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Keep an eye on Jim Mason 

Between the Lines

Just when you think about how hard it's becoming to find fresh faces who can make a difference in Colorado Springs, a new one appears.

Just when you wonder who could develop into a different kind of leader for the city, someone who might fit the need emerges.

Even if he falls just short in his first election.

Let me introduce Jim Mason.

We could refer to him as retired Army Col. Jim Mason, but he wouldn't want to obsess on that. We could also say African-American community activist Jim Mason, but as he's told others, he'd rather not be thought of as any kind of token. Don't pick me because I'm a man of color, he's said. Pick me because I'm the right candidate.

Mason was nearly elected Tuesday to an at-large seat on the Colorado Springs School District 11 board. In a crowded race of eight candidates seeking four spots, including two incumbents and others with built-in constituencies, the 58-year-old Mason finished a very close fifth.

The winners may have looked more relieved Tuesday night, but Mason didn't have to be consoled by anyone. In fact, he couldn't stop grinning.

"It's OK," Mason said during a gathering of candidates at the Coffee Exchange on South Tejon Street. "We got the message out, so I'm happy. Everyone else [in the race] has lived here about 30 years or more. We just came here in 2005, and we still made it close. This isn't a loss to me. I feel like I won."

So refreshing. So promising for the future.

Without doubt, Mason has made an impression on many people and groups during the past few months. Not only did he earn the Independent's endorsement, he also was backed by the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. Nobody else pulled off that trifecta.

Yet, it couldn't push Mason over the top. Janet Tanner and Bob Null, the two incumbents, were more familiar to voters from previous campaigns. Nora Brown had been a D-11 resident, parent and school volunteer going back to the 1980s. Elaine Naleski had spent many years on staff as D-11's spokeswoman.

So it wouldn't be appropriate to suggest that Mason coming up short was a travesty. D-11's board still looks fine (though not diverse enough), even with current president Tom Strand deciding against a final term. Strand's wife is battling cancer (and beating the odds so far), and as he put it Tuesday night, "I have to devote myself to that now."

Strand was among the many pulling for Mason. The current board knows all about Mason, because he has served for years on D-11's accountability committee, and for the past two years has chaired that group's budget subcommittee.

Mason never assumed his military credentials would entitle him to special treatment. He and his wife Yolanda loved Colorado Springs when he was stationed at Fort Carson in the early 1990s and, he says, "we promised ourselves that we'd come back here when I retired from the Army." That's what happened in 2005, as Mason took a position with a defense contractor. Soon he was volunteering with D-11, and now he has a full grasp of D-11's budget, which influenced him to run.

"Let's put it this way," says state Rep. Pete Lee, also on that budget subcommittee. "Jim got into this after I did, but he knows a lot more about it than I do."

In fact, as the first results came in Tuesday, Mason was a late arrival. Instead, he was at D-11 headquarters, presiding over a meeting of that same subcommittee. He didn't even think of rescheduling, "because the budget process goes on the whole year."

And as you might guess, losing this election won't stop Mason from continuing on the same path. He says he's dedicated to helping public education.

"I'm not going anywhere," Mason says. "I'll still be around tomorrow. Maybe next time."

Don't be surprised, though, if the rest of Colorado Springs begins to notice — and other opportunities arise. Perhaps a special task force, maybe something related to addressing minority issues, possibly something else. Who knows, maybe even a different elected office.

In other words, we haven't heard the last of Jim Mason.

routon@csindy.com

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