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Pivotal election could change city's direction

The only good government is less government.

So say a large number of the record 27 people vying for a record seven open seats on the Colorado Springs City Council next month, many of whom are running on platforms to undo much of what the current elected body has done in the past few years.

Many of the newcomers complain that the Council has gone too far in terms of moving to regulate private property, such as the ban on wood-shingle roofs to reduce fire danger and the abortive attempt to pass a landscaping ordinance to combat water shortages. And they bemoan what they say is a tendency by the City to seek new taxes and fees to sustain a bloated government, instead of cutting back.

There are, to be sure, a handful of candidates who don't share this zeal to reverse the city's direction. But they appear to be outnumbered. Add to the mix the high number of City Council seats up for grabs and the field of limited-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation candidates presents a strong potential for a conservative takeover of city government, many observers agree.

"I do get the sense that this Council will be more fiscally conservative," predicted Charles Wingate, one of only two current Council members whose seats are not up for re-election.

Process of elimination

While every election tends to be hyped as being of critical importance, most observers agree that this year's contest carries unusual significance.

In addition to Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace's departure from office in April due to term limits, of the four at-large Council members whose seats are up, only Richard Skorman is seeking re-election. Four other Council members -- Ted Eastburn, Lionel Rivera, Jim Null and Sallie Clark -- are vacating their seats to run for mayor. Councilwoman Judy Noyes, meanwhile, is not seeking another term.

That means that, come April, the only people remaining of the current crop will be Charles Wingate and Margaret Radford. And, to make things more complex, Wingate, who faces a district court trial in April on felony charges of misusing city funds, would be forced to give up his Council seat if he's convicted. Radford, meanwhile, is reportedly pondering a run for the El Paso County Board of Commissioners if an attempt to stage a recall election against two current commissioners is successful.

Though some of the 27 new Council hopefuls are seasoned politicians, many others have little or no government experience.

The potentially great turnover also happens to come at a time when the city faces several urgent problems most notably water shortages, the upcoming budget shortfall, job layoffs and a faltering economy, and a sense among many that the city is headed for total traffic gridlock.

"I really think it's a pivotal election," said Jan Doran, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations.

Hard right turn

The prospect of a big change delights Wingate, who counts himself as one of the few conservatives on a Council dominated by what he calls "Stalinists."

And Wayne Williams, vice chairman of the all-Republican El Paso County Board of Commissioners, says a more conservative council would better serve the people of Colorado Springs.

"The City has done some things that don't reflect how most people in this city would like to see government run," Williams said.

But to others, the prospect of a turn to the right is worrisome.

"It's definitely a concern," said Skorman, who is considered one of the more moderate voices on the current Council.

In a large, growing and increasingly diverse city, there's a need for "good government," which means making some rules and regulations, Skorman argues. But a number of the people now running for office appear distrustful of government and seem to want to scale back its role, he says.

"The odds are that there'll be some new voices that will want to take us back 10 or 15 years," he predicted.

That, he says, would be a mistake. "We're a big urban area. We're not a small town anymore."

But Jeff Crank, government affairs director for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, points out that most critical issues with which the Council will be faced such as dealing with water shortages and improving infrastructure aren't really ideological.

"It's not a liberal-vs.-conservative issue most of the time," Crank said. "Building a road somewhere isn't a liberal or conservative thing."

Just like the early '90s

On a number of the larger issues facing the new Council, there is only limited disagreement.

Most candidates favor speeding up efforts to construct a new pipeline from the Pueblo Reservoir to increase the amount of water available to the City of Colorado Springs. Meanwhile, few candidates favor additional restrictions on residential water use in the near term.

The majority of Council hopefuls also support improving east-west traffic corridors but want to put off the controversial and costly proposal to extend Constitution Avenue.

Other ideas favored by most of the candidates include improving access to the Colorado Springs Airport and luring additional air carriers, and encouraging private interests to build a convention center and/or a baseball stadium downtown. Almost all candidates support the ballot initiative to extend the Trails, Open Space and Parks sales tax.

