The April city election got more interesting Monday, with Joel Miller's announcement that he'll give up his City Council seat and run for mayor.
Miller, elected in 2013, joins three other current or former elected officials vying for the city's top job. And all of them agree that a new leader is needed to end the bickering between Mayor Steve Bach and Council, which one candidate says is so bad that it's paralyzed economic development.
Miller's last day as a councilor was Monday. Council has 30 days to appoint an interim successor. The District 2 seat, representing the city's northernmost sector, will be added to the April 7 city election ballot, along with three at-large Council seats up for grabs.
Miller says the other mayoral candidates — El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, former mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and Attorney General John Suthers — represent "the same old path" of city government. Yet all see themselves as being able to rescue the four-year-old mayor-council form of government by working more productively with Council.
And that's important politically, says Josh Dunn, associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "The biggest issue in this campaign," he says, "will be repairing the relationship between the mayor's office and City Council."
Bach hasn't revealed whether he'll run for re-election, saying through a spokesperson he'll make an announcement within a few weeks. Meantime, he's being criticized as being the problem with city government.
Miller says Bach's refusal to follow "rule of law," by ignoring Council's veto override that would have divided city government into 12 budget departments instead of five, is his motivation to run.
Miller and other councilors have complained about Council's lack of reliable legal advice from an attorney who works for the mayor, and that Council has been all but omitted from planning the City for Champions tourism venture, which includes a downtown stadium that Miller opposes.
While Miller insists that "having the right person in [the mayor's] office" will remove the discord, Dunn says Miller's past criticism of the mayor might work against him.
"Anyone who's participated in that relationship over the past few years might be tainted by it," Dunn says.
But Miller says there's nothing wrong with disagreement between the mayor and Council as long as both respect the other's role and apply the law appropriately. "My concern is without significant change, our City Council and citizens will drown in this government model," he says.
Miller has called for Council to refer a measure to the April ballot that would require voter approval of city funding for a downtown stadium, a duplicate of a 2005 measure that did the same for a convention center.
But if he's elected mayor, he said Monday, a vote wouldn't be needed, because he would try to remove the stadium from the city's deal with the state Economic Development Commission for state sales tax money.
Still, Miller insists he won't be a one-issue candidate and will emphasize the need to deal with basic infrastructure problems the city faces.
Makepeace, who has 18 years' experience on Council including six as mayor, held a campaign announcement event Nov. 12 where she vowed to innovate and inspire the community. She'll lead, she said, through working closely with Council while welcoming everyone to "have a voice." She's the only candidate thus far who's pledged to sign a gay pride proclamation.
"We're talking about citizens, people who work here, pay taxes here, make great contributions to our community," the former Gay and Lesbian Fund executive says in an interview. "It's ridiculous that it's still divisive. If you believe that all people are created equal, you treat them fairly."
Makepeace also says that, if elected, she'll order a review of "suspect" city attorney legal opinions issued during Bach's tenure that favor his powers over those of Council.
On Nov. 17, Lathen, in the midst of her second commission term, held a campaign rally at a manufacturing plant. There she said she would eliminate the city's business personal property tax, which generates $1.9 million annually, and remove other regulatory barriers for businesses.
In an interview, Lathen says she can bring harmony while also running the city like a business because of her ties with other governments through her involvement in the stormwater proposal, which failed in the Nov. 4 election.
"Those relationships are in place today," Lathen says. "My entire campaign is about a cultural change."
Though Suthers has raised some $50,000 in campaign funds, more than anyone else, the former two-term district attorney and state Department of Corrections executive won't officially announce until he leaves office in January.
Here's how he identifies the race's key issue via email: "Colorado Springs doesn't presently have the political environment that's conducive to community and economic development." He adds that the dysfunction between Bach and Council "is clearly undermining the city's efforts to promote business expansion and new business development."
To change that, Suthers says, he would use his knowledge, experience and executive skills, along with his "relationships here and across the country" to build consensus.
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