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Pushing our buttons 

Nine at-large candidates seek four City Council seats; two stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd

click to enlarge Mayoral and City Council candidates have been bouncing - between forums and events, often several each day, - throughout the past few weeks.
  • Mayoral and City Council candidates have been bouncing between forums and events, often several each day, throughout the past few weeks.

What a difference four years can make.

The 2003 Colorado Springs city election sported five articulate, ideologically distinct, well-funded candidates seeking to fill the mayoral seat vacated by term-limited Mary Lou Makepeace. Also on that ballot were six open City Council seats the four at-large positions and two spots that opened up when sitting councilors threw their hats into the mayoral race plus a measure to extend the TOPS (Trails, Open Space and Parks) tax until 2025. Citizens cast 81,709 votes (57.5 percent of those registered) and campaigns spent more than $2 million.

This year there is not a mayoral race to speak of, with incumbent Lionel Rivera's three opponents having neither the experience nor the organization needed to mount a serious challenge. And while nine candidates seek four at-large Council seats, it has been a largely issueless and colorless campaign.

Unfortunately, we anticipate low voter turnout. Perhaps just 25 percent of those enfranchised will actually invest their time, as well as a 39-cent stamp, to vote. (In 2005, with district-only races, only 34,352 voted [15 percent].)

Not only will this election be an all-mail ballot, but it is almost an all-male ballot. Of the 13 candidates for Council and mayoral seats, Jan Martin is the only woman. All the candidates are Anglo, with the exception of Tom Harold, who is Hispanic. Almost all are well off, and thus lack the hands-on stresses faced by the large portion of our city's citizens who live paycheck-to-paycheck and often lack adequate health insurance. The clear exception is incumbent Tom Gallagher, who has lived in trailer homes and openly admits he currently is experiencing "serious economic setbacks." As of March 5, less than $150,000 had been raised by all the campaigns combined.

Anti-Groupthink

Before weighing in with our recommendations, we want to applaud all the at-large candidates for their desire to serve.

We also need to discuss our current Council's debilitating flaw: "Groupthink," a term coined by William Whyte, author of the 1956 bestseller The Organization Man. Groupthink is a result of instinctive conformity when a non-diverse "in-group" of influential individuals reaches consensus without critically testing, analyzing and evaluating alternative ideas.

Until he resigned mid-term, Richard Skorman an outspoken voice for equity, social justice, the environment and balanced growth policies helped prevent groupthink on Council. The city and Council were impoverished when the remaining Council members, by a 5-3 vote, declined to appoint civic activist Ann Oatman-Gardner to fill Skorman's term.

Oatman-Gardner managed both of Skorman's successful campaigns and the original TOPS victory in 1997, as well as the successful regional transportation ballot measure. She led the succesful District 11 "End the Chaos" campaign and dozens of other civic initiatives, and would have continued to bring a Skorman-esque perspective to Council.

Instead, when Council selected Bernie Herpin, an energetic, caring, ultraconservative, hard-right Christian to fill Skorman's seat, our city lost a much-needed progressive and questioning voice.

Another critical issue was when, in 2005, this Council voted 5-4 against the "Plus-1" health benefits program. This would have allowed city employees to pay the full cost (i.e., no city subdsidy whatsoever) of adding to their benefits plan a financially intertwined loved one (as defined by the Internal Revenue Service) who had been living in the same home for more than a year.

In addition to adult children older than 18, parents younger than 65 and heterosexual couples living together, the measure would have allowed gay and lesbian city employees in committed relationships to pay the 100 percent cost of adding their partner to the city's benefits package. By voting against that proposal, the Council sent a message of how un-inclusive our city really is.

Assuming low participation, those who do vote will carry more clout. After interviewing all the at-large candidates as well as reviewing their backgrounds and campaign platforms, we are pleased to report there are two clearly superior choices.

Gold endorsement

Jan Martin

At a time when City Council needs an infusion of fresh blood and ideas, moderate Republican businesswoman Martin stands out as the most appealing newcomer.

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She's a Springs native who grew up in a family business (Guy Martin Buick). She's an entrepreneur and a civic activist. Another factor, which can't be ignored, is that the only other woman on Council (Margaret Radford) is term-limited in two years.

But Martin's biggest asset is that, like Skorman, she is a great listener. Her day-in, day-out inclusive and welcoming presence will make her an important addition to Council.

Silver endorsement

Tom Harold

Another Colorado Springs native, Harold the only Democrat running understands the evolution of Springs neighborhoods, having grown up near his alma mater, Mitchell High School.

He did an exemplary job chairing the Stormwater Enterprise Advisory Committee, giving him an early baptism into city water and growth policies. We also concur with his position that the measure first should have come up for a public vote.

Aside from his many civic involvements, Harold's long-established expertise in government contracting could be a major asset for Council. There was a time when we didn't trust anyone older than 30, but Harold at 40 would bring youthful energy and insights to our current, more elderly Council.

Other options

While none of the others running have earned our full endorsement, all have appealing qualities. Here are our thoughts about the other at-large candidates, ranked in order of preference.

