Just when Mayor Steve Bach appeared to be more and more comfortable, heading into his second year on the job, the Waldo Canyon Fire struck.
So much for finding a comfort zone.
Now the mayor, and all our local governments, face a changing set of circumstances in the months ahead. Our economy has taken a hit, and the aftershocks will continue. Our tourism industry has watched a promising summer turn into a summer to be salvaged. Our city and county likely will endure more gut-punches, in the form of reduced revenue from property and sales taxes.
All of that puts a new layer of pressure on Bach. On one hand, he has to come across as the No. 1 optimist, sending positive messages about business and tourism. Yet at the same time, he must be the realist, picking the right spots to take stands that are less aggressive.
We'll be watching to see how he handles three issues in particular.
• Memorial Health System: The stage is set for a special mail-ballot election, concluding Aug. 28, in which city voters will accept or reject the proposed 40-year lease agreement with University of Colorado Health to take over Memorial. Given that Bach's hand-picked city attorney, Chris Melcher, helped negotiate the deal, it's obvious the mayor will encourage a "yes" vote.
He might not have to go beyond a public endorsement, but Bach could help even more by hinting to voters how the city's proposed new foundation might use the Memorial windfall.
• Martin Drake Power Plant: Until the fire, there were more and more signals that the mayor would push for shutting down Drake instead of investing fully in Neumann coal-scrubbing technology, and staying with a cleaner-coal strategy for years to come at the downtown plant.
But decommissioning Drake would come with a large monetary cost, which might not be feasible or advisable amid post-fire instability, and with a massive effort still to come to clean up the area and make it viable for revitalization.
Clearly, before the fire, momentum was building to demolish Drake and push for a new, broad-based, commercial and residential plan southwest of downtown. Does that still make sense? Only if it matters to Bach. He could make it a cornerstone of his mayoral legacy — or he could back off.
• Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority: As much as the Memorial ballot issue appears likely to have Bach's full support, we can't be so sure about the proposal for a second round of PPRTA projects from 2014 to 2024. Whispers have been circulating, especially since the fire, that the mayor might not support the PPRTA measure on the November ballot. But Bach hasn't said anything for the record, either way.
This one could have all kinds of repercussions. As far back as early 2011, when he was running for mayor, Bach publicly said he would give PPRTA II a chance as long as it included another convincing list of much-needed projects. And this second batch, while not quite as sexy as the package approved in 2004 (topped by the Austin Bluffs-Union and Woodmen-Academy interchanges, and Proby Parkway helping connect the airport to Interstate 25), still would address many high-priority needs in every area of the city and county.
It's also true that PPRTA II has been a combined effort of many governmental entities, including the county commission, as well as the business community. All of them are on board, so for Bach to take a stand otherwise now might generate considerable animosity.
Then again, Bach could make a convincing argument that the city has to reassess all its priorities after the fire. He could talk about the need to address stormwater infrastructure before it causes another crisis. He could mention his continuing concern, likely heightened by the fire's unplanned impact, that the city is heading toward insolvency. He could simply suggest putting off PPRTA until 2014.
Or, we could see a different strategy, such as: If everyone supports the Memorial lease and also buys in to shutting down Drake, then PPRTA II might receive the mayoral blessing.
Memorial, Drake, PPRTA: Let's keep an eye on them. And Mayor Bach.