In this April's election, there are nine mayoral candidates, 16 people running for five at-large City Council seats, and four hopefuls for the District 2 Council seat. So the race for Council District 3, currently held by Sean Paige, is refreshingly simple.
Just two candidates want to represent an area that includes Old Colorado City, downtown, the Broadmoor and the Old North End, while stretching east to Academy Boulevard. And Mike Merrifield and Lisa Czelatdko are easy to tell apart.
Czelatdko, 40, is a wife and mother of four youngsters, a political newbie, a Republican and a self-described fiscal conservative. Merrifield, 64, is a former state representative with more than a decade of political experience, a retiree, a Democrat, and a well-known defender of open space and parks.
Accordingly, the two face opposite problems.
On the financial end, Merrifield clearly has the upper hand. While he has more than $6,800 ($4,800 left over from his previous campaign), Czelatdko has only brought in around $2,000 and has lent her campaign another $1,500. Czelatdko was outraged to discover 13 large campaign signs cost $1,000, and exhausted by hours of going door-to-door on her own. Merrifield long ago ironed out the wrinkles of campaigning.
But on the perception side, Czelatdko scores some points, bringing what many will see as a fresh perspective into an anti-incumbent climate. Merrifield can tout an understanding of government, after serving as Manitou Springs City Councilor in the '90s and eight years in the state House, but he also endured a loss to Peggy Littleton in an El Paso County commissioner race last November.
A well-known name
Over the last decade, Merrifield proved himself capable of getting things done in government, whether that required him to forge partnerships across the Capitol aisle or to talk tough on Democratic ideals. He's worked to fill potholes, argue against school vouchers and make identity theft a felony. He fought to reduce the price of prescription drugs and to change state law helping the city purchase the treasured Section 16 open space.
Merrifield talks now about his vision of what he wants the Springs to become. That involves pumping more city money into promoting tourism and the arts, and encouraging more events like festivals, and bike and foot races. Merrifield sees tourism and arts industries as the road to stable job growth based on a specific geographic location.
"Colorado Springs needs to push to be a fun place again," he says.
In turn, he wants to move away from the sprawling growth that the city's relied on economically; he'd reward inner-city development. Merrifield — who likes to brag that he's never been endorsed by the Housing and Building Association — would rather see part of troubled Banning Lewis Ranch become open space. And he wants Council to look again at the Southern Delivery System water project.
"I really want to hear from all sides of it as to whether we need [SDS]," Merrifield says.
A fresh face
If you overlay the map of Merrifield's long-held House District 18 with one for Council District 3, they almost line up. Which sort of makes you wonder why Czelatdko would run.
For one thing, her conservative views actually do give her a slight upper hand in this district, which is more moderate than others but still Republican-heavy. For another, Czelatdko, who comes across as intelligent and informed, simply feels confident about her credentials.
She briefly intended to run for this seat in 2009 before dropping out to learn more from then-incumbent Jerry Heimlicher. Since then, Czelatdko has been a whirlwind, joining a plethora of government and community boards and commissions, sitting in Council and Utilities meetings, and getting to know the who's-who.
"Imagine trying to call up some of these big community leaders, and say, 'By the way, I don't own a business, I'm not wealthy, I'm a stay-at-home mother, and I'm not actually in an elected position. But I want to talk to you about what we can do for this community,'" she says with a laugh. "That's been tough."
Czelatdko has clearly made headway. While Merrifield boasts many endorsements, Czelatdko has the support of county commissioners Darryl Glenn, Dennis Hisey and Peggy Littleton, as well as Commissioner Sallie Clark and Heimlicher, both of whom have held the District 3 seat.
By the way, Czelatdko doesn't share Merrifield's vision. She wants to help homegrown businesses, without focusing on any particular sectors. She thinks the city's fiscal health depends on growth, and isn't keen on limiting it. She believes SDS is needed, and doesn't believe parks and open space are "a necessary or important topic right now for my district."
Merrifield and Czelatdko do agree on one thing: Neither will commit to never asking for a tax increase. Both say taxes are sometimes beneficial, and voters should have a chance to decide.
Czelatdko thinks the main distinction between her and Merrifield is focus. While Merrifield's dealt with state needs and a commissioner race, Czelatdko's been locked in on city issues. She's even read the 174-page report on the future of Memorial Health System.
"Merrifield says what's good for the city is good for District 3," Czelatdko says. "Well, no. If you think that, then run for [an] at-large [Council seat]."