Randy Purvis: Poet/songwriter Gil-Scott Heron referred to Gerald Ford as the "Oatmeal Man," which also could describe attorney Purvis. A 16-year vet of City Council, Purvis shares many characteristics with the former president: He's thoughtful, bland and reticent. Purvis rarely initiates on Council and freely admits not wanting to speak out first on issues. He warrants applause for supporting Oatman-Gardner last year to replace Skorman.

We must also note that Purvis voted against the "Plus-1" health-benefits proposal. His biggest asset is his institutional knowledge, a trait we highly value. You also know what you'll get with Randy: an honest, fully analyzed approach to most issues.

Larry Small: A retired electric engineer, Small served on City Council for two years during the early 1990s, when Colorado Springs was pulling itself out of a bad economic slump. In 2001, with the Independent's endorsement, Small won the fourth at-large seat. He has a detailed knowledge of city government, plus he is a smart, earnest, hard-working, big-picture guy.

We especially applaud Small's work co-chairing with Colorado College President Dick Celeste the Imagine Downtown project, as well as his almost-successful efforts to champion "Plus-1" benefits. Over the past four years, civic groups have complained he increasingly comes across as condescending and haughty, which we wish he would reverse if re-elected. And we are baffled that a man who claims City Council needs more diverse, divergent points of view supported Herpin to replace Skorman.

Bob Null: He bills himself as an "enthusiastic straight shooter" who would bring a "distinct newness" to City Council. We're not sure what these things actually mean, but we appreciate the "enthusiastic" sentiment. Null really wants to serve.

He has been a member of the city and county planning commissions, giving him a good understanding of those operations. He says if he had been on Council previously, he would have supported the "Plus-1" benefits, as well as Oatman-Gardner over Herpin. (For those with cloudy memories, it was Bob's brother, Jim Null, who served on City Council previously and ran for mayor in 2003.)

David Martin: As president of the Falcon District 49 school board, Martin has dealt with explosive growth and constant changes. He has made friends on both sides of the political aisle, with support from El Paso County Democrats despite being a registered Republican. To his credit, despite being a contractor himself, he's often challenged builder/developer interests.

Nevertheless, his relationship with developers Jim and Mark Morley raises questions about how impartial he could be in evaluating the city's water options. Our major reservation about Martin is that, from our questioning, we're concerned about his understanding of the city as a whole.

Greg Timm: He was the latecomer, making his decision and filing paperwork at the last minute. Timm also never has served in public office. But this developer and lawyer has many positive attributes, including knowledge of downtown infrastructure and how (without much-needed modernization) it might limit the capacity for planned future projects such as office buildings.

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Despite having developed the highly successful Stetson Hills area, Timm needs a better understanding of the entire city operation before joining Council. We'd like to see him try again in the future.

Tom Gallagher: In his four years on Council, Gallagher has driven his colleagues nuts with his ornery reactions and endless, often disruptive and divisive ramblings. To his credit, he probably understands better than any other candidate the challenges that everyday citizens face, because of past struggles in his personal life.

Gallagher's knowledgeable on important infrastructure issues, but his close ties to the Morleys have led to legitimate questions about conflicts of interest. He also voted for Bernie Herpin and against the "Plus-1" benefit.

We applaud Gallagher's efforts to promote alternative ideas on utilities and water. If he does lose, it should be seen as a rejection of his methods, not his proposals.

Bernie Herpin: When Council chose him last year to replace Skorman, skeptics viewed Herpin as a one-issue gun guy. To his credit, Herpin has held true to his promise to Mayor Rivera, setting aside his gun-related agenda while serving in the appointed slot on Council. But if he is elected this April, who knows what ideas he will bring up?

He's a genuinely nice man, and we applaud his efforts to attend more events and shake more hands than anyone else. However, we do not need yet another archconservative Council member.

Next week: Mayoral race and ballot issues, and recommendations from the Independent. What: A mail-ballot election provides every eligible active voter residing within Colorado Springs city limits with a ballot. Each voter receives a packet mailed to the address listed on voter registration records indicating the issues and candidates for which the voter may cast a vote.

When: Ballots were mailed Wednesday, March 14. If you do not receive a ballot and believe you are eligible to vote, call the city clerk's office at 385-5901.

Why: Mail-ballot elections, according to the city's Web site, have proven to increase voter participation; provide easier access to voting for people who may not be able to get to the polls; allow more time for voters to study candidates and issues; and save taxpayer dollars for conducting an election.

Differences: There will be no voting at polling places on Election Day, April 3. There is no early voting at any locations.

Definitions: You are an active voter if (a) you voted in the November 2006 election or (b) you registered to vote or updated your registration after the November 2006 election but no later than the registration deadline of March 5.

Options: Ballots can be mailed to the city clerk's office. They also may be dropped off at other locations listed below. Make certain the return envelope is signed.

If you choose to mail your ballot, using a 39-cent stamp, be sure to allow enough time for your ballot to be received by April 3.

City Clerk's Office, 30 S. Nevada Ave., Suite 101

March 14 to April 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Colorado Springs Senior Center, 1514 N. Hancock Ave.

March 19 to April 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center, 3920 Dublin Blvd.

March 19 to April 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sand Creek Family Center, 550 Sand Creek Drive

March 19 to April 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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