Issues where the new Council is likely to be more divided include whether any city tax increases might be necessary in the near future, and what city programs might need to be cut to make up for a projected $20 million shortfall -- of a $212 million budget -- next year.

It's tough, however, to say where the candidates split on program cuts. When asked by the Independent, only a handful out of the 27 Council hopefuls would specify any programs that they might reduce or eliminate.

The exception is the city's employee benefits program, where a handful of candidates say they want to rescind the same-sex domestic-partner benefits that were narrowly passed by a 5-4 Council vote last year. Though the estimated cost of the benefits is just $58,000 per year (less than 0.03 percent of the general-fund budget), Focus on the Family and other conservative interests have sought to make the benefits a key election issue, and a number of candidates have jumped the bandwagon, pledging to reverse last year's approval.

Makepeace, who voted for the benefits, says she fears such a reversal wouldn't only be wrong, but could spark a backlash against the city similar to the negative national publicity generated by the Amendment 2 campaign more than a decade ago.

"I would hate to see Amendment 2, Act II," Makepeace said.

The learning curve

Crank says the Chamber, which generally supports conservatives, is backing people who will be strong in addressing key issues such as water and infrastructure.

"We're looking more for a council that's going to lead," said Crank.

The current Council, he said, has had a tendency to "study a lot of things to death" rather than take action. "There has been a lack of leadership. ... There just hasn't been that will to move the city forward."

However, the Chamber itself seems jittery about the prospect of too much change and uncertainty. It has endorsed the only incumbent seeking re-election Skorman as well as two former City Council members: Randy Purvis, who served on the Council from 1987 to 1999, and Larry Small, who served from 1991 to 1993.

Though Skorman has often voted against the interests of the Chamber, he is a "known quantity," Crank said. "We know what we're gonna get with Richard."

Makepeace said her greatest concern is if a number of new people come in and "act without good information." She said she hopes the continuing members will help prevent the new Council from rushing into ill-informed decisions.

And Doran, of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, also expressed concern about the prospect of too many inexperienced new Council members.

"There's a huge learning curve," she said.

So, who are these people who want to make up the next City Council and who want to be Mayor of Colorado Springs?

To make it easier to grapple with the large number of candidates, the Independent has divided them into the following handy categories:

The right wing

Endorsed by top Republican operatives/County Commissioners Wayne Williams and Jim Bensberg, Lionel Rivera has positioned himself as the most conservative candidate for mayor. Rivera has made the city's $58,000 domestic partner benefits program a major cornerstone of his campaign and says he'll "absolutely" vote to repeal it if elected.

Rivera is also skeptical of many development regulations, which he views as "intrusion on private property rights."

That said, Rivera is no rigid anti-government or anti-tax ideologue. He favors changes to TABOR, the state constitutional amendment that restricts tax and spending, and says it may be necessary for the new City Council to propose new taxes for specific transportation projects.

In District 1, Scott Hente, Duane Slocum and Larry Hancock all espouse strong conservative beliefs. Hente, a home builder, wants faster City approval of development projects and an increased emphasis on the free market. "I've always been a fan of limited government," Hente said.

Slocum, a substitute teacher, is running on a platform of "no new taxes" and "smaller government."

"I think the Council's gone way off to the left," Slocum says.

Slocum lists anti-gay activists Ed Bircham and Will Perkins, as well as Focus on the Family, among the people and groups he respects the most.

Hancock, a retired businessman, calls himself a "very conservative person."

"I believe in less government, more freedom for the businesses in Colorado Springs," Hancock says. "I believe in free enterprise; I believe it will take care of a lot of [our] problems."

Hente, Slocum and Hancock all favor repealing the city's domestic partner benefits. Slocum says he might even lead the charge.

"They can live any lifestyle they want," he says of gays and lesbians, but taxpayers shouldn't be "paying for their lifestyle."

