the downer of the night: Those top two mayoral favorites, both lamenting over a young Council candidate whom they wanted to win, shared the same sadness that too many voters didn’t agree.
It only underscored the fact that becoming mayor doesn’t solve every problem. Makepeace looked at the turnout, about 10,000 fewer than for the Steve Bach-Richard Skorman runoff in 2011 despite 75,000 more receiving ballots, and said, “I don’t blame people for checking out, after all that they’ve seen in city government the past few years. We need to give them a new reason to care.”
Suthers, meanwhile, talked about how “this city for 15 years has lagged behind the rest of the state,” but now he could speak more forcefully. He said his first priority in office would be to quantify the infrastructure needs and then see how the public would prefer to pay for them. It won’t be an easy task, and as Suthers candidly admitted, “It’ll be up to me to communicate exactly what the situation is.”
But the best part about Tuesday night was the lack of animosity among the top mayoral candidates.
John Suthers probably now will be the next mayor, but Mary Lou Makepeace isn’t ready to give up, and she still wants the voters to have a choice. Yet they both want Colorado Springs to find its mojo again, no matter who wins.
That’s a good first step toward having elected officials who want to lead but also are willing to collaborate — and Colorado Springs needs both.