Winding down with Drake and the mayoral race


As I write this column, it’s an unreasonably sunny and beautiful morning in our fair city. The familiar summit of Pikes Peak looms to the west, the morning sun floods our 120-year-old Westside home with light, the dogs doze happily underfoot and all is well.

In that cheerful spirit, let’s consider power plants, the state lottery and the vagaries of local politics.

City council’s apparent decision to shutter the downtown coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant in the next few years is both welcome and long overdue. The city’s inexplicable affection for the ancient facility resulted in a nearly $200 million investment in the Dr. Dave Neumann-conceived pollution control system. That decision, driven by former Utilities CEO Jerry Forte (who once characterized Drake as a “municipal treasure”), was epically foolish and wrongheaded, but so what? The perpetrators have mostly moved on and CSU’s new boss isn’t burdened by the recent past. Happily, council finally seems ready to scrap the old clunker and move from the dark, smoky age of coal into the broad, sunlit uplands of solar power.

And while closing Drake will be costly (unless CSU can find a deep-pocketed buyer for a slightly used pollution control system), it’s an investment in the city. We’re in competition with dozens of peer cities, ranging from Denver and Austin to Fort Collins and Santa Fe.

Cities are and will remain centers of employment, energy, innovation, entrepreneurship, disruption, sustainability and generational change. We’re on a roll now, but we can’t stand still — and it appears we aren’t.

As the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame nears completion, it looks as if the long-deferred redevelopment of southwest downtown is finally underway. The next few years will likely bring the Switchbacks stadium, a couple of new hotels, a reconstructed Vermijo Avenue, an apartment building or two and some locally owned small businesses to serve this burgeoning new neighborhood.

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Moving on, the new political season will start on Jan. 2 when, according to a city press release, “Mayoral and City Council candidates for the 2019 General Municipal Election on April 2, 2019 can begin to circulate nominating petitions. Elected positions on the April ballot will include Mayor and three at-large City Council seats. Each office is a four-year term… The City Clerk will conduct a candidate training session that includes general election information along with guidelines regarding candidate filing and campaign finance law.”

At-large incumbents Tom Strand and Bill Murray are expected to run, but Merv Bennett is term-limited. John Suthers is running for a second term, and it’ll be interesting to see whether any credible opponents emerge to challenge him.

Is there anyone out there who could beat him? Is there a local Martha McSally, Beto O’Rourke or Kyrsten Sinema? A successful candidate would have to be young, charismatic, competent, widely respected and a decorated veteran. I can think of a couple of folks who fit the profile, but none are dumb enough to run. And for candidates handicapped by age, perceived incompetence, unacceptable political views, inability to raise campaign funds or persistent flatulence, there’s a better option.

Why not play the Colorado Lottery? You may not win but your money goes to a good cause. Since 1983, the Lottery has put $3.2 billion into trails, parks, playgrounds and recreation centers as well as open space, wildlife habitat and other natural resources. Ours is the only state lottery that, by voter mandate, invests nearly all proceeds in the great outdoors. Quoting from a recent brag sheet: “The Lottery’s investments have generated cumulative economic, environmental and social returns of $68 billion.”

And if you’re tempted to participate in this voluntary tax scheme, you’ll have plenty of company. According to a 2016 piece in Journalist’s Resource (a publication of the Shorenstein Center of the Harvard Business School) “The tendency to play the lottery in a given year increases for people in their twenties and thirties — the proportion hovers around 70 percent in those age groups. It dips slightly to about two-thirds for people in their forties, fifties and sixties; and then declines to 45 percent for people 70 and older.”

Any mayoral candidate would love to get those votes, and I’ve got just the guy; a Colorado Springs native, a fervent Republican, a former chair of the El Paso County Commission and the present chairman of the Lottery Commission — our very own $68 billion man, Jim Bensberg!

One problem: When I called him he laughed, said no and hung up.