Meanwhile, in a relatively moderate field of candidates running in District 3, Jerry Heimlicher is arguably the most conservative.

A retired businessman, Heimlicher says he opposes any sort of landscaping ordinance. "I'm opposed to telling people what they can do."

He's also against making developers pay more of the costs associated with growth. "I think the developers are paying more of their fair share on new developments than people realize," he said.

Of the 11 at-large candidates, Larry Small, Darryl Glenn, Greg Hollister and Paul Prentice stand out as being farthest to the right.

"I'm a Republican," said Glenn, a lawyer, at a recent candidates forum. "I am proud to say I'm a Republican. I was a Republican when I was in ninth grade, and I'll be a Republican when they stick me in the ground."

Hollister, a defense-contractor executive, calls himself a "bleeding-heart conservative" who quit his job in the Air Force when he realized his commander-in-chief, President Bill Clinton, had lied about his sexual affairs.

Prentice, an economist, agrees with Slocum that the current City Council has "moved to the left" and doesn't represent the voters.

"I believe we are still a majority-conservative city, and we have not been faithfully represented," Prentice says.

Small, a businessman who served on the Council from 1991 to 1993, says he won't support tax increases "until we effectively utilize what we have." He is skeptical of what he considers over-regulation of developments. "I don't support government intrusion on private property rights," Small said.

Glenn, Prentice and Hollister all list the repeal of domestic partner benefits as a top issue.

Moderates and liberals

While there's no bona fide liberal running for mayor, Ted Eastburn comes closest to the real thing though he would probably object to the label. He's a registered Republican, a buddy of conservative U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and he has the support of several of the most powerful Republicans in town, including El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl.

A cardiologist, Eastburn says he's proud of the current Council's accomplishments, including such regulations as the streamside ordinance and efforts to pass a landscaping ordinance. "These are intended to preserve community assets," he said.

Eastburn says the city's current tax base may be adequate, but he's open to proposing tax increases for specific projects. He's also suggested that the city's lodging and auto-rental tax might need to be increased to help pay for a convention center, and that a portion of the tax could go toward the performing arts.

In District 1, at-large candidate Richard Skorman was reportedly so concerned about the field of candidates that he talked Tim Oliver, a former assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, into joining the race.

Oliver advocates "sustainable growth" through implementation of the city's comprehensive land-use plan. While growth is needed to provide jobs, "unbridled growth, of growth for growth's sake, can destroy the quality of life that we treasure in this city," his campaign flyer says.

In District 3, candidate Lauren Arnest holds undeniable liberal credentials as co-chairwoman of the Pikes Peak Green Party.

In the 18 years she's lived in Colorado Springs, Arnest says she's seen a steady "degradation in the quality of life," with increasing traffic, congestion and pollution, a "wider divide between the wealthy and the poor," and the collapse of the performing-arts community.

Arnest says the City should stop trying to attract multinational corporations that "exploit this city's labor," and instead focus on supporting small, local businesses. She opposes budget cuts and advocates increased funding for education and the arts.

Of the moderate at-large candidates, Richard Skorman, Mark Entrekin and John Albertson stand out.

Skorman, a businessman and the only incumbent seeking re-election, has a lengthy track record as an advocate for open-space preservation and has supported sustainable-growth regulations.

Skorman says he wants to continue efforts to boost local victim-assistance programs, encourage affordable housing, implement the city's comprehensive plan and pass a landscaping ordinance. "We live in a semi-arid climate," he said. "We can't sustain the kind of landscaping we've had in the past."

Entrekin, a businessman, is president of the El Paso County Democratic Club and ran twice for state House District 16, in 1998 and 2002, losing to his Republican opponent both times.

Despite his party affiliation, Entrekin's positions on most issues aren't vastly different from some of the more conservative candidates. He favors working closely with the Chamber of Commerce to stimulate economic development, and he's skeptical of the landscaping ordinance.

