Hate to be the one to break the news, but we're going to have municipal elections come April. Five City Council seats will be up for grabs, including all four Council districts, as well as the Joanne Colt/Judy Noyes at-large seat. The latter is only a two-year term, since Noyes was appointed to replace Colt, who resigned mid-term.
Incumbents Noyes, Linda Barley and Jim Null are all eligible to run and show every sign of doing so. Councilors Bill Guman and Leon Young are being forced out by term limits, so we'll have at least two new faces on Council come April.
Of the three incumbents, Null is in the best position. The wily ol' professor, veteran of decades of vicious infighting as a faculty Dean at CU-Springs, has been a supple, tenacious and popular Council member. It's unlikely that he'll have a serious opponent; indeed, he may not have any opponent. Look for Jim to use his campaign contributions to fund a hellacious victory party; what else is he gonna use 'em for?
Barley and Noyes, by contrast, are more vulnerable. Noyes, appointed by Council to Colt's seat a year ago, would have no trouble being elected to Null's liberal north/central district; running at large is a little more problematic.
Noyes, a downtown liberal, might well have credible, well-financed opposition. Of course, it's possible that the conservatives won't be able to find a decent candidate to run against her, given that Judy can be expected to run a tough, sophisticated campaign. And don't forget that she has been vitally involved in this community for over 40 years; she has literally thousands of friends and allies to call upon. I'd bet on Judy; there's a lot of steel in that white-haired lady.
Linda Barley has the dubious pleasure of facing a smart, popular, politically savvy, and ambitious challenger: West Side innkeeper and former mayoral candidate Sallie Clark. This race will be a showdown between two competing visions of municipal government, particularly because the voters will also, in all probability, be asked to approve a massive hike in the municipal sales tax in April.
Barley, as an incumbent, will be forced to defend the status quo. She'll point to the not inconsiderable achievements of the past four years; Clark will be able to choose targets of opportunity. She might seek to depict Council as a bunch of hired guns for the development community, perfectly happy to put the burdens of growth on the backs of the taxpayers. Or maybe she'll talk about them as out-of-touch elitists, ignorantly kowtowing to the much-despised city manager.
In any case, expect Sallie to run as a conservative, a populist, a champion of neighborhoods, and an unpretentious, accessible friend of the little guy. The last local politician who ran on that platform was a fellow named Bob Isaac, who some still remember...
But don't expect Barley to roll over and play dead. Once an ardent liberal Democrat (she worked for Tim Wirth way back when), she's now a business-friendly conservative. The oligarchs of the real-estate industry are likely to support her, as are the power brokers in the rest of the business community. She'll support the tax increase as the product of a multiyear, citizen-driven process, and the best and only way to deal with the pressing problems of the day. If Sallie opposes the new tax, Linda will challenge her to spell out precisely how she'd deal with traffic congestion, infrastructure decay and drainage.
This particular election may well determine the city's direction for the next several years. Barley's fate may well be linked to the tax increase; if it goes down, expect a Clark victory. And now things get really interesting...
If Clark wins, and if anti-tax, anti-incumbent sentiment decides another race or two (for example, if Clark's ally, candidate Margaret Radford prevails in District 2, which is Leon Young's old seat), Council's tone and direction could change overnight. A new majority would be calling the shots, a gang of five that might put it to developers (everybody's favorite scapegoat!), keep taxes down, and maybe even fire City Manager Jim Mullen. In other words, Colorado Springs would be back to normal.
Personally, I'd be sorry to see the end of King Jim, Queen Mary Lou, and the court (Eight Lords a-leaping? Eight maids a-milking? Whatever ...). It's been fun, having a bunch of crypto-liberals down at City Hall, but all good things come to an end.
Just ask Al Gore.
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