They look and act like two heavyweights at the end of a long, grueling prizefight. They've spent months taking gut shots, blows to the head, even sucker punches to the kidneys and the, uh, front lower midsection.
Two weeks from finishing the marathon to determine Colorado Springs' first strong mayor, Richard Skorman and Steve Bach are weary from all the forums, events and now debates. They've made their cases, but they have to be tired of facing audiences of people who already know how they'll vote.
So they reconvened Monday night on the Pikes Peak Center stage, neither at his best, reaching out to 500 or so attentive folks who probably won't decide this May 17 runoff election. The candidates took turns dodging a set of not-provocative-enough questions from the moderator, local businessman Phil Lane, who appeared intent on stealing the show with his endlessly long segues.
And we won't talk about the almost half-hour of nice but needless preliminary theatrics that lengthened the night — and failed to justify the $10 admission charge.
The slow, overwrought buildup apparently was contagious. Even now, it's taking too long here to reach the points. So let's jump in:
• Bach seems like he's playing not to lose now. He senses momentum, so he's riding the same old mantra of how we need a leaner city government (even after the ghastly cuts of the last few years) and how he has "so many ideas," though he never articulates them. And his first strategy on dealing with the military? "I'd make sure they know how much we appreciate them and want them to stay here." He'd also encourage the military to "stay here" after they're done and "start companies," though most enlisted folks are destined for the service industry and low-paying jobs.
• Skorman never seems to have enough time to make his arguments, though they are stronger. He has good vision about cultivating new economic drivers, starting with the outdoors, and tactics that have worked in other cities. But he meanders and runs out of time, and it's on to the next question.
• Bach doesn't pay enough attention unless the question is directed squarely at him, and if it's a two-parter, even repeating it doesn't help. For someone who's already 68, that could be problematic. He never understood Monday night that he was being asked what specific city-driven venue or facility he would work to add as mayor, and how would he fund it. (Skorman dodged a few questions as well, but not as blatantly.)
Until the closing statements, it wasn't a matter of who was winning this debate — nobody was. (At least, nobody used the words "conservative" or "liberal," though Skorman still needs to convince voters that he's neither.) Given that Bach appeared to be borrowing details from Skorman's website (not just my opinion; a woman I hadn't met, sitting two seats down, felt the same way), and despite both missing easy opportunities to shine, I was giving Skorman a slight edge, only because of fewer negatives.
Then came their final sermonettes.
Bach stayed with his past script: He's glad not to be a politician (though he definitely sounds like one) or a bureaucrat (though Skorman isn't, either). Bach sees this race as choosing between "the policies of the past or a new direction" (though we're still wondering what that new direction truly is). It sounded rehearsed, and not mayoral.
Skorman left the crowd with some nuggets: "Everybody thinks of me as status quo," he said, describing how others blame him for every city shortcoming of the past 10 years. "But the reality of it is that I am change. I don't want this city to be controlled by developers ... social conservatives ... and limited-government crusaders." He wants them to have "a seat at the table," but with no more influence than anyone else.
Skorman then struck the last blow, saying Colorado Springs can't afford to continue pushing its "negative brand," shutting the door on people and causes that aren't squarely in the mainstream.
With that summation, he sounded like a uniter. And like a mayor.
It was enough to avoid losing on this night. But will it be enough in the election, when Skorman will rise or fall on whether he can get more young adults to vote? We'll have to see.