He also supports TABOR and says, "I'm not much for raising taxes."

On the other hand, Entrekin advocates increased government support for the arts and favors an enhanced "grid" mass-transit system.

Albertson, a political newcomer who works at Grand West Outfitters, says he is running on a "green and blue ticket," advocating open-space preservation, waste recycling and water conservation. He favors more restrictive land-use zoning to ensure planned, sustainable growth.

"Usually, it seems like the government is too willing to bend backwards" to please developers, Albertson said.

The Chamber All-Stars

The conservative Chamber of Commerce joined other powerful business interests this year in an unprecedented decision not to endorse a mayoral candidate. Of the four leading contenders, none stood out as the clear choice, says Jeff Crank, the chamber's government-affairs director.

The Chamber did, however, endorse candidates for City Council, which comes with monetary support. In District 1, the chamber is backing Scott Hente, and in District 3, it is supporting Jerry Heimlicher.

The Chamber's at-large picks are Richard Skorman, Randy Purvis, Larry Small and Darryl Glenn.

The choice of Skorman, who has often voted against the Chamber's positions, may surprise some. Skorman, however, says the Chamber probably figured there's a good chance he'll get re-elected, and wants to be able to work with him.

Crank, meanwhile, cites Skorman's experience and says the councilman has been fair. "He's always willing to listen."

The developers' dream team

The two other powerful business groups in town, the Housing and Building Association and the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, also passed on endorsing a mayoral candidate, saying their members had trouble agreeing.

Their endorsements for Council, meanwhile, were largely the same as those of the Chamber, with a few variations. Both groups endorsed Scott Hente in District 1 and Jerry Heimlicher in District 3, along with at-large candidates Darryl Glenn, Larry Small and Janak Joshi, a physician and Republican Party activist who also ran for Council in 1995.

The realtors picked Greg Hollister as their fourth at-large candidate, while the HBA endorsed both Randy Purvis and Richard Skorman -- bringing their number of at-large endorsements to five, even though only four seats are open.

Null and duller

A number of the candidates running for office, while perfectly nice people, have the unfortunate tendency to come across as uninspiring.

Mayoral candidate Jim Null, for example, has worked hard as a councilman, demonstrates an undeniable grasp of the issues, and has campaigned on the most pitiable hard luck childhood story in a race filled with Horatio Alger-types.

"I'm simply the best qualified" to be mayor, says Null, who rattles off a list of accomplishments during his tenure on the Council, such as securing increased state transportation funding for the city or helping preserve open-space areas.

But for some reason, Null's campaign, which got off to an early start, has failed to generate widespread enthusiasm. He lags in fund-raising and has landed few major endorsements, except that of current Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace.

"I have a vision for the future," insists the college professor and former administrator -- though he tends to explain his vision in lengthy orations that are riddled with bureaucracy-talk.

In District 1, Larry Hancock figured running for the Council might be interesting since he'd just retired after 35 years in the moving and storage business.

"I will not have an agenda of my own," says Hancock. "My main asset, I think, is that I've been in business here for 35 years or so."

Similarly, in District 3 Jerry Heimlicher recently retired after spending 38 years working for Ford Motor Credit. "I am 61 years old, and I have lots of energy," Heimlicher said, adding that if elected, "I don't want to be a star" on the Council. "I don't want to be a standout. I want to be part of a group."

Of the at-large candidates, Larry Small also has a tendency to launch into lengthy, detail-laden policy discussions. He's particularly fond of discussing the minutiae of police and firefighter response times -- his No. 1 campaign issue.

Art Van Sant, who cites his experience working as an engineer and adviser to the U.S. Department of Transportation among his major qualifications, proposes appointing a "three-person committee," or doing opinion sampling, as the solution to several of the city's problems.

Meanwhile, Eric Rhodes, a retiree who has spent most of his life as a government consultant, straddles the political center so thoroughly it's nearly impossible to pin him down. He views some of the recent land-use regulations as "unduly intrusive," but he also considers TABOR "unduly restrictive."

