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Veteran politicians show interest in Colorado Springs' top job 

Eyeing mayor's race already

Despite Colorado Springs' city election being nearly a year away, and Steve Bach potentially wanting another term, the mayor's job is starting to attract attention.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, State Rep. Bob Gardner and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen say they're interested, but haven't made a decision. Their motives aren't fully known, but it can't hurt that each one would see a pay raise as mayor. The annual salary will rise from $96,000 to roughly $100,000 after a mandatory "consumer price adjustment" next year.

While all three have political experience, the qualifications allow just about anyone to seek an office that oversees all city operations, except Springs Utilities, which is governed by City Council. Candidates must merely be U.S. citizens, at least 25 years old, live in the city for at least a year prior to election day, and be registered to vote.

In 2011, Bach, a commercial real estate broker, defeated eight other candidates, which included only two previous officeholders: former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman and then-Councilman Tom Gallagher.

Depth of experience

Among the three who have expressed interest so far this time around, Suthers has the most government experience. Fourth Judicial District district attorney from 1989 to 1997, he was appointed chief of the Colorado Department of Corrections in 1999, and U.S. attorney for the district of Colorado in 2001. He was appointed attorney general in 2005 to fill the unexpired term of Ken Salazar, who had been elected to the U.S. Senate.

In 2006, Suthers was elected to the office, which pays $80,000 a year, and was re-elected in 2010 by the biggest margin in any statewide race that year, according to the attorney general's website. He's barred by term limits from running again and leaves office in January.

"I've talked to a lot of people and a lot of people have talked to me, and I'm seriously considering it," he tells the Indy. "As U.S. attorney and attorney general, I've lived in Colorado Springs but worked out of Denver. My wife and I find it the highest priority that I be based in Colorado Springs."

Suthers says he'll give himself until Labor Day to decide. He didn't reveal what's driving his decision.

Gardner's motivation is seeing Bach at the center of strife with Council and others. Angst has followed discussions about flood control and the City for Champions tourism project, among other things.

"There's a strong feeling in the community that we need a mayor who not only makes good decisions, but one who makes good decisions with good process and good consensus in the community to move us forward," he says. "Many of us in public service think we can do better."

Gardner is a 1976 Air Force Academy grad who's also taught there and is retired from the Air Force Reserve. The former El Paso County Republican Party chairman practices law and represents the northwest district of El Paso County in the state House of Representatives. He leaves that $30,000-a-year post in January under term limits.

Gardner expects to make a decision in coming weeks, after evaluating "what my support would look like," he says.

Lathen, too, alludes to the need for collaboration. "I have worked very closely within the business community, the regional community and local government for many years, in a variety of ways, and I have a very good sense of what the people want and expect of services and leadership," she writes in an e-mail. "I have the network of relationships to bring folks together ..."

Lathen's worked at Focus on the Family, as a nonprofit consultant and as a Republican grassroots worker on numerous campaigns. She's been a commissioner, which pays $87,300 a year, since 2008 and finishes her second full term in early 2017. She says "a lot of people" have talked with her about running and that she'll decide by early summer.

Bach didn't respond to queries about his plans, but told the Gazette in February he might run.

What observers say

Political consultant and radio personality Jeff Crank, who ran for Congress twice, says it's unlikely all three potential candidates will run, because that could split the vote and assure Bach's re-election. And regardless, if Bach gets into the race, it might be hard for others to scrape up ample campaign money.

"To beat an incumbent mayor is going to take some resources," he says. "I think we all know from previous races that you don't wanna shoot at the king unless the king is dead. There's gonna be a lot of developers that, if the mayor chooses to run again, they're going to be very reluctant to give money against the mayor."

For Randy Purvis, who served 20 years on Council, the fact that several veteran politicians with name recognition are mulling a run is "a huge judgment on the incumbent," he says.

"There's widespread dissatisfaction with Steve Bach," Purvis adds. "Part of leadership is not just setting a direction but it's also rallying the troops in that direction, and he hasn't done that."

zubeck@csindy.com

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