A sparse crowd of reporters gathered around City Clerk Sarah Johnson in the lobby of the city administration building Tuesday night, waiting for her to announce the first results of the city election. It seemed nobody expected the news that followed.
Reading slowly from a sheet of paper, Johnson repeated the results of each race twice, then moved deliberately on to the next.
“These are the unofficial preliminary results,” she said, “with 94.83 percent of ballots counted. District 1: Don Knight 9,334, Greg Basham, 4,581.”
Most observers had expected Knight to win, but few had anticipated a 2-1 margin.
Next up, the unopposed David Geislinger in District 2 with 100 percent of the vote.
Then on to District 3, where Richard Skorman defeated Chuck Fowler. Yolanda Avila would topple incumbent Helen Collins and challenger Deborah Hendrix to prevail in District 4. Incumbent Jill Gaebler defeated Lynette Crow-Iverson in District 5 by a 2-1 margin, and incumbent Andy Pico easily won in District 6, garnering 52 percent of the vote against three challengers, including former state legislator Janak Joshi.
All three referred issues handily passed, including Issue 2, which allocates $12 million in Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refund revenues to city stormwater projects during the next two years — $6 million from 2016, and the same amount in 2017. That was the top priority for Mayor John Suthers, who pushed hard for Issue 2 at the expense of keeping other questions off the ballot.
The other ballot issues will now require a 60 percent voter approval for the sale of all or any substantial part of Colorado Springs Utilities, and also allow the city to facilitate, partner in or provide broadband internet, cable or telecommunications services.
But the big news was the council races. So what triggered the ideological swing? Different observers had different theories.
“Voters in District 3 voiced their displeasure with The Broadmoor land swap by electing Richard Skorman,” offered former Republican County Commissioner Jim Bensberg.
“I think it was Trump,” said District 3 resident Robert Shonkwiler, who has served on both the Colorado Springs Planning Commission and the Urban Renewal Authority. “The Dems and Independents were energized and engaged, and the Repubs figured they won in November, so they didn’t care.”
Other observers cited voter displeasure over obscure “dark money” donations, dirty campaigns and accusations of concerted efforts by segments of the business community to control city government.
The outcomes clearly disappointed Colorado Springs Forward, the community organization that backed a slate of candidates wanting to make city government more business-friendly and change Utilities governance. Only Pico prevailed, while the others lost to Knight, Skorman, Avila and Gaebler.
Will settled council policies change?
“We might talk about Drake [Power Plant], and infill and public safety,” said City Councilor Bill Murray. “A lot of things might change. I’m looking forward to it — can’t wait.”
Murray didn’t mention Banning Lewis Ranch development, but the controversy may already have begun.
“It’s time to protect our fragile older neighborhoods that have paid taxes for 130 years and stop subsidizing development going north to Castle Rock and east to western Kansas,” Shonkwiler said.
A few steps from the administration building, in the Gold Room of the Mining Exchange Hotel, a happy crowd of supporters gathered to congratulate Skorman and Avila.
“We won by a grassroots effort,” Skorman said. “[The opposition] spent $275,000 to beat me and Jill … and Yolanda only spent $20,000.”
“I’ve worked 10 to 14 hours a day for months,” said Avila. “I feel that I really know the people in the district -— I’m so grateful. We were a lean machine — we did it together.”
“I have been overwhelmed by the amazing support of the community,” Gaebler said, a few hours before the polls closed.
“From the more than 350 financial supporters to the huge team of volunteers that has walked neighborhoods and made thousands of phone calls. Our community wants a representative that listens and responds to them, and I feel honored to that so many people trust me to be that representative.”
Murray, an at-large councilor who wasn’t up for re-election, said he was happy with the results.
“Jill and I will have to get together with Yolanda, Richard and David [Geislinger] before [April 18],” he said, half-jokingly. “The three of them aren’t on council, so the meeting would be totally legal.”