The Overachievers

A couple of candidates exude a positive craving for the stardom of office.

Bed-and-breakfast inn owner Sallie Clark, for example, can barely contain her impatience to be mayor. She already ran once, in 1999. That effort having failed, she ran successfully for Council two years later. Now, she's vying for the top spot again.

The upcoming election "is a long-awaited next step in the future of our city," Clark said in her announcement speech. "Finally, we will have a new mayor."

Still, she insists, "My desire to be mayor isn't about me."

District 3 Council candidate Linda Rinehart is already retired at age 43, having held numerous executive positions at Fortune 100 company Caterpillar Inc. She is vice-president of public relations for Toastmasters International, "an organization promoting the enhancement of public speaking and leadership skills," and, though she is a political novice, her rsum is filled to the brim with volunteer work for myriad local organizations, from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

"My long-term goal," she said, "is to run for mayor."

The recycled Council

Though as many as seven of the nine Council seats could be filled with political novices, the number could also be far lower. The four leading candidates for mayor are all current Council members, and at-large Councilman Richard Skorman is a favorite to win re-election, due to his name recognition, endorsements by influential business and civic groups, and strong fund-raising.

In addition, two other at-large candidates have previously served on the Council: Randy Purvis and Larry Small.

Call him a glutton for punishment, but Purvis a lawyer who espouses relatively moderate views says he didn't get enough despite serving 12 years on the Council.

"I guess I see that there are some needs facing our community that aren't being addressed," he said.

Purvis says he's "frustrated" that the current Council has failed to propose any capital-improvement projects on the ballot despite favorable interest rates on bonds.

As opposed to the many political newbies vying for office, "I have the experience; I have the knowledge to get up to speed quickly," Purvis said.

Small, meanwhile, served only two years on the Council, choosing not to seek re-election in 1993 due to job commitments.

"I didn't feel like I finished everything I wanted to do last time," Small said.

The angry man

Tom Gallagher, a West Side neighborhood activist and close ally of mayoral candidate Sallie Clark, knows what's best. Now, he's running for an at-large seat because "I'm tired of being right."

The current Council has failed to plan ahead with regard to problems like drought and traffic jams, which they should have foreseen, Gallagher says. "I don't understand how things got all screwed up like this."

Maybe it's because voters didn't elect him two years ago, when he also ran for Council. A surveyor by trade, Gallagher says he can handle matters better than the current Council. "I know growth," he said. "I know infrastructure."

The City needs to be more fiscally responsible and focus on basic necessities, Gallagher says. And, city and county officials need to work together better to find regional solutions to problems. "They've behaved like little kids."

Said Gallagher, "We've gone off track."

The eccentrics

If you don't like typical politicians, this year's election offers several alternatives.

Take mayoral hopeful Kendall Kretschzmar.

If elected, Kretzschmar says he'll hold evening Council meetings at the request of "any voter, on any subject he/she feels should be discussed. Any person not having a ride to a meeting can e-mail me, and I will furnish transportation."

Moreover, "I will have no attorneys or doctors on the Council, since attorneys write our lawyer language and doctors keep vegetable bodies alive for job security."

Kretzschmar also proposes unusual solutions for criminal-justice issues.

"City jail would be moved to Broadmore [sic] or Focus Of the Family [sic] unproductive area where the inmates would also make their own living with one officer at each corner of a square property. ... Drugs will be legal, treatment centers abolished, druggies can dry out in the new county or city jail property in eastern El Paso County, or the Broodmore [sic] or Focus Of The Family [sic] area while physically doing manual labor to produce his/her own food to stay alive.

"Convicted murders [sic] will be executed immediately with no appeals."

If Kretzschmar isn't your flavor, fellow mayoral candidate MarieAnn Carter offers another option.

"I view my lack of political experience as an asset," said Carter, who works for a marketing company.

