Mayor: Richard Skorman
And in the likely event of a runoff, community activist Dave Munger would be the most worthy opponent
Let's start with one realistic assumption: Nobody can expect to become Colorado Springs' first strong mayor on the first ballot. With any person needing 50 percent of the vote to be elected on April 5, the general, widespread feeling is that Richard Skorman and somebody else will advance to a runoff.
Skorman appears to have the most broad-based group of supporters, and he brings the best combination of political experience and business sense. Not only did he serve seven productive years on City Council, but he followed that with a tenure as then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's regional director.
That background has made Skorman a skilled leader, listener and consensus-builder. He articulates how important this election is, because the first strong mayor has to blaze so many trails in setting up a new power structure, establishing priorities and dealing with a budget. He also provides the smartest assessment of the city's financial problems, detailing at least a handful of targets and tactics for change and then adding, "There's no magic bullet."
If the chance comes, listen to him describe his visions, his sensitivity for including all sides in solutions, and his empathy for small-business owners and everyday working people, as well as retirees and kids. Soon, you should come to the conclusion we have — that he's the perfect choice for Colorado Springs' first strong mayor.
But who will meet Skorman in a runoff? Many in the field of nine candidates have small but loyal groups behind them.
Steve Bach, who has endorsements from within the business and development crowds, has to be considered a contender. Buddy Gilmore makes plenty of sense, but has been slow to find a solid foundation of backers. Brian Bahr and Mitch Chrstiansen have tried to build their bases from different realms of the political right. Tom Gallagher has the instant-recognition factor from his two terms as a Council rabblerouser, and still could ride that into the runoff. Phil McDonald and Kenneth Duncan know a lot of the issues but don't connect as well.
Bach has a lot of old friends, a lot of money and a lot of signs. But he hasn't served in public office, and when he's had the chance at public forums to show himself as a worthy leader, his answers and comments have lacked depth, substance and full understanding of issues. We honestly were expecting more from him in public.
Visiting with us, and not constrained by the limits of a forum, Bach made a far more positive impression. He brings historical perspective but doesn't live in the past, offering fresh and even bold ideas such as possibly someday having a light-rail connection from Denver International Airport to Colorado Springs. But those forums are still a concern.
Many consider Bahr just as formidable, but before we go any further here, we have to share one hugely negative observation: We've been offended how, repeatedly, this newcomer has portrayed himself to audiences as a "lifelong Republican," even in his radio ads. That's despite the fact all of these candidates heard from the start that they should avoid embracing party labels.
This is a nonpartisan race and office. Party affiliation has nothing to do with it. And trying to milk the GOP base should be offensive to everyone else. If someone wants to label himself as fiscal conservative, that's fine; even Skorman, who doesn't claim membership in any political party, does just that.
The mandate that parties are not involved in city politics was hammered into everyone's heads in early January when the candidates went through orientation with City Clerk Kathryn Young. Bahr hasn't followed that basic rule — which, in our view, helps magnify his lack of the kind of experience the city needs now.
That brings us to Dave Munger. He's led the North End homeowners and the Council of Neighbors and Organizations. He also served last year on the Memorial Hospital citizens commission. His résumé goes much deeper, showing he has paid his dues as a community organizer, adding to his business successes. To be totally honest, when he announced his candidacy last summer, we felt at that point he would've been the best mayor under the old Council/city manager form of government.
The complexion changed in November, when voters approved the strong-mayor structure and so many others entered the picture. Now it's at least partly a question of who's best at multi-tasking.
Skorman and Munger come across as CEO types who also understand serving the public, balancing budgets and representing the city. Bach deserves to be included in the top three, and one gets the feeling that anyone within that group would support either of the others.
But if there has to be a runoff, Skorman vs. Munger would be our preferred matchup.
Here's our assessment of all nine candidates, in order of preference:
Useful info: Seven years on City Council (1999-2006), two as vice mayor; two terms as chair of Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments; 30-plus years leading the Poor Richard's business complex downtown; leader of Trails, Open Space and Parks campaigns.
What we like: All that relatively recent high-level experience in public service, more than rivals can say. Good connections with the state administration. Friends and supporters throughout the political spectrum. Creative ideas to rejuvenate residents' pride and togetherness, such as bringing back the Fabulous Fourth of July celebration in Memorial Park.
What we don't like: Has seemed to be holding back a little for a runoff.
Bottom line: The best all-around choice.
Useful info: President of Council of Neighbors and Organizations; member, Sustainability Task Force, Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments; appointee, Memorial Health System citizens commission; member, Citizens Transportation Advisory Board; chair, El Paso County Community Development Advisory Board; founded a management and marketing consulting firm with clients including Fortune 500 companies.
What we like: Excellent variety of business background and civic involvement. Willing to tackle TABOR modifications soon.
What we don't like: Doesn't appear to have used his grassroots (CONO) connections that well in the campaign.
Bottom line: Deserves shot at a runoff.
Useful info: Longtime success in local commercial real estate; helped start Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.
What we like: Laudable energy and enthusiasm, and ideas that reach far beyond simple, short-term solutions. Sees the need for more and better public relations to repair the city's image.
What we don't like: His answers in public forums have been insufficient. Talks of a "culture of fear" among city staff, which we feel is a large overstatement.
Bottom line: Belongs in the top three.
Useful info: Air Force retiree; developer and CEO of defense contractor; former logistics test director, Air Force Space Command.
What we like: Straight shooter. Knows the military. Understands the problem with underfunded public pensions. Wants to do something about TABOR's ratchet-down effect.
What we don't like: Donor and military adviser to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn. Lacking civic involvement. Hasn't connected as well with non-military crowd.
Bottom line: Just not the right fit; others more qualified.
Useful info: Eight years on City Council (2003-2011); past president, Organization of Westside Neighbors.
What we like: Knows local issues in detail. Has some excellent ideas, such as combining resources and facilities of Olympic sports medicine with Memorial Health System.
What we don't like: Not diplomatic enough, not a consensus-builder. Can't be a lone ranger as strong mayor.
Bottom line: Not the right person to set precedents.
Useful info: Experienced in commercial real estate and property management, with a background in accounting; owns homebuilding company.
What we like: Bright personality, experience with financials, started active campaign early enough to give himself a chance.
What we don't like: Harping on his party affiliation in nonpartisan election. Too obsessed with theme of "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem," but without specifics to make it stick.
Bottom line: Has a future, but should build civic résumé.
Useful info: Considerable experience in construction industry, operations and supervision.
What we like: Doesn't simply drink the Kool-Aid regarding Southern Delivery System or the ill-fated Copper Ridge development.
What we don't like: Echoes Bahr's views on overspending without being specific. Health concerns. Also fully supports TABOR.
Bottom line: Doesn't have a realistic chance.
Useful info: Spent nine years in law enforcement, and the past eight years owning a small business.
What we like: Articulate, and handles himself well in public.
What we don't like: Too obsessed with making immediate major changes in staff.
Bottom line: Won't make runoff; would have been a better Council candidate.
Kenneth P. Duncan
Useful info: Army veteran, now unemployed.
What we like: Answers questions confidently and directly.
What we don't like: Hard to build credibility without proven credentials, a job or civic involvements.
Bottom line: Should pursue Council or other civic volunteer committees first.