Judging from the number of people who attended Tuesday’s city council candidate information session at the City Administration Building, all six district council seats will be strongly contested.
Not counting city employees and members of the media, there were about 50 attendees, none of whom left during the two- hour presentation. Information-dense candidate packets specifically tailored for each district were available for pickup, including full city and district maps. Twenty-one packets were picked up – five for District 1, three for District 2, two for District 3, four for District 4, three for District 5 and four for District 6.
Those attending included incumbents Don Knight (District 1), Andy Pico (District 6) and Helen Collins (District 4). District 3 incumbent Keith King has announced that he won’t run for re-election, and District 2 incumbent Larry Bagley hasn’t yet announced his plans.
There were no signup sheets, and some candidates skipped the information session. Incumbent District 5 Councilor Jill Gaebler was absent, but she has already formally announced and has been raising money for several weeks.
“We have over $9,000 now,” she said. “We reported $4,886 on December 1, and we’ll be reporting another $4,500 today.”
Gaebler’s December campaign finance report included a $1,000 contribution from prominent businessman Chuck Murphy, as well as contributions from former City Councilor Jan Martin and former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg.
Conspire! CEO Lynette Crow-Iverson plans to oppose Gaebler. Crow-Iverson is active in Colorado Springs, including a stint on the board of directors for Colorado Springs Forward and is a member of the steering committee for Plan COS, the city’s comprehensive plan.
“I’ve got my petitions, and I’m off to get 150 signatures,” she said, flanked by seasoned campaign consultants Sarah Jack and Karole Campbell.
To qualify for the ballot, candidates must be 25 or older, have lived in Colorado Springs for at least year, be residents of the district that they seek to represent and be registered electors of the city of Colorado Springs.
Next step: Collect 150 signatures of registered voters resident in your district on a nomination petition. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
“Most people don’t know what district they live in,” said City Clerk Sarah Johnson, “so their signatures may not count. You can verify their addresses on the spot, but it’s best to collect more than you need. You can start circulating petitions today (January 3) and you have to turn them in by the 23rd.”
Like it or not, money is the mother’s milk of politics. In 2013, Keith King raised more than $70,000 for his successful campaign for the District 3 seat, fending off a strong field that included at-large incumbent Brandy Williams, former City Councilor Tom Gallagher and former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg. By contrast, District 4 winner Helen Collins was a model of frugality, spending a little more than $9,000 to prevail over three opponents.
City elections are, as Johnson told the crowd, a unique feature of home-rule cities in Colorado. While disclosure rules are strict, there are no contribution limits, and candidates can accept corporate, as well as individual, donations. Elections are nonpartisan — candidates must swear under oath that they “have not become a candidate as the nominee or representative of, or because of, any promised support from any political party, committee, convention or organization representing or acting for any political party.”
Absent the strictures of either contribution limits or party affiliation, contribution reporting is particularly important.
“Candidates, candidate committees, issue committees and political committees must file disclosure statements,” according to the city’s campaign finance website. “There are no limits on the amount of contributions to a candidate or committee. However, all contribution sources for candidates, candidate committees, political committees and issue committees are required to periodically disclose contributions and expenditures.
“The threshold that triggers the requirement to file is very low. Once a candidate or a committee has expenditures or receipts of $20 dollars or more during the election cycle, reporting is required for all reporting periods. Later reporting periods may not have any expenditures or receipts, but reporting is still required. Contributions and expenditures of $20 or greater must be itemized. Specific information about each contributor must be reported. Loans must also be reported.”
“If you you’re not sure whether a contribution must be reported, then report it,” advised Johnson. “There’s no penalty for over reporting!”
The 2013 results suggest that successful candidates need to raise at least $10,000 to prevail, and much more if they face credible, well-funded opponents. This problem is magnified by the brief time available before the April 4 election and the even briefer period before ballots are mailed between March 10 and March 20. City voters and potential donors may be suffering from election fatigue, thanks to Nov. 8.
Will this depress turnout and handicap fundraising? We’ll see. Meanwhile, the game has already begun. Yolanda Avila, who ran for an at-large seat in 2015 will oppose incumbent Helen Collins for the District 4 seat, as will newcomer Michael Perez. Marijuana club owner Jaymen Johnson is the only declared candidate for the District 3 seat, while American Tire Exchange general manager Christopher Houtchens will oppose Andy Pico in District 6. In District 1, former Colorado Springs Independent employee Tony Gioia will oppose incumbent Don Knight.
As the croupier says in Monte Carlo, “Messieurs et mesdames, faites vos jeux!” Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets!
And so begins our biennial ritual of civic governance.