It was fun to pretend that we had a real horse race on our hands, wasn’t it? Even though Mary Lou Makepeace had been outpolled 2-to-1 by John Suthers on April 7, she contested the runoff bravely and tenaciously.
Pot for potholes? A peacemaker, not a prosecutor? Rock the Vote? Catchy slogans designed to capture the attention of the inattentive young voters who didn’t show up in the first round.
The slogans may have had some impact, but the electoral arithmetic doomed the former mayor’s quixotic quest. Absent the candidacies of Joel Miller and Amy Lathen, Suthers likely would have won a majority in April.
As it turned out, Suthers lost none of that 2-to-1 cushion, handily defeating Makepeace by a margin of 68 to 32 percent with a respectable turnout of 98,000-plus voters, very close to the far more dramatic 2011 runoff between Steve Bach and Richard Skorman.
We can expect Suthers to hit the ground running.
After a comforting, content-free mayoral campaign, he’s free now to create his own action plan.
What will he do first? What will be his hierarchy of needs?
By appointing County Administrator Jeff Greene as his chief of staff, Suthers snatched away Colorado’s pre-eminent public-sector manager from El Paso County. That’s an amazing coup — it’s as if LeBron James were to leave the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers (you mean that really happened??!!).
As an attorney who has represented both the state and federal governments, you can bet that he’s already looked carefully at the city’s potential legal exposure.
Both the city government and Colorado Springs Utilities are frequently involved in lawsuits. Sue and/or be sued — that’s a cost of doing business. On any given day, CSU and the city are plaintiffs or defendants in dozens of legal actions. Most are relatively minor, some are serious, and some are scary.
One of the latter involves possible Southern Delivery System-related actions by Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. If successful, such actions could both delay the implementation of SDS and inflict heavy costs on local taxpayers/ratepayers. The time may have come to proactively settle this long-festering dispute and move on.
Meanwhile, Suthers will have to figure out what to do about infrastructure. Will he repeat the tedious information-gathering process that the city, county and Stormwater Task Force went through before the ill-fated ballot question last year? Will he reconvene the City Committee and look for operational savings? Or will he face facts and move decisively to create a unified stormwater/infrastructure/street resurfacing package?
It won’t be cheap. We’ll need to raise at least $100 million annually, and the money must come from permanent, sustainable sales and property taxes. Here’s a suggestion, from a former elected official who declined to be quoted directly.
“Take a look at Fort Collins,” he/she said. “If we brought our sales and property taxes up to their level, we’d be fine.”
Having run a comforting, content-free campaign, he’s free now to create his own action plan.
That’s right. Colorado Springs, with a property tax mill levy of 4.279, collects a 2.5 percent sales tax while Fort Collins residents enjoy (if that’s the right word) a 3.85 percent sales tax and a 9.797 mill levy. Oh, and Fort Collins charges a 2.25 percent sales tax on food purchased for residential consumption — a notably regressive tax our city has never collected.
Even without the food tax, doubling the city property tax and increasing the sales tax by 50 percent wouldn’t be an easy sell in our tax-averse city.
That’s why Mayor Bach will present Mayor Suthers with a gift at the June 2 inauguration: three sealed envelopes, with instructions for opening each.
The first, to be opened when the difficulty of governing our contentious city has become fully apparent to the newly elected mayor, has a two-word suggestion: “Blame me.”
That should give Suthers a little breathing room, as he reminds voters of everything they didn’t like about Bach, and promises that his term in office will not resemble his predecessor’s.
But if things don’t improve, and especially if a resurgent Douglas Bruce kills the mayor’s “risky tax scheme,” it’ll be time to open the seond envelope.
Three words: “Blame the voters.” Suthers can say, in the most civil way, that the people have spoken, that he only wanted to give them a choice and he’ll do the best he can with available resources.
And if things keep going south? If the word recall is heard echoing over the potholes? If Keith King is reinstated as Council president? Time for the third envelope. It’s as brief, concise and pointed as the first two.
“Prepare three envelopes.”