City Councilors shocked many people — maybe even themselves — when they appointed Sean Paige to join their nine-member inner circle.
After all, the Libertarian, former Gazette editorial page editor professes an ideology that's the near-antithesis of that reigning in the city, which favors using tax dollars for everything from police to buses to economic development.
Why did city leaders choose Paige, of all people? Did they really think they could change him? Could they? And who is Paige, really, beyond what he writes?
Had city officials done a little more investigating, they might have been surprised.
Paige is a man of contradictions. Despite being über-politically aware since childhood, there is no evidence other than his own claims, that Paige, now 50, has ever voted. In fact, after having lived here seven years, he registered to vote in Colorado for the first time on Sept. 28 — three days after he submitted his application to be on City Council. Smart, well-read and highly regarded for his witty writing, Paige hated school growing up, took a decade to complete a bachelor's degree, and hopped from job to job most of his life, often spending just a few months in a position. Honest to a fault, Paige nevertheless has a sloppy résumé, full of errors and inconsistencies.
But the charming Paige is consistent about one thing: his philosophy. And at least some of his friends believe his appointment could catalyze a surge in local Libertarian activism. Is that more than Council bargained for?
Father knows best
Paige grew up the second of three children in Birmingham, Mich., a mostly white, well-to-do Detroit suburb. His mom, a school librarian, inspired his love of books; his dad, a workers' compensation claims investigator, instilled his skepticism of government. The household buzzed with debate about the Vietnam War, women's lib, the peace movement and rock 'n roll, with his dad consuming every newspaper in the metro area and gluing himself to TV newscasts.
"You don't mess with Dad when he's watching the evening news," Paige's older sister, Leslie, says.
Edward Paige, a firm disciplinarian, didn't have time for foolishness such as taking his son fishing or playing catch. He did like to hike, but sometimes carelessly failed to plan ahead. He once led his family on a mountain trek in Spain only to arrive at the peak at sundown. They had to stumble back down in the dark.
"These things always ended up being an adventure," Leslie says. "He was what you would call a character."
Although she describes their mom as spiritual, she says you'd never catch their dad in a church pew: "He didn't love the establishment church," she says. Nor did he join clubs or do volunteer work, a pattern largely copied by his son as an adult.
In high school, Paige groped his way along, trying soccer and chorus as an underclassman but not leaving a mark. "He was a middling student," his sister says. "I always thought he was the smartest of all three of us, the most original thinker, but he didn't love school, and school didn't love him so much. It wasn't a setting he loved."
After graduating from Seaholm High School in 1977, Paige went to work in a setting he loved even less — an auto factory, which his sister says cemented his aspiration to do "something more."
He attended Oakland (Mich.) Community College for a time and then transferred to Arizona State University, drawn by mountains, valleys, deserts, and a friend who already attended there.
Inspired by a fondness for literature and history, he earned a bachelor's degree in English on May 15, 1987, the ASU registrar's office says. But Paige gets his dates confused. In various résumés, Paige claims he attended Arizona State from 1979 to 1988 and also earned a political science degree there. He also claims on a LinkedIn page that he attended Michigan State University from 1982 to 1987. The ASU registrar's office found no evidence of a political science degree, and an online degree and attendance verification service showed he didn't attend MSU.
He can't explain why a former employer reported he had a political science degree, saying he might have told officials there he had "an emphasis" in political science while at ASU.
Paige says he never attended MSU, and never claimed he did. "I've never used LinkedIn," he says. "I don't even know how it works. I remember signing up for it once. This was years ago, just to see how it works."
He says he "meandered academically," studying philosophy and geology, as well as political science and English. It took him 10 years to get a bachelor's degree, he says, because he worked his way through college: building cars, erecting billboards, waiting tables and unloading steel in Houston, among other jobs.
"I've worked hard," he says. "I've struggled along the way."
