A few days after the election, and those of us who became inured to the city’s seemingly endless dysfunction during the last several years are still stunned.
Did Colorado Springs residents really vote for a massive tax increase by a two-to-one margin? Did they so trust Mayor John Suthers that they gave him a great deal of latitude in determining how, when and where the money will be spent? Did every City Council member except Helen Collins back the Mayor’s proposal? Did the proponents rely on a positive, dignified campaign to make their case? Was the Mayor open, accessible and consistent? Did the voters decisively reject the Douglas Bruce/Joel Miller/Americans for Prosperity axis of negativity?
Yep on all six.
If we blamed Steve Bach, Keith King, Miller, Collins, Don Knight and Andy Pico for the dark days of 2013-15, we’ll have to give King, Knight and Pico part of the credit for the turnaround. We also have to credit Council newcomers Larry Bagley, Bill Murray and Tom Strand for bringing fresh perspectives to Council. Add new leadership from Merv Bennett and Jill Gaebler and presto! We suddenly have an effective and united City Council.
But most of the credit belongs to John Suthers, whose many skills were on impressive display.
When he took office, he didn’t go after Steve Bach’s appointees. He made it clear that they’d be judged by their performance, and he stuck to his promise. Instead of being resentful and demoralized, senior city employees were empowered and encouraged. None sniped at him off the record — or tried subtly to undermine him.
He well understood that passing a tax increase of any kind in Colorado Springs required not just the appearance of unity, but real unanimity.
Suthers has run four substantial public enterprises as district attorney, U.S. attorney, Colorado attorney general and director of the Department of Corrections. He knows how to manage such organizations and he knows how to work cooperatively with other elected officials.
He didn’t bully, cajole or scheme. He didn’t communicate through the media, play favorites or get mad.
He well understood that passing a tax increase of any kind in Colorado Springs required not just the appearance of unity among city elected officials, but real unanimity.
It’s tempting to compare him with Bob Isaac, who commanded the respect and affection of our citizens during his long tenure as Mayor.
Yet Isaac couldn’t stop Douglas Bruce from rewriting the City Charter in 1991, because he was unwilling to risk his personal popularity for the long-term benefit of the city. He led when it was easy, and faltered when it was difficult.
Suthers may be sui generis, a Deus ex machina come to save the city from itself. So what’s the next act?
The high drama is done. From now on, it’s all routine administrative detail. Does Suthers really want to spend the next three-and-a-half years immersed in the minutiae of city budgets, overseeing asphalt contractors, refereeing interdepartmental disputes, hiring and firing administrators and maintaining good relations with Council?
That’s boring stuff. Compared to passing 2C and 2D, it’s child’s play. In theory, the mayor could just sit in his office, attend events and let Chief of Staff Jeff Greene do the heavy lifting.
But that’s not his style. He likes challenges, so what’s ahead?
What about the United States Senate? Alone among Colorado Republicans, Suthers would have a good chance of beating incumbent Michael Bennet in 2016, and thereby ensuring continuing GOP control of the Senate. By pushing through 2C, he proved that Republicans can bring effective governance to the home of TABOR and Amendment 2. Democrats have made hay statewide by demonizing Colorado Springs, but those days are over.
Maybe it’s too late to start a bruising, take-no-prisoners Senate campaign, but suppose Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or John Kasich becomes our next president? They’ll need an attorney general, and Suthers has the experience, the intelligence and the gravitas for such a job. Advise the president, argue cases before the Supreme Court, go toe-to-toe with the best and the brightest — now there’s a job worth doing.
But maybe, as the Mayor has often said, he’s content to be back in his hometown, engaged in a satisfying job, getting paid a nice salary and enjoying life. He’s paid his dues and then some.
Maybe there are still other initiatives, other challenges ahead. Issues like increasing the Lodging and Automobile Rental Tax to better promote Pikes Peak tourism, or building a regional collaboration to tackle major issues.
Besides, it’s a short commute from his house in 80906, and he doesn’t have to drive I-25. Looks pretty good, compared to Denver or Washington.