John Suthers might not have needed it in the race to determine Colorado Springs’ next mayor, but he definitely found himself riding a new wave in local politics.
John Suthers might not have needed it in the race to determine Colorado Springs’ next mayor, but he definitely found himself riding a new wave in local politics.

John Suthers might not have needed it in the race to determine Colorado Springs’ next mayor, but he definitely found himself riding a new wave in local politics.

Thanks to a surprising late surge, 88,966 voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s municipal election, 1,592 fewer than those who voted four years earlier. But voter turnout, as measured by the percentage of active registered voters who mailed or turned in their votes, was 39 percent as opposed to 62 percent in 2011.

That’s because the number of active voters skyrocketed in 2014, thanks to a Democrat-sponsored measure in the state Legislature mandating that ballots be sent to all registered voters in statewide and federal elections. In 2015, the city mailed out 228,000 ballots to active voters, compared to 151,000 in 2011.

Yet, despite virtually identical turnouts, this election was hardly a replay of 2011.

Four years ago, Richard Skorman led the mayoral race with 35.83 percent of the vote. Skorman’s percentage may have been reduced by Dave Munger’s candidacy, which attracted 4.45 percent of voters, and by Tom Gallagher’s quixotic bid, good for 5.29 percent. Together, they received more than 45 percent of the total vote, auguring well for Skorman’s prospects in a runoff.

The three leading conservative mayoral candidates in 2011 (Steve Bach, Buddy Gilmore and Brian Bahr) accounted for just over 52 percent of the vote.

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But this year the moderate/liberal share of the electorate plummeted. With 46.37 percent of the vote, Suthers doubled Mary Lou Makepeace’s 23.56 percent. Two other conservatives in the field, Amy Lathen and Joel Miller, received 27 percent of the vote, putting the conservative share at well over 70 percent.

Given that Democratic candidates running citywide for state and national office usually poll between 35 and 38 percent in the city, and given that the April voters have traditionally been more moderate than those in November, what happened? Did Makepeace run a bad campaign, did the base not turn out, or was Suthers just an overwhelmingly powerful opponent?

Foregone conclusion

The runoff should answer these questions. At first glance, it seems unlikely that Makepeace can prevail.

In 2011, 99,306 voters participated in the runoff, up 10 percent from the 90,558 who voted in the first round. Bach prevailed over Skorman, and won by a 57-43 margin.

Suthers received 40,900 votes in the first round. If 96,000 voters cast ballots in the runoff, he’ll need 48,001 to win, an additional 7,101 votes. With 20,783 in the first round, Makepeace will need an additional 27,218. That’s a tall order — in fact, it’s not a stretch to say that it’s politically impossible.

Council at-large

In 2011, Jan Martin led the at-large field with 44,901 votes, or 11.12 percent of votes cast. This year, at-large leader Merv Bennett garnered 33,690 votes but received 15.09 percent of the votes.

That’s because 2011 was a transition year, thanks to a change in the City Charter. Voters selected five at-large Councilors that year, but only three on Tuesday.

In a diverse and powerful 2011 field, Martin, Val Snider, Merv Bennett, Brandy Williams and Tim Leigh won out. The election also served as a trial run for three Councilors who will take their seats on the dais this month: Helen Collins, Larry Bagley and Bill Murray.

On Tuesday, Collins fought off a recall attempt, which failed by a 55-45 margin. Bagley defeated Kanda Calef in District 2, while Murray claimed one of the at-large seats. All three clearly benefited from losing efforts in 2011, particularly Murray.

In 2011, Murray received 25,826 votes, good enough for second runner-up. This year, he increased his total to 26,437 and won. As he pointed out, he was outspent 10-to-1 but prevailed anyway.

Bagley fell far short of victory in the 2011 District 2 race, getting only 21 percent of the vote and finishing a weak third among four candidates. This year, he engineered a dramatic reversal, defeating Calef with 69 percent of the vote.

Less friction, more collaboration

Voters also narrowly approved two minor charter changes that may lessen friction between the Mayor and City Council. One relieves the mayor of the responsibility to sign contracts executed by Colorado Springs Utilities, while the other authorizes Council to hire and fire its own support staff.

The new Council, as Murray said after his victory, will have a lot on its plate. If Suthers prevails, he has promised to move aggressively forward to identify the best means of funding the city’s deteriorating infrastructure, including stormwater and street maintenance. Decisions involving the controversial City for Champions projects will have to be made, even if the controversial downtown stadium/events center is removed from the list.

Former Councilor and third-place mayoral candidate Miller has made it clear he will oppose back-door public funding for downtown infrastructure improvements that would benefit the proposed Olympic Museum, which could in turn lead to a contentious citywide vote.

The election is just about over. Now it’s time for the main event.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I would have really enjoyed hearing the discussion in a high school math class if any of the teachers gave the results provide by the El Paso Clerk and Recorder Office for the At-Large election and told the class to figure out what the percentage of the votes each candidate received. Surely some of the students, maybe even most, would have come up with the percentages provided. I used the same numbers and determined that Merv Bennett got 45.28% of the votes, not 15.09%; Tom Strand got 39.83%, not 13.28% and Bill Murray got 35.53, not 11.84.

    I figured that each voter cast three votes in the At-Large category. When you totaled up all the votes for each candidate, it came out to 223,209 votes. I divided the total number of votes by three and you “should” come up with the number of ballots cast (74,403)…if everyone actually voted for three people. So, for example, if you take the number of votes for Merv Bennett, which was 33,690, and divide that by 74,403, you get 45.28% of the ballots cast.

    However, since there were actually 88,966 ballots cast, one could assume that some voters did vote for the maximum of 3 candidates. Some voted for 2 candidates, some 1, and surely there were some that voted for none of the candidates. When you consider that it is not only possible, but probable, that not everyone voted for 3 candidates, the percentage of the ballots cast for the top three candidates, and for that matter all candidates, might even be higher than those I provided.

    It is interesting to note that when you consider the total ballots cast, 959 voters did not vote for any of the mayor candidates, and over 5000 voters did not vote for either of the Issues.

  2. Not sure if this a right swing or the nature of the top two candidates for mayor being moderate republic candidates without a democratic contender in the race.

    For makepeace to win this she would need to run a campaign which highlights the difference between her and Suthers and convince the left vote to come to her while retaining independent and moderate republican votes… This has to be combined with a grassroots organisation which gets more people to vote…

    chances that they pull that off is close to zero and Suthers is not a bad choice for our city…

    city council… ouch a few more old man got elected in who represent the growing retirement community in our town (who want low cost of living, low taxes and so on).. not sure if they bring us forward but time will tell..

    for you young guys who want to go at it again in the next election for city council you failed to inspire the younger voters to come out to vote. Maybe a campaign which would have focused on ideas on how to make our city more attractive to younger people, create jobs and more vibrant would have helped.. instead we heard the same old topics from the old and the young ones running for council.. there was not a lot of new ideas….

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