After school, Paige headed for Washington, D.C.; his current Web site boasts that he lived "in the belly of the beast," serving "stints at the White House and on Capitol Hill." His sister says Paige wanted to make a difference in a city his dad was both awed by and disgusted with, but advised his son was recession-proof.
During those 14 years, Paige skipped from job to job, like thousands of others who make their living off the federal government one way or another. Reacting to questions about inconsistencies in various résumés, Paige raises his voice and becomes agitated. He blames the flaws on the fact he prepared his council résumé "hastily."
"I can't account for every date discrepancy," he says. "I had a number of jobs. This was 20 years ago."
Paige's first stop was an internship with the National Journalism Center, whose former interns include right-wing pundit Ann Coulter. He claims on his Council résumé that he was there from 1987 to 1988; the center's records indicate he had a subsidized housing contract at the center from February through April 1988, but his enrollment couldn't be confirmed.
Paige wrote in his Council application that he served as deputy press secretary from 1988 to 1989 for U.S. Rep. Robert Lagomarsino, R-Calif., though he misspelled Lagomarsino's name on his résumé. Lagomarsino, a moderate who supported conservation and championed clean air and water, doesn't remember Paige, but his former press secretary, John Doherty, says Paige was there for about a year and was a good writer well-versed in political history. Doherty couldn't remember much else except that Paige wore cowboy boots to work.
Paige's Council résumé says he served in 1989 as "personal aide" to John H. Sununu, President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff, in the Office of Presidential Transition. Sununu's current spokesman couldn't confirm Paige's service in an office that operated only two months until the new president was inaugurated Jan. 20, 1989.
After that, Paige signed on as associate editor of the White House's Daily Presidential News Summary from 1989 to 1990. (He later told the Gazette he did that job in 1989 only.) It's an important-sounding title, but Chris Pembelton, an archivist at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, says it "is not a high position. In the White House, you can be an 'associate' of just about anything. Basically, he was a go-do-this guy, and those guys don't get mentioned" in archived documents. Pembelton's search of various databases found no references to Paige.
But it was a step toward getting noticed, and in 1991, Paige took a media analyst and writer job at the nonprofit Media Research Center, started in 1987 by conservatives to document the media's liberal bias and how it "undermines traditional American values." The center's Web site cites testimonials from Rush Limbaugh, among others. Executive director Dave Martin refuses to discuss Paige's job title and work performance; the Human Resources Department says Paige worked there, but won't say when.
Paige's résumé says he spent 1993 and 1994 as spokesman and press secretary for Alan Keyes for U.S. Senate. Problem is, Keyes wasn't running for Congress at that time, having lost his bids in 1988 and 1992. (Paige told the Gazette he worked for Keyes in 1992.)
His next job was as spokesman and communications director with Citizens Against Government Waste, which publishes the annual Congressional Pig Book on porkbarrel spending. It was like a reunion — sister Leslie works there as media director. Paige's Council résumé says he was there from 1994 to 1997, although Paige told the Gazette he stayed for nearly five years.
In 1997, Paige moved on to the Washington Times' Insight on the News magazine, a Sunday supplement that no longer exists, where he wrote about such things as the economics of sports stadiums and the idea that government-imposed preservation measures contributed to shark attacks along the East Coast. Times deputy managing editor Geoff Etnyre says he doesn't remember Paige.
"Insight magazine wasn't something we paid a whole lot of attention to," Etnyre says. Asked whether it was an investigative journal, he says, "It tried to be."
Paige returned to the nonprofit world in 2000 by beating out about a dozen applicants for a fellowship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He researched and wrote more anti-government articles before heading to Colorado Springs in 2002.
"You start to realize real people live outside [Washington]," Leslie Paige says. "And he wanted to get out there and view it among real people again. People make things for a living. They don't just sit in an office in front of a computer and talk to people on the phone."
The editorial page editor post would become Paige's longest stand since his college years. He spent five years at the Gazette, spewing Libertarian thought and criticizing government, such as calling for an overhaul of the Endangered Species Act and praising Dick Cheney's fossil-fuel-heavy energy policy.
