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Is it too early to handicap the races for City Council? Not at all.

In fact, with one exception, it's as easy to pick the winners as it was to pick the winner of the final race of the Triple Crown in 1973 (avid horse players may remember that Secretariat, the greatest horse of all time, won the Belmont Stakes by over 20 lengths). Your columnist, living in New York at the time, put a little bet down, and would be more than willing to bet on a few of the Council contests, if he could just find a bookie willing to take the wager.

In the interests of responsible journalism, we won't talk about the easy picks today; let's try to figure out the odds on the tightest races instead.

The Sallie Clark/Linda Barley race is clearly the most interesting, because it features two capable, well-financed and ferociously competitive candidates with very different visions of government.

Barley, an incumbent Council member, has been a key member of the Mullen/Makepeace junta since her election four years ago. She has supported most, if not all, of the initiatives that have come out of City Hall in that period: the Confluence Park bond issue, the SCIP process, and, of course, this election's proposed sales tax increase. Once a card-carrying Democrat, Barley has morphed into a development-friendly conservative Republican who will be endorsed by both the Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association and the local realtors' bloc.

Like the mayor and most Council members, Barley seems to enjoy a special relationship with the real estate/business/El Pomar oligarchs, wherein both politicians and oligarchs get what they need. The politicians get campaign funding, as well as skilled professionals to structure and run their campaigns. Once elected, it's understood that they'll leave the development industry alone and not make noises about substantial impact fees or meaningful anti-sprawl legislation.

In return, the oligarchs will support a limited menu of do-gooder stuff: more funding for parks, downtown beautification and a slightly expanded transit system. Most of all, both parties to this de facto agreement (let's call it the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact) will campaign relentlessly for the sales tax increase.

The politicians want to be able to fund basic services, do some of the frills and give the employees fat raises (remember, the city employees are a powerful and politically savvy voting bloc!). The oligarchs would rather have the costs of growth be funded by general tax revenues, not simply be loaded on to new developments.

Most of all, neither party wants to end the present cozy relationship between a somnolent, permissive Council and a prosperous, lightly regulated development community. Council members get to pretend to be big shots; the oligarchs pretend that they're not big shots and get rich. May sound scummy, but what the hell; it's all part of the vast river of prosperity that the Clinton years brought us.

Like Barley, Clark's a conservative Republican. But while Barley has been a team player on a largely united Council, Clark has forged a reputation as a neighborhood activist, as a spokesperson for the interests of small business, and as an informed critic of city government.

Her clashes with City Manager Jim Mullen have been amply documented; once, in a fit of pique, he even threw her out of a city media briefing. Clark would clearly support changes in Mullen's often dictatorial management style; she might even try to get him fired.

Interestingly, there are several strong candidates in other district races who might, if elected, join Clark in an effort to get rid of Mullen. If elected, Clark, Lionel Rivera and Ted Eastburn would all be likely candidates for mayor two years hence. That'd create some interesting dynamics on the Council dais; Mary Lou Makepeace would be a lame duck, and the Council pretenders-to-her-throne would be jostling for position.

So who's gonna win? Incumbency is usually a powerful weapon; in this case, because re-districting essentially moved Linda into a new district, it may not matter. Sallie has deep roots on the West Side, but Linda has powerful allies in the Southwest and in the business community.

You can bet that they'll both run good campaigns, and you can bet that neither will make any significant missteps. It'll come down to a shoe leather race; the candidate who gets out in the community, walks the precincts and shows the voters that she wants it most will win.

And who will that be? I dunno -- Sallie's support may be broader, but Linda may have the big bucks. There's no Secretariat in this race; think Affirmed vs. Alydar.

Six to five, pick 'em.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

  • Is it too early to handicap the races for City Council? Not at all.

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