Carter also believes last year's approval of domestic partner benefits was the result of a Marxist plot. "I don't know how much you know about socialism," she said during an interview. "But basically, socialism is about destroying the family."

And, if you think the entire city government is a vast organized-crime syndicate, you might want to check out mayoral contender Tony Carpenter.

"I'm running because for the last three and a half years, I've been trying to go to Council to get them to deal with abuses and cover-ups," said Carpenter, a former city employee who says he was fired for "uncovering things that they didn't want to know about."

In the at-large Council race, the candidacy of Richard Stettler a member of the city's Trails and Open Space Working Committee and director of the Festival of Lights Parade also prompts some head-scratching. In his biography, Stettler relates the lessons he learned growing up on a hobby farm: "Don't stand behind a cow or horse, don't get attached to any particular farm animal (it may soon be dinner)."

An accountant and Scout master, Stettler says he's a "leader and a risk taker."

"Some of the risks I have taken have not always turned out the way I had planned," he concedes, "such as an ill-fated ocean adventure I name 'Three Men and the Sea.'"

Cheesiest slogans

Sure, most campaign slogans are lame, but mayoral candidate Sallie Clark and District 3 candidate Jerry Heimlicher are standouts.

Clark wrapped up her announcement speech by suggesting she was running in the spirit of Ronald Reagan: "Let's get out there and win one for the Gipper!"

Heimlicher, meanwhile, has a gag on his own name: "If you want to avoid choking on city government, do the Heimlicher maneuver."

Intern Chessie Thacher provided research assistance for this story. Next week: A closer look at the mayoral race.

The Web Sites*

Mayor:

Sallie Clark: www.electclark.com

Ted Eastburn: www.tedeastburn.com

Jim Null: www.null2003.com

Lionel Rivera: www.riveraformayor.com

Tony Carpenter: www.tparty.ws

District 1:

Tim Oliver: www.oliverforcouncil.com

Duane Slocum: www.slocum-on-council.com

District 3:

Jerry Heimlicher: www.jerryheimlicher.com

Lauren Arnest:

http://home.earthlink.net/~marnest/laurenarnest.html

At-large:

Tom Gallagher: www.electtom2003.com

Mark Entrekin: www.markentrekin.com

Richard Skorman: www.richardskorman.com

Richard Stettler: www.richardstettler.com

Greg Hollister: www.hollister4office.com

Darryl Glenn: http://glennforcitycouncil.com

Paul Prentice: www.prentice4council.com

*Not all candidates reported having Web sites

How to Vote

Where do I go to vote? The April 1 city elections will be conducted by mail ballot only. No polling places will be open, though there will be three drop-off locations on Election Day if you choose not to send the ballot by mail. The locations are the Sand Creek police substation, 4125 Center Park Drive; the Falcon substation, 7850 Goddard St.; and the City Clerk's office, 30 S. Nevada Ave.

How do I get a mail ballot? All registered voters who cast a ballot in last November's county elections will automatically receive ballots via U.S. mail. The ballots will be sent out March 11. Other registered voters must obtain a special form from the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's office, at 200 S. Cascade Ave., and bring it to the City Clerk's office, in order to obtain a ballot.

What if I'm not registered? Voters who wish to participate in the election must be registered by March 3. You can register at the County Clerk and Recorder's office.

What if I'll be out of town? You can make a signed, written request to have your ballot sent to an address other than your home address. The request must be received by the City Clerk's office by March 25.

When must the ballot be in? All ballots must be received at the City Clerk's office (by mail or drop-off) or at one of the other two drop-off locations (drop-off only) no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, April 1. Simply having the ballot postmarked by April 1 is not sufficient it must be in the hands of election officials by the deadline.

Where can I get more information? For registration information, call the County Clerk at 575-VOTE (575-8683). For all other city election information, call the City Clerk's office, 385-5901, or visit www.springsgov.com (click on "city elections").

SOURCE: City Clerk's office.

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