Paige settled into the Springs. In 2003, he married Pamela Dyrhaug, who has two children and now works in a local bank, and in 2004 they bought a home in the Old Broadmoor Road area. But five years of writing editorials, sometimes two a day, was long enough. In 2007, Paige hooked up with local millionaire and conservative thinker Joseph Woodford, who helped him land a gig as an independent contractor with the Limited Government Forum and Local Liberty Action, the latter of which includes his blog, Page by Paige. Woodford, who funds several local conservative organizations, is the major donor for both groups.
Prone to criticizing local media as much as government, Paige organizes speaking gigs for visiting Libertarian and conservative thinkers and blogs on local, state and national issues, for which he says he earns roughly $70,000 a year.
"He views himself as loyal opposition," sister Leslie says. "He loves America but wants to be the person who puts out the different point of view. It's typical of my dad, my mother, the whole family. This contrarian thing. It runs in the family."
Your new Councilman
Jerry Heimlicher's first reaction is outrage. How could they have done this? Are they masochistic? And what about the voters — what about what they wanted? Finally, his voice calms and his breathing slows to a long sigh.
"I guess there's a full moon," he says flatly.
It's the evening of Oct. 7, about two hours after City Council chose Paige to fill the resigned Heimlicher's District 3 seat. And yet, the Indy's phone call is the first Heimlicher's heard of the pick; none of his former colleagues have bothered to call and tell him.
Few expected Paige to be chosen to replace the moderate and newly re-elected Heimlicher, who resigned Sept. 30 and is moving back to his hometown of Memphis, Tenn. Especially since District 3 is the most economically and politically diverse in the city.
More than 20 people applied to fill the vacant seat, among them political favorites like Janet Suthers and Philip Lane, as well as Dave Gardner, who opposed Heimlicher in April and received 43 percent of the vote. So when Council eventually picked Paige on a 6-2 final vote, there were a lot of questions.
"He's the opposite of everything I stood for," Heimlicher says of Paige. "The voters voted in April for a certain person and a certain type of person, and now they're getting the opposite."
While Heimlicher cites the U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal as one of his proudest achievements, Paige sees it as an unwarranted use of taxpayer money that should have been put to a vote. While Heimlicher has supported proposed tax increases that have gone to voters, Paige has been adamantly opposed.
Rarely supportive of the city's elected officials, Paige has used whatever platform available to him to lambast City Council and ridicule its decisions. His unflattering assessments continued from the Gazette editorial page to locallibertyonline.org, where he has been particularly blunt.
Here's what he had to say about Heimlicher on Sept. 13, after the two had a dispute: "Jerry and I have had many differences during the years he's been on council. He fits my definition of a 'country club collectivist' to a tee."
Paige goes on ...
"Although the council he served on has largely been a disaster — on everything from the stormwater tax to the USOC debacle, from the 1-A defeat to the kid glove treatment given an ethically-challenged mayor — I was half-way sad to see Jerry heading back to Tennessee, not just because he's [a] likable person who brought passion to council, but because he's such an easy punching bag. Now I'm half-way delighted to see him go."
In turn, some Councilors were known to make snarky comments about Paige, even from the dais, and even when there was no immediate reason to do so. And yet, some of those same Councilors, along with their past colleagues, supported Paige.
Margaret Radford, shortly before her final term ended in April, commented: "Let's see you make something happen, [conservative activists] Danny Cole or Sean Paige. Neither of them have real jobs. They just live off nonprofits they've made up."
And yet, Radford showed up when Paige was sworn in. Greeting him warmly, and watching him take the dais with a glow in her cheeks, she said she supported Paige and that appointing him was the right thing to do.
In the days following Paige's selection, the six Councilors who voted for him bubbled with quotes about how Paige would bring fresh ideas and about how his appointment involved "thinking outside the box."
