Things went swimmingly at first during the annual State of the City event last week, as 700 local luminaries gathered at the Broadmoor to gossip, network and at least pretend to listen to Mayor Steve Bach's speech. The food was surprisingly good, the company excellent, and it was interesting to analyze the pecking order of the local power structure.
"Table placement is absolutely it," said one veteran nonprofit employee. "Your distance from the front measures precisely your perceived importance."
The Business Journal and the Independent shared a table in the fifth row, somewhere between insignificant and unknown. That's fine. Credible media need to be at a certain distance from the powerful, and an avowedly political event such as this should not be where we take off our reporter hats.
But as Bach neared the end of his soporific address, it was clear that he wanted us to take off those hats and throw them away for good.
He called upon everyone to support the plans for a downtown baseball stadium, an Olympic museum, a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and an Air Force Academy visitor center — "after you've gotten all the facts."
Then he unleashed a tirade at unnamed "naysayers, critics and cynics," who had unaccountably refused to get on the bus.
"You talkin' to me?" It was a Travis Bickle moment. Bach was targeting us, the fractious media folks who have questioned the secretive Regional Tourism Act process, analyzed the proposal's flaws, and are committed to getting the facts — inconvenient as they may be.
In case we had any doubt, Bob Cope removed them. As part of a comment on the Indy's website, Cope, Bach's economic consigliore, wrote: "We are grateful for all of the community partners who are supporting this transformational project and game-changing economic development effort. We would welcome the Independent to join the team and help build a great city."
Reading that post, you could say that Cope drank the Kool-Aid.
That wouldn't be accurate. Cope mixed the Kool-Aid.
A few months ago, some were concerned that I was too friendly with Mayor Bach to report on him objectively. They had a point — it was difficult to be "tough but fair" while working with Hizzoner on projects such as a proposed new Pikes Peak Summit House.
The problem solved itself. We managed to so infuriate Bach that both the Indy and the Business Journal were declared persona non grata. Our calls to the administration go unanswered, our requests for information are all but ignored, and no officials on Bach's staff will speak freely to us.
Meanwhile, the Gazette enjoys preferential access to Bach's World, apparently in exchange for uncritical coverage. The once-feisty editorial page has become the mayor's amen chorus, while the news section features sycophantic headlines such as, "Leaders back Bach's call to action." (That story quoted a handful of admiring attendees at the State of the City speech.)
Look, the Indy and Business Journal will be fine; we're perfectly capable of getting the facts without cooperation of government employees, elected or appointed. But Bach, Cope and the nebulously defined RTA organizing committee may be making a major strategic error, assuming voters get the final say they've been promised regarding whether the city may borrow money for this grandiose scheme.
Look at the city's history. Residents who support publicly financed civic improvement projects are part of the "40 percent" — the people who may have voted for Richard Skorman (against Bach for mayor) and President Barack Obama, who value community-based initiatives, and have been working to build a better city for generations. And guess what newspapers they read?
The real naysayers are your core supporters, Mayor Bach. They're part of the local Republican majority, conditioned to be intensely skeptical of incurring debt. Maybe you should have included some in the original planning.
That ship having sailed, you might be wise today to show Democrats, Independents, west-siders and folks outside the power structure a little respect. Include them, don't just force-feed them the city's line. You might have to make some big changes in the projects to gain their support, but so what? By failing to do so, you may throw away your chance for a voting majority.
Top-down works when you're Vladimir Putin. It doesn't often work in Colorado Springs.
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