Colorado Springs voters sent an emphatic message to Mayor John Suthers and city council Tuesday evening: You’re doing fine, just keep up the good work!
Suthers won overwhelmingly with 73.6 percent of the vote. Unlike 2016, when former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace forced a runoff vote, none of his three opponents got more than 11.3 percent. Suthers may also have benefited from having opponents without experience in municipal government, or government at any level.
Incumbent councilors Tom Strand and Bill Murray easily prevailed, as did longtime Colorado Springs elected official Wayne Williams, who crushed the ballot with 45,687 votes, compared with 30,137 for Murray and 29,919 for Strand.
Williams has been active in local politics since Mayor Bob Isaac appointed him to a volunteer advisory board nearly 30 years ago, and has since served two terms on the El Paso County Commission, one as El Paso County Clerk and Recorder and one as secretary of state. Given his record, name recognition, well-funded campaign and apparently universal appeal (he was supported by almost every organization in the candidate-endorsement business, from the Housing & Building Association to the Business Journal’s sister publication, the Colorado Springs Independent), he was expected to win, but perhaps not by such a margin. Some may have been due to his upset loss to Democrat Jena Griswold in the November race for secretary of state, giving Republican voters in the Springs an opportunity for revenge. Williams would like to succeed Suthers as mayor four years hence, and his path seems clear.
As Bill Murray pointed out after the election, the other six members of council have two years to go until the district elections of 2021. Jill Gaebler, Don Knight and Andres Pico will be term limited, while Yolanda Avila, David Geislinger, and Richard Skorman will be eligible to run for a second term. That may lead to some reshuffling on council, with both Williams and Murray eager to dive into council leadership positions.
Name recognition counted in the race, particularly with 11 candidates vying for three seats. Former state legislator and right-wing firebrand Gordon Klingenschmitt finished fourth, with 27,063 votes, while former elementary school principal Terry Martinez was fifth with 25,974 votes. Neither former councilor Val Snider (14,118) nor energetic campaigner Tony Gioia (19,721) was able to break from the pack.
Having garnered multiple endorsements from business groups and local Republican elected officials (present and former), many expected that Gioia would make a stronger showing. That he didn’t, along with the dismal showing of 27-year-old candidate Dennis Spiker (who finished at the bottom with 9,334 votes) suggests that younger voters didn’t turn out.
Voter turnout at 35.36 percent wasn’t bad, considering a largely satisfied electorate, the absence of a compelling race for mayor and the quirky election month (April?!).
A couple of final takeaways: In selecting a council, voters tend to include one (but only one) outspoken maverick. That may be one of the reasons that Murray did so well, although he scarcely campaigned and spent only about $1,000. And although this is a very conservative city, successful candidates need to have support from across the political spectrum. That may be why Klingenschmitt and Martinez fell short, trailing Strand and Murray by several thousand votes.
Final thought: City government will remain competent, thoughtful and business-friendly. Given the legislative turmoil in Washington, D.C., we ought to give ourselves a collective pat on the back — way to go, voters!
Suthers held court at the downtown Gold Room as the results were announced, joined by an amiable throng of supporters that included longtime power broker Wynne Palermo and more recent players such as Rachel Beck and Hannah Parsons.
Beck ran the highly effective (and highly funded) campaign that defeated a measure that would have allowed Springs firefighters collective bargaining without the right to strike.
Since the violent labor/management clashes between miners and mine owners in Cripple Creek in the early 19th century, Colorado Springs has been an anti-union town. Local Republican voters have long opposed public employee unions, remembering the District 11 teachers’ strike in the 1970s, so the measure’s defeat was no surprise to many. Still, the margin of defeat (68.5 percent to 31.5 percent) was unexpected.