It’s always fun when political campaigns become shrill, petty and vicious. That’s what seems to be going on as third-party attacks are leveled at Jill Gaebler and Richard Skorman, allowing their opponents in Districts 3 and 5 (Chuck Fowler and Lynette Crow-Iverson) to avoid rolling in the muck.
But don’t be distracted. The Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Housing & Building Association and Colorado Springs Forward don’t much care about retail marijuana or pickleball. It’s just politics — nothing personal!
Good “strategery,” as George W. might have said, but to what end? Why are the big dogs funding the favored five? What’s going on here?
Let’s go back a few years, and revisit the successful creation and sale of the so-called strong mayor initiative.
Dismayed by the visible dysfunction of city government during the first decade of the century, business interests turned to the deep-pocketed Jenkins family to provide nearly $1 million in campaign funds to change the form of government. Fed-up voters happily endorsed the change, which replaced the council/manager form of government with a strong mayor.
Backers hoped that the change would lead to a decisive, smoothly functioning administration, with council serving as an amen chorus, endorsing the mayor’s initiatives and taking care of routine land use decisions. In 2011, the big dogs got behind Steve Bach, assuming that he could bring order and achievement to chaos.
The next four years took dysfunction to epic levels, as Councilors Keith King, Don Knight, Joel Miller, Helen Collins, Tim Leigh, Andy Pico, Brandi Williams, Jan Martin, Angela Dougan, Val Snider and Lisa Czelatdko fought among themselves and Mayor Bach fought with all of them.
Stormwater? Parks? Potholes? No action — although Bach was a tower of strength and resolution when fires and floods ravaged the community.
Everything changed in 2015. A new council, led by veterans Merv Bennett, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico and including newcomers Larry Bagley, Tom Strand and Bill Murray, worked smoothly with newly elected Mayor John Suthers to solve problems, not create them. Things went well — but now elections are upon us again.
For the big dogs, there’s one issue: continued growth and prosperity for the Pikes Peak region. Ask battle-weary warriors like Fred Veitch, Ralph Braden, Jim Johnson and Steve Bartolin, who have seen the city’s economy oscillate between feeble booms and catastrophic busts during the past three decades — they don’t want to screw up this boom. They want a revised Banning-Lewis Ranch annexation agreement, a fully funded Olympic Museum, state funding for the Interstate 25 bottleneck between Monument and Castle Rock and strong support for other initiatives.
Everything else is secondary. Suppose the next council somehow derails the gravy train. Suppose Knight, Collins and Gaebler are re-elected and Skorman takes District 3. They’d join incumbent Murray and create an uncontrollable citizen-oriented council majority.
The anointed candidates — Greg Basham, Chuck Fowler, Crow-Iverson, Pico and Deborah Hendrix — are predictably pro-business, pro-development and pro-economic growth. Does that mean that Knight, Collins, Gaebler and Skorman are anti-business and anti-growth? Nope — it simply means that they’re too independent.
The strong mayor initiative had a fatal flaw. Because of the city’s “single subject” ordinance, the initiative could only deal with the mayor’s powers and responsibilities — not council’s. Hence, council retained control of Colorado Springs Utilities.
A compliant council majority might agree to cede control of CSU to an independent board of “experts” appointed by the mayor. That’d theoretically insulate the municipal utility from politics, while making it less responsive to those pesky civic activists. Yet that’s probably too much to expect, since it goes against the DNA of any elected official to give up power.
Meanwhile, the campaign goes on. On Monday, Gaebler called out The Gazette’s editorial board after a “hit job” targeting her, and supporters of Richard Skorman erupted in fury over two negative Gazette pieces.
Will this carefully coordinated campaign on behalf of the favored five be successful? Or will the city’s quirkily independent voters refuse to listen to their masters’ voices? Will council be feisty, interesting, argumentative and nevertheless functional, or will it be bland, predictable, agreeable and boring?
De gustibus, non est disputandum — but for me, there’s no such thing as too much Sriracha!