"I love this city and I believe in it. And I will work hard every day to be the best mayor we've ever had."
Red, white and blue balloons dropped from the ceiling of Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center, and the stereo pumped U2's "Beautiful Day" as hundreds of supporters rose to their feet cheering. Steve Bach and his extended family walked off the stage, waving. Bach's young granddaughter, clad in a pink tutu, scooped up a balloon and lumbered off stage with it.
It was finally over. Bach had won the runoff election to be Colorado Springs' first strong mayor, defeating Richard Skorman 57 percent to 43 percent, with nearly 99,000 voters (64 percent of mail-ballot recipients) taking part.
As compared to his April 5 celebration after making the runoff, Tuesday's party felt better planned, balloons and sound system included. Last time, perhaps, his success was a surprise. Bach would have you believe it was this time, too.
"I honestly had thought this would be close," he insisted.
But it's hard to think Bach's decisive win was much of a shocker. Most polls had shown him safely ahead, and it was difficult to deny his momentum.
Right moves, wrong turns
Voters will generally tell you that they look at "the issues," but many probably spend more time looking at the ads. Bach's ads painted Skorman as a tax-raising, union-supporting, "big government liberal."
That message echoed ads funded by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, which were the first to label Skorman, a registered Independent and fiscal conservative, as a liberal.
Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy says the L-word helped Bach win.
"The word has been so effectively demonized," he says, "that those who think of themselves as liberals are trying to find a new way to label themselves."
Skorman said Tuesday that he believed as much as $200,000 was spent in this election solely for negative ads against him.
"I was being painted with broad brushes, and we just didn't know how to overcome that," he said. "There were lots of forces at work against us."
Of course, Skorman tried his own labeling tactic in his most widely seen ad, which called Bach a developer. (Bach, a commercial real estate broker, worked as a developer years ago.) One of Skorman's ads stated, "We shouldn't give developers the keys to city hall, because they've had too much influence for too long."
Interestingly, a Luce Research poll found voters opposed having a developer or real-estate broker as mayor, favoring a small businessman by large margins. But that favoritism disappeared when those same people were asked whom they would vote for, with most saying Bach.
If Bach's labeling worked, why not Skorman's? Loevy says in a down economy, with building at a standstill, most aren't concerned with out-of-control growth, and developers aren't considered the enemy.
"I think Skorman's campaign was badly mistimed to be themed around ... anti-development," Loevy says. "...People are not angry about growth; people wish there were more of it."
He also notes that Bach convincingly labeled himself as the Republican in a supposedly nonpartisan race: "I think Bach has skillfully used the word 'conservative' as a code word for 'Republican.'"
Rather than worry about how he got here, Bach is concentrating on where he'll go now.
He'll be sworn in on June 7, and has to hire new department heads and a chief of staff, and may put in place a transition team. He says he hasn't pinpointed whom he'll hire yet, but plans to decide within the next few weeks.
Bach also must produce a strategic plan, laying out his vision for the city's future, in a few months. While he hasn't begun that yet, he says it's high on his priority list.
He plans to meet with business leaders, and both former City Councilor Tom Gallagher and outgoing Mayor Lionel Rivera, among others, said Tuesday that they see Bach's business acumen as his most important strength.
"I think Steve has the contacts we're going to need to start our economic engines," said Gallagher, who, along with fellow failed candidates Brian Bahr and Buddy Gilmore, endorsed Bach for the runoff.
Another immediate goal will be laying the framework for how the mayor will work with City Council. Bach appears ready to deal with this point, having already set up meetings with city leaders like Rivera and Council President Scott Hente.
Councilman Bernie Herpin, a Bach supporter, didn't want the strong-mayor government — "You can fire a city manager a lot easier than you can get rid of a mayor," Herpin says — but said on election night that he's confident Bach will work with Council.
What about Councilors who backed Skorman? Asked if he was worried that Bach would harbor animosity, Hente said, "I hope not ... if we're at each other's throats right off the bat, we're never going to get anything done."
But Hente added that he feels confident Bach is committed to a solid working relationship.
"I think there's a willingness — let's try to get off to the right foot," Hente said. "And I'll try to encourage that every chance I get."
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