So, what, exactly, did Paige do to transform himself? Actually, it appears Paige didn't change, but Council's approach to him did. More than one Councilor hopes that on their side of the fence, Paige will see things their way, and then he could be an asset to them. With Paige as a mouthpiece, Council could secure the far right's trust and confidence.
Asked if voting for Paige was an effort to co-opt him, Councilor Randy Purvis is straightforward.
"Yes. I think fundamentally, Sean Paige is a reasonable person," Purvis says. "He's not one who is so adamant in the principles that it's, 'I don't care about the consequences.' Once he gets in and sees what's going on, maybe there will be some eye-opening there."
Councilor Scott Hente has a similar response: "I think Mr. Paige is going to look at things a little differently. If all of a sudden he sees things from a different perspective and he goes into the community and says, 'I see things a little different now,' I think that could be a huge benefit to the community."
Fact is, even Paige is hip to this line of thinking — and may think it's funny. On Sept. 10, Paige used his blog to announce his then-faux candidacy for the seat, and he had this to say:
"My critics have for years accused me of being a backseat driver; of lobbing grenades at city officials and local politicos from the relative safety of the bleacher seats. It's easy being a critic, members of City Council would tell me; just try putting yourself in our shoes for a change. If you're so smart, wade in and give it a try."
Not everyone was on board with the idea. Mayor Lionel Rivera and Councilor Jan Martin voted against Paige. Perhaps Rivera's vote was influenced by Paige's nonstop editorial assault on him before, during and after the ethics investigation into the mayor's role in the U.S. Olympic Committee's economic development deal.
Martin has less of a past with Paige, though he has come out against her brainchild, ballot measure 2C, which would raise property taxes in an effort to preserve some city services.
"Sean Paige, he's really a Doug Bruce clone," she says, referring to the anti-tax activist and author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which Council maintains has strangled the city financially. "The difference is he's younger, he's better-looking and he's more articulate. All of which make him more dangerous."
Especially disturbing to Martin is that Paige wasn't even registered to vote until recently.
Yes, while Paige has made a career of telling people how to view their government and how to vote, he's sat out that dance himself. He admits he's an infrequent participant at the polls, claiming to have voted once in Michigan and once in Arizona, the latter to cast a ballot for Ronald Reagan. He didn't register here until he applied for the Council seat.
"For 20 years, I've been voting for my ideas with my job," he explains. "I've voted with my life." Later in our interview, he admits it was "probably an oversight" that he failed to register here, but quickly adds, "I thought I was fully engaged with my work."
He recently registered, he says, because "now I'm a political person of sorts."
That he hadn't done so before stuns some who voted for Paige.
"Get ... out ... of ... town," Hente says.
Purvis is also taken aback: "I think I was operating with the assumption he was a registered voter. I'm certainly disappointed, but I would have to hear from Mr. Paige as to why he wasn't. Those of us who have been active in the political process take it for granted. It's a baseline. So it's surprising that he wasn't."
Here until 2011
Given Paige's reputation for being a fiscal hard-liner, Oct. 22 brings a surprise. That night, concerned citizens jam City Hall to give their two cents to Council regarding nasty-looking budget cuts. Councilor Tom Gallagher has managed to rile both city employees and tax-hating citizens with calls for across-the-board pay cuts.
Paige starts the night looking much like his new colleagues. He chomps gum, scratches his chin and gives an occasional, slightly uncomfortable glance toward the audience, mostly ticked-off cops and firefighters.
But as the night wears on, Paige's face softens and reddens, then stiffens into a frown. He leans forward on his desk, and even looks sympathetic.
A wheelchair-bound older woman is barely intelligible. But she seems to be talking to Paige. She's saying she lives on a budget, that she needs the bus. Paige looks miserable.
Is this the face of a flip-flopper? Were Purvis and Hente right?
