Angela Dougan. Tim Leigh. Lisa Czelatdko. Between the three of them, they managed to define and de-legitimize Colorado Springs City Council in less than two years. Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, Lisa C. declined to run for re-election, but Dougan and Leigh soldiered on, figuring incumbency would outweigh their numerous gaffes.
Bad decision, but you wouldn't have known it from the media enablers (myself included) and the shot-callers at the Housing and Building Association. Dougan and Leigh? Locks for re-election.
Both were trounced by political newcomers. Voters in both District 1 and District 2 didn't just decline to re-elect the two sitting Councilors, they treated them as if they were dog turds on the front lawn. Of the 16,400-plus votes cast in D-1, Leigh got 3,270 — a hair under 20 percent.
Dougan did better in D-2, pulling in 5,067 of about 13,000 votes.
Two other Council members fell, of course. In D-3, Brandy Williams got 34 percent of the vote, losing by 800 votes to Keith King. Bernie Herpin went down in D-5 with 31 percent, beaten by Jill Gaebler's 36 percent. Yet neither Williams nor Herpin was as decisively rejected by the voters. Both had credible opponents, and Williams was clearly damaged by a barrage of negative ads from "issue committees."
So what happened to the supposedly inherent advantages of incumbency? Well, actually none of the four serving Councilors kicked to the curb were true incumbents. Williams and Leigh were elected at-large in 2011, while Dougan (District 2) and Herpin (District 4) represented districts that were redrawn or no longer exist.
City Clerk Sarah Johnson efficiently created six districts from the existing four, in accordance with a voter-approved charter change proposed by former Mayor Lionel Rivera. Johnson's redistricting paid little heed to the tender sensibilities of incumbent councilