When Richard Skorman decided to run for public office, he got some image advice: Cut the tail.
Off it went, and in 1999, the passionate advocate for gays, lesbians, the environment and the little guy was elected by voters across Colorado Springs to help set policy in one of the most conservative cities in America.
On Monday, a year and a month short of serving two terms, the owner of Poor Richard's downtown complex of businesses resigned, effective immediately.
Unlike Republican stalwarts Joanne Colt and Charles Wingate, the last two Council members to leave office early, Skorman isn't departing amid scandal. Last week, after spending an hour together at Skorman's newly opened Rico's Caf and Wine Bar, he and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar sealed the deal and toasted Skorman's new job as the senator's regional director in Colorado Springs.
How Skorman got there is fairly simple. Salazar has eight regional offices throughout the state; the Colorado Springs office, which serves El Paso, Teller and Park counties, is currently leaderless. Skorman was approached and asked if he could recommend someone for the job; the proverbial light bulb flashed on. But since the Senate Ethics Committee will not allow the councilman to keep his elected office while working for Salazar, Skorman had to make the tough choice to step down early.
"Ken was very excited; he likes having ex-elected officials in these positions," Skorman says. The senator's director in the southwest part of the state, for example, is the former mayor of Durango; the San Luis Valley-based director is a former county commissioner.
Much of the new job involves outreach to constituents on just about anything involving the federal government,from Social Security to immigration to the forest service to veterans' issues. In the bigger picture, Skorman also gets to be Salazar's local font of knowledge on major issues, ranging from the Southern Delivery System to the conditions of Iraq veterans returning to Fort Carson.
As for Skorman's City Council position, the remaining eight members will select someone to fill out his term. Over the past three years, as the makeup of Council has taken a hard right, Skorman has found himself on the losing side of numerous votes. He hopes that his former colleagues will pick someone who shares his views and his fervor about environmental and social issues. Community activists Ann Oatman-Gardner, Dan Cleveland and Jan Doran come to mind.
As an elected official, Skorman has taken his share of hits. By far the meanest thing anyone has directed his way came from Fred Phelps, the Topeka, Kan.-based activist of "God Hates Fags" fame.
Last year, Phelps' clan came to Colorado Springs several times to protest what they perceived to be gay-friendly actions occurring here. One of the visits occurred immediately after Skorman and his employees were devastated by the deaths of his restaurant managers, Jeanne Kerechanin and her partner Pamela Hartman, who were killed in a car crash.
"[Phelps] said that I "support homofascist tyranny and fag sin, and that I mock God, and I'm a whoremonger,'" Skorman says.
Hateful bile, spewed at a compassionate man, a city leader.
But Skorman is getting final satisfaction. On Monday, the day before his last day in elected office, the city got word that the Colorado Supreme Court tossed out Douglas Bruce's efforts to invalidate the extension of the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) tax. In 2003, Colorado Springs voters overwhelmingly (68 to 32 percent)approved a measure to continue funding to preserve Colorado Springs' open spaces through 2025. Skorman, who played a key role in getting TOPS passed, notes that now, 24 parks that had been put on indefinite hold can be built.
On Monday, the day before his resignation, Skorman planned to attend the funeral of slain officer Jared Jensen, and then to head to Pueblo to meet new members of the City Council there the same types of things that he will be doing in his new role as the senator's local eyes and ears.
He doubts he'll go back to the ponytail days.
"You know, I don't have enough hair to do it," he says. "But maybe I'll let my mustache go wild."
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