Mary Lou Makepeace, the underdog in the Colorado Springs mayoral runoff, will have to call all hands on deck to get out the vote and inspire voters with a vision for the community if she wants to pull a May 19 upset over front-runner John Suthers, political consultants say.
"It's a difficult race for her," says Patrick Davis, a Colorado Springs-based consultant who's run congressional campaigns across the country. "It's the same machine Richard Skorman faced four years ago."
In 2011 Skorman outpolled conservative Steve Bach by about three points in a crowded city election field, then got drubbed in the runoff. This time around, Suthers, the former state attorney general who's seen as more conservative, captured 47.4 percent of the general-election vote to Makepeace's 23.5 percent.
But Davis says Makepeace could prevail, "if she can energize voters."
Mayor under the council-city manager form of government from 1997 to 2003, Makepeace says in the next five weeks she'll detail ways she would rev up the city in terms of economic development, improvement of infrastructure, recreational amenities and sense of community.
"Instead of 'Woe is me,' I want to celebrate how good we're doing," she says. "I want everyone to benefit in the community, not just a narrow group." That's an oblique reference to Suthers' campaign coffers having been filled by developers, attorneys, politicians, business people and the other usual suspects who have influenced elections and steered the city for years.
Suthers' challenge is to ensure that the 41,000 voters who backed him on April 7 return to the polls in May, while picking up some of the 24,000 voters who chose former City Councilor Joel Miller and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen.
He says he plans to campaign through radio and TV, much like he did in the general election. He's raised nearly four times the money as Makepeace — $340,000 to $88,000 — and enters the runoff with $93,000 to Makepeace's $6,300.
Davis says Makepeace needs to spend from $50,000 to $100,000 on her runoff campaign, but adds that money isn't everything. He says both candidates solidified their name recognition during the general election, "so there's not much more to be gained by name-recognition advertising."
Makepeace, he says, needs to use voter lists to get out new voters, as well as her old faithful. "She has to take a page from the Barack Obama playbook and harvest votes," he says. "She should find the voters who will vote for her, talk to them, remind them to return those ballots. Have parties where they bring their ballots and fill them out. It's coalition politics."
Davis says he did that when running the campaign of Glenn Urquhart, who "came out of nowhere" to oust establishment Republican Michele Rollins in a Delaware congressional primary in 2010. Though Urquhart later lost to a Democrat in the general, Davis called his primary win one of "mechanics."
"We identified the voters we wanted to turn out and we had an army of volunteers knocking on their doors, calling them on the phone and getting them out to vote."
At the same time, he says, Makepeace has to energize voters by contrasting why she's the right person for the job, he says.
One big difference between the candidates is Makepeace's support of a gay pride proclamation. She's the only mayor in the city's history to have signed one.
Former executive for the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, Makepeace told the Independent last November that "it's ridiculous" the issue remains divisive. Last week, she expanded on that, saying, "First of all, I believe in equality and it's the right thing to do, but I also know it is bad for our economy when we have this ongoing debate over a gay pride proclamation. This is a big deterrent to companies thinking about coming to Colorado Springs. It's just one step that we need to take to show we are a community where people are welcome."
Suthers, who leans heavily to the right on social issues, didn't respond when asked about a proclamation last fall. When asked again last week, he referred to his response to a Citizens Project candidate questionnaire that asked about proclamations, including for Pride. In that response, he failed to commit, saying he would "discuss the pros and cons and legal issues of proclamation policies" with the city attorney before deciding which ones to sign.
It's anyone's guess how much political sway the gay and lesbian community holds, but Kevin Walker, an unpaid political consultant for the Makepeace campaign, predicts the LGBT vote really "won't make a difference, because that's already been factored into the polling." More important, Walker notes, is for the candidates to have a more robust discussion about a vision for the future. They should lay out their ideas in detail, not just speak in platitudes.
So far, discussion on ideas and issues has been fairly vague. On his website and in speeches, Suthers has said government should focus on essential local services; that infrastructure funding must be a top priority; that he'll create jobs by helping businesses expand and draw new ones; and that he'll maintain the military presence as well as tourism. On parks, he's said the city should keep working with partners and volunteers. He didn't return two phone calls or an email asking for a more detailed agenda.
Makepeace has tossed out a few ideas, but plans to go deeper in a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, April 20, at Penrose Library. She says her goals will include working with Colorado Springs Utilities to add a new special customer class for city government, with a discounted water rate for public property; creating partnerships with universities and other local entities to find innovative solutions to city problems; and creating high-speed Internet capability citywide, either through a public-private partnership or with Utilities.
Referring to the last proposal, she says, "It's almost to the point it isn't a lure, it's a basic necessity. If you don't have it, you're behind." How would she pay for all that?
"If you say we can only do what we currently have the resources for, you're not going to move forward. You'll stay stuck," she says. "You set the vision for what you want and then you figure out how to raise the resources. We can be a community of plenty."