One thing can be safely predicted about Colorado Springs election next month: It'll be nothing like last time.
Two years ago, a motley assortment of 27 candidates slugged it out for seven open seats on City Council and the top spot as mayor. The streets were awash in political signs and the candidate pool was littered with a diverse range of positions. Combustible issues such as the city's policy extending insurance benefits to same-sex partners of city employees had contenders spitting fire.
By contrast, this year only three candidates stepped forward to challenge four council incumbents up for re-election. In fact, two current officeholders -- Darryl Glenn and Jerry Heimlicher -- face no opposition. Even the assortment of issues items up for a vote on the April 5 ballot has failed to stir up much controversy.
"There's a real danger this will set a record for low turnout," said Bob Loevy, a professor of political science at Colorado College who has monitored city politics since 1968.
Playing it safe
Loevy predicts that on election day, "People are going to troop out and vote in the incumbents."
Maybe that's good news for four conservative incumbents, including Glenn (who represents District 2 in the northeast quadrant of the city); Heimlicher (District 3, southwest); Scott Hente (who represents District 1, the city's northwest quadrant) and Margaret Radford (District 4, southeast). However, Leovy noted it might not be good for healthy political debate.
"This City Council has been circumspect in what it's done and hasn't gotten into the kind of issues that would cause widespread controversy," he said.
For example, after the current nine-member City Council was sworn in 2003, a majority of them followed through with their campaign vows to repeal the same-sex partner benefits program. And although two lesbian couples have sued the city over the matter this year, the council hasn't backed down on the issue. With relatively popular incumbents playing it safe on this and other "lightning rod" issues, including the oversight of Memorial Hospital and Colorado Springs Utilities, Loevy said, a lackluster election is understandable.
An ugly precedent
That doesn't mean that every incumbent will escape without a scratch. In District 1, candidate Al Brody, a 46-year-old former Air Force officer and bicycle-rights activist who is challenging Hente for his seat, says that playing it safe can set an ugly precedent.
Brody points to the recent protest at Palmer High School by members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, who picketed the school with signs with slogans such as "God hates fags" after learning a group of students at the school wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club. Brody applauded Councilman Richard Skorman for speaking out at a counter-demonstration, but criticized Mayor Lionel Rivera for playing it safe by not making a similar speech.
"Here was a golden opportunity for Mayor Rivera to say we won't tolerate hatred in our community," Brody said. He added that the mayor has made similar mistakes in the past by refusing to sign proclamations recognizing gay and atheist groups.
Brody says the current council has overly bowed to pressure from the local homebuilders association and from Colorado Springs Utilities, resulting in unaccountable growth and runaway utilities rates. He calls the public's acceptance of political spinelessness "negligence."
"The fact that we have only two districts with a challenger," he said, "is a sad state of affairs."
The two contenders for Radford's District 4 seat, Tony Carpenter, 45, and write-in candidate Richard Caruth, 49, concur that important issues aren't being tackled. Carpenter, a fired city employee who ran for mayor in 2003 and hosts a Web site stocked with allegations against city officials, is running on a platform of cutting out government waste. "The city staff does pretty much what it wants," he said.
Caruth says he's running because he feels District 4, which has seen a decline in some property values, is increasingly turning into a "ghetto" under current council leadership.
And then there are the six issues that will appear on the ballot. They are:
A hotel-industry backed amendment that would prevent City Council from planning, funding or building a convention center without further voter approval.
Giving the mayor and members of City Council a raise, from $6,250 to $12,000 annually for most council members and from $6,250 to $18,000 for the mayor.
A plan that would require the city-owned enterprises Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Hospital to help fund city government.
Allowing the city to keep $1.9 million in TABOR refund money in order to repair and refill Prospect Lake.
A requirement that Council must issue a five-year capital improvement plan as well as annual reports on an overall strategic plan.
Allowing the ballot titles of tax or debt increase questions to exceed 30 words.
Loevy says that all of these ballot issues have the likelihood of passing, except for perhaps the council salary raise. He noted that voters only approved council salaries for the first time in the mid-1990s, having rejected payment several times previously.
Not surprisingly, some members of Council support the idea. "It's really turned into a full-time job," Skorman said. "Especially for new council members."
But if Loevy's predictions prove accurate, there won't be any new council members to burn the midnight oil.
-- Dan Wilcock
Grip and Grin
Learn more about the people who want to represent you on the Colorado Springs City Council by visiting their web sites.
Scott Hente www.henteforcouncil.com
Al Brody www.electalbrody.com
Darryl Glenn www.darrylglennforcitycouncil.com
Jerry Heimlicher www.jerryheimlicher.com
Margaret Radford www.radford4council.com
Tony Carpenter www.dabullt2.addr.com
Richard Caruth (none)