Paige is familiar with people like this woman. In his tongue-in-cheek Sept. 10 faux-candidacy blog, Paige wrote: "Where Jerry was sensitive and patient and thoughtful, I'll be insensitive, impatient and reactionary, when necessary. Where Jerry was open to the pleadings of transit users and others who rely on 'essential city services,' I'll be able to say 'sorry' and urge more self-reliance. Where Jerry is prone to saying 'yes,' I'll say 'no.' Where Jerry was 'good cop,' I'll be 'bad cop.' Where Jerry preferred a scalpel, I'll wield a battle ax."
In reality, watching the tears of the transit-reliant — proud people with disabilities who want to hold down jobs, folks with families to feed — Paige keeps his mouth shut.
Afterward, Paige is back in character.
"It's not a question of heart," he says. "Everyone has heart. I have heart. But you also need to use reason and rational thought, and think [budget cuts] through."
If history is any guide, Paige won't change. From the time he was a youngster, throughout his college years and his work life, Paige hasn't amended his worldview. Even if he wanted to, it wouldn't seem very practical.
Paige, after all, is paid by someone clear in his philosophy. Joe Woodford took Paige under his wing because the two share a belief system. If Paige were to change his philosophy, he may lose Woodford's financial support.
"I might say, 'Jeez, Sean, I'm not interested in funding things that are pulling in the wrong direction,'" Woodford says.
(That may not be Paige's biggest problem. Woodford says he's weaning Paige's groups off his money, and expects them to soon be 80 to 90 percent funded by other sources. That may create new problems for Paige, who will be seeking large donations for his political groups even as he's holding office. Paige, by the way, says he plans to be diligent in recusing himself from Council business that concerns one of his donors.)
Hente and Purvis, however, don't seem scared by the prospect that they might have made a bad bet. Either way, they think it was a safe bet.
"No. 1: He's only one of nine votes," Hente says. "No. 2: Remember he's only in that seat for a year and a half. And if I'm right and he turns out to bring some good ideas to Council, and Council in turn brings some good ideas to him, and he meshes well, and he works well for that district, than the voters, in a year and a half, will tell us we made the right decision. If we made the wrong decision, the voters will tell us that, too."
Paige can't get very far by himself, and he acknowledges he won't accomplish much by playing the "lone wolf." But it seems there are three ways Paige could triumph.
• He doesn't stand alone. Staunch conservative Darryl Glenn is likely to vote with Paige often, as might Gallagher.
"With Sean, we're going to start discussing some things that we haven't in the past," Gallagher comments.
Paige then would need to win only two more hearts for a majority. Asked if Paige's appointment represented an ideological shift on Council, Gallagher says, "I see the potential."
• Paige could be a deal-maker, compromising with other Councilors to push through his biggest plans.
• Paige could wait for the tide to change. Rivera might running for county commissioner next year, and Glenn months ago declared his candidacy for a different commissioner seat. Gallagher is rumored to be mulling a run for State House District 18 in 2010, with Rep. Michael Merrifield term-limited. In 2011, Gallagher and Purvis will leave Council due to term limits.
If Paige survives the 2011 election himself — or if he even runs; he says he hasn't decided yet — he could have many new colleagues.
"A lot of the rest of us are hoping that people will take Sean's appointment as a sign that it's time for them to get involved, too," says Daniel Cole, Paige's friend and a Republican activist now attending Columbia Law School in New York, adding, "Maybe Sean's arrival will herald the advent of renewed interest in local government drawing people from sectors that have been disaffected."
Some have hinted they'll help out with the financials for a Paige mayoral campaign.
One crisis at a time
Paige has been meeting with constituents. Talking to his colleagues and city staff. Even taking a five-hour tour of District 3 with Heimlicher. (Heimlicher says he was pleased Paige called him, especially since, in the departing Councilman's opinion, Paige knows nothing about the district he now represents.)
Paige will need to study up on the budget, which he calls "a foot-thick bundle of paper" (though actually, it's only a few inches). He'll need to sit through many more meetings like his first one, which lasted six hours — a point Paige made sure to include on his blog. He'll have to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities and the huge Southern Delivery System that's supposed to keep our faucets running in the future.
