It is, as Yogi Berra famously remarked, dj vu all over again.
About six years ago, while giving the annual "State of the City" address at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, then-Mayor Bob Isaac lit into a couple of recalcitrant Council members. According to Mayor Bob, they were more interested in their own political futures than in the good of the city, since they had noisily opposed a couple of his recent initiatives.
And while he was speaking, he glowered pointedly at Cheryl Gillaspie and (imagine!) myself. I remember Cheryl's remark after lunch: "Of course he's mad," she said crisply. "He doesn't have any power -- zilch, zip, nada."
It was a special moment. I can only imagine how delighted Charles Wingate, Margaret Radford and Sallie Clark were when Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, in her recent "State of the City" speech (at -- you guessed it -- a Chamber luncheon) characterized them as ambitious, self-serving, anti-communitarian burrs under the saddle of progress (all right, I made up the last part).
It was Mary Lou's way of acknowledging that the torch has passed, and that she no longer leads Council. It was a bitter pill. By all accounts, the mayor sees Confluence Park, and the vast changes in the surrounding area that the Urban Renewal Plan envisioned, as her crowning achievement and her chief legacy.
By turning down the plan, which had literally been years in the making, Council may have brought down the entire rickety structure. Remember that Confluence Park, as conceived by the mayor and her supporters, was an extraordinarily ambitious project.
The scenario called for the City to cough up about $20 million, and to grease the skids for massive private development with subsidized financing (through so-called TIFs, tax increment financing, whereby developers can issue bonds against the tax revenues that their projects will generate). The City would have also agreed to condemn property in the district to facilitate developer assemblages.
So now what? Members of the new majority have clearly stated that they can't support grandiose, government-inspired, urban renewal schemes. That's encouraging; they may have learned from history.
In the last few decades, Colorado Springs has had no fewer than four urban renewal schemes. Two of them were wildly successful; two were unmitigated disasters. In the former -- Old Colorado City and Shooks Run -- the city rebuilt infrastructure and found federal grant money for rehab/renovation loans to existing property owners.
In the latter examples -- downtown in the '70s and south downtown in the '80s -- the city acquired and destroyed scores of perfectly good Victorian buildings, believing that private developers would come in and build a shining new city.
It didn't happen, and the city was left holding the bag. Will the same thing happen in Confluence Park? Maybe, but thanks to the new Council majority, it's unlikely that the City will commit to jump-starting private investment.
And thanks to our feisty newcomers, we'll see more of the passionate debates that signal a healthy municipal democracy.
And speaking of healthy municipalities, it looks as if Denver Mayor Wellington Webb will be the anointed Democrat to run against Republican Wayne Allard for a seat in the U.S. Senate, come 2002.
No wonder. Mayor since 1991, Webb is arguably the best big-city mayor in the country. He's very much in the Bill Clinton/Roy Romer/Bob Kerrey tradition -- a smart, personable, centrist Democrat who can get elected in a Republican state.
Webb's an African American; will that make a difference? No, it won't. For proof, let's look at Councilman Charles Wingate, also African-American, who, campaigning on a shoestring against a well-financed opponent, won election in the most conservative district in the most conservative city in Colorado.
Charles, of course, is very much a conservative Republican, and I imagine that he'll be supporting Wayne Allard -- another proof of the diminished importance of race. We still have a long way to go, if we're to be a society utterly free of racism, but let's rejoice in the progress we've made so far.
And if, in fact. Mary Lou no longer leads Council, who does? To an outsider, it appears that Council's split into two equal blocs: liberal and conservative.
Liberals include Mary Lou, Jim Null, Judy Noyes and Richard Skorman. Conservatives include Vice Mayor Lionel Rivera, Sallie Clark, Margaret Radford and Charles Wingate. Four liberals, four conservatives. That leaves the Maverick Doctor, Ted Eastburn, as the swing vote on important issues.
And who is Doctor Ted's closest confidant, mentor and political godfather? Former Mayor Bob Isaac! Yup, dj vu all over again...
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