Pam Zubeck, Colorado Springs Independent
Mayor John Suthers takes his oath of office from Municipal Judge HayDen Kane II with his wife, Janet, at his side.

It was a spirited and amiable crowd that assembled on April 16 to hear John Suthers, Bill Murray, Tom Strand and Wayne Williams take the oath of office on the south steps of the Pioneers Museum. About 500 people were there to enjoy the show, which included prayers, music, three brief speeches and an optimistic address by our once and future mayor. Murray gave a speech so memorable and appropriate that I will share it in its entirety. He came to the microphone, smiled and said “Thanks!”

Congrats, Bill — you proved that there’s no such thing as a bad short speech.

All the action was at the post-event reception in the museum, where movers and shakers past and present held forth. It was both a decades-spanning class reunion and a celebration of our extraordinary municipal democracy.

I chatted with Lynn and Lionel Rivera.

“[Former Independent editor] Ralph Routon actually wrote something nice about me,” Rivera said. “He gave me credit for  the measure that changed council from five at-large seats and four districts to six districts and three at-large. He pointed out that if there had been another at-large representative, Gordon Klingenschmitt would have been elected. But the reason that I suggested it was that Southeast Colorado Springs had no representation, since candidates for that district usually didn’t even bother to campaign there.”

The Southeast now has a passionate and effective advocate in Yolanda Avila, who was also at the event, as were her colleagues Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico, Don Knight and Merv Bennett.

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As he exited the building, term-limited Bennett was notably cheerful.

“The moment that Wayne [Williams] finished the oath of office, I had one thought — free at last!” Bennett said as he fled down the stairs into the oblivion that awaits former city councilors.

At a pre-event media availability, once and future Mayor Suthers was clearly looking forward to his next (and last) term.

“We have lots of projects to finish,” he said. “We want to finish the [Pikes Peak] Summit House, and we need to finish work on our arterials and start work on residential streets.”

To do so, Springs residents must vote to extend the 2015 0.62 percent road improvement sales tax that took effect in January 2016 for another five years. Suthers also noted that recent polling indicates an extension at a slightly lower percentage would have 60 percent support.

This marked the eighth time Suthers has taken the oath of office, having served as District Attorney, U.S. Attorney, Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and Mayor of Colorado Springs. It’s fair to say that he has been outstandingly successful in each position, especially the latter.

What he wants for the future is simple enough. He promises to concentrate on economic development and infrastructure, and help make Colorado Springs not only worthy of its scenery, but a “great American city.”

So what’s a great city — and by extension, what’s a great state? My friend and fellow Colorado native, Robert, who lived in Boulder for decades before retiring in Colorado Springs, thinks he knows.

“Colorado in 1958 or so,” he said. “The roads were great and uncrowded, taxes were low, people were courteous and considerate and the state’s population was around 1.5 million.”

I know what he means. Like him, I mourn the vanished small towns of our youth. Today’s booming economy is a lot better than the late unlamented Great Recession, but not everyone buys into the shining new city at the base of Pikes Peak.

“Have you driven I-25 at 2 p.m. on a weekday afternoon?” asked longtime parks/open space advocate and power player Lee Milner at the reception. “It’s completely jammed stop-and-go traffic all through the city — you should write about it!”

Long commutes, traffic jams, crumbling infrastructure and disgruntled citizens may not make a city great, but every American “great city” has all four — think L.A., New York, Chicago and San Francisco. They may be unavoidable byproducts of busy, vital, exciting and challenging cities. And while we old folks may whine and complain, the future belongs to others — so John, Wayne, Bill and Tom, just break out the furniture polish and buff up the shining city!

Sadly, Milner won’t be here to enjoy the dazzle. He’s moving to Bellingham, a Washington city of 87,000.

As for me, I’ll stay here and join the Colorado Springs Troglodytes Club…

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