Admittedly, it's a lot to take in.
And by December, Paige must be ready, based on the information he's gathered, to take part in decisions that will impact the community for decades to come. Should we lay off police and firefighters and let our parks die? Should we close community centers and shut down buses?
"I'm kind of feeling my way," Paige says. "But I'm not a slash-and-burn person."
The self-described "accidental politician" says he wants to look for ways to protect the vulnerable where it's practical during the trimming process. But he also says he expects his biggest impact will be in 2010, after this budget is behind us, when he proposes looking for a "third way" to solve problems. Instead of, say, choosing between keeping the senior center open or closing it, he advocates finding a partner to help run it.
"In the next year," he says, "we have to do some major re-engineering of the city, or we're just going to be back where we are right now."
In his own words
In his Page by Paige blog, the political ideology of self-described "small-L libertarian" Sean Paige is crystal clear. The following are excerpts from 2009:
"I oppose Jan Martin's tax proposal because it is excessive, permanent, ill-timed, anti-business and lacking in specific uses." — Sept. 30
"I won't adopt the consensus-at-all-costs attitude so pervasive on this council. Tom Gallagher and Darryl Glenn may have more company when they break ranks." — Sept. 20
"I know most of the people who will be covering me, some better than others. But does that mean they'll cut me any slack? Far from it. They may even go harder on me." — Oct. 13
"The city should begin seriously studying the monetizing of assets, and consider getting out of the energy, parking and hospital businesses." — Oct. 7
Economic Development Corp.:
"I propose phasing-out general fund and enterprise support for the Economic Development Corporation, believing that it should be a private, self-supporting entity." — Oct. 7
"City officials insist that they had no ulterior motives in secretly changing the petitioning-at-storefronts policy, despite allegations by Douglas Bruce that this was designed to stymie him and thwart the democratic process. But this city has a history on engaging in vindictive, obstructionist actions aimed directly at its perceived nemesis." — Sept. 28
Conservative writer Michelle Malkin:
"I'm sure I speak for many in the city when I say we're delighted that Jesse and Michelle Malkin found a sanctuary from left-wing lunacy (and lunatics) here." — Sept. 26
"But the loss of Hoiles family ownership and control may radically alter or silence an editorial voice that's not only unique in American journalism, but that's more relevant than ever, given the national debate Barack Obama has created about the proper parameters of government, and the backlash this has sparked against the collectivist course he's set for the nation." — Sept. 1
Mayor Lionel Rivera:
"Mayor Rivera has been cleared in the USOC conflict of interest case. Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. But the exoneration would have meant more if the ethics commission had done a more credible job." — Aug. 12
"I simply don't believe it can't scrounge up the money it takes to run these fountains this summer. I think it isn't willing to find the money because insiders are angry about having to operate under budget constraints (like many of the rest of us do right now) and want to teach the people of Colorado Springs a lesson by cutting off the water. They want us to feel their pain, by inflicting a little pain on us, where they know it will be noticed." — April 14— email@example.com
Polling Mr. Paige
If you looked at this story and asked yourself, "Who the hell is Sean Paige?" you're probably not alone.
According to a poll of 400 active city voters, commissioned by the Indy and conducted two weeks ago by Luce Research, 46.2 percent weren't aware anyone had been appointed to fill Jerry Heimlicher's City Council seat. Of the 51.7 percent that did know, only 18.6 percent knew Paige was the appointee. Another 12.8 percent thought someone else had been appointed.
When all 400 were informed that Paige, a former Gazette editorial page editor, was the pick, 27.7 percent approved, 16.9 percent disapproved, and a full 52.3 percent weren't sure what to think.
The poll, which was conducted during the week of Oct. 13-18, has a 4.9 percent margin of error. It employed sophisticated techniques to mirror the demographics — in terms of age and gender — of the city.— firstname.lastname@example.org