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Handicapping the mayoral race 

City Sage

We have four serious candidates for Colorado Springs' mayor: Amy Lathen, Mary Lou Makepeace, Joel Miller and John Suthers. Who will prevail, bringing inventive and original strategies for solving our city's manifold problems, only to see a sullen City Council majority deride, defang, ignore and destroy them all? Who will don the ermine mantle and wear the golden crown bequeathed to the city by Gen. William Palmer?

That depends on the campaigns. There appear to be paths to victory for each of the four, but they'd better get themselves in gear right now! Time's a-wasting — ballots go out in mid-March, and the election's April 7, just 2½ months away.

Lathen, Makepeace and Suthers will find themselves running me-too campaigns. They'll call for cooperation and collaboration between Council and the mayor, support infrastructure improvements but shy away from specific proposals, pledge to work tirelessly for jobs and prosperity and, pointing to their long experience in the community, bore the voters with boasts of their provincial devotion. Unburdened by military experience, the three will lose no opportunity to proclaim fealty to the troops, and the jobs and money that flow therefrom.

Miller, by contrast, is an outlier whose campaign could catch fire and surpass his better-known rivals. As a 44-year-old retired Air Force major, he doesn't have to suck up to the military; he is the military. He can present himself as a change agent to shake up and reform the plutocratic gerontocracy that has long ruled the city.

Lathen is in many respects a dream candidate. She's young (47), articulate, energetic and a tough, proven leader. She's a conservative Christian and gun-rights supporter who paid her political dues as a Republican volunteer before becoming a county commissioner seven years ago.

Those are formidable assets, but to make the runoff she needs to siphon votes from Suthers and Miller. Lathen's surrogates could accuse Suthers of being squishy on gun rights, and receiving massive campaign gifts from the Denver political mafia (e.g., $10,000 from Larry Mizel of MDC Holdings).

"You want to partner with Denver, John?" they'd ask. "That's like the lamb partnering with the lion."

As the tallest candidate, Lathen needs to use that visual on the campaign trail. She's 5-foot-9, putting her at 6-foot-3 in a pair of Manolos. High heels may be painful, but you've gotta play through the pain.

Makepeace will make the runoff if she can keep the Richard Skorman coalition of liberals, moderates, downtowners and good-government folks together. She has no rival to the left, but Suthers could strip off many moderate/traditional Republican votes.

Her task: re-introducing herself to the voters and projecting an image of energy and competence. She left office 12 years ago, and is now 74. And while she may no longer skip around like a teenager, she's a powerful speaker and a canny leader.

Suthers has the money, experience, gravitas and sparkling résumé. He may believe his establishment cred will sweep him into office on the first ballot, but that seems improbable. He can't sit around and wait for coronation day — he has to get out and campaign.

Perhaps seduced by the money pouring into his campaign coffers, he finally ventured out on the campaign trail last Saturday, hosting a campaign kickoff party at 9:30 in the morning at Ivywild School — guess he's trying for YP/bar/brewery cred. He has three formidable opponents, and he has to be one of the top two in the first round to make it to the runoff. The concern: Suthers may be everyone's second choice.

Miller is clearly the farthest-right candidate, an enviable position in a citywide race. If he can persuade the Bruceites that he's an anti-tax reformer, not just a bomb-thrower with a grudge against Steve Bach, he could pull 25 percent and advance to the runoff. His task: to be articulate, passionate and apparently reasonable. He won't have any trouble with the first two, but the third could be problematic.

So what are the odds? I'm not making book, but here's the first iteration:

Suthers: Makes runoff 2-1, wins runoff 1-2;

Makepeace: Makes runoff 1-2, wins runoff 3-1;

Lathen: Makes runoff 5-2, wins runoff 2-1;

Miller: Makes runoff 3-1, wins runoff 10-1.

Messieurs et mesdames, faites vos jeux!

  • John Suthers may be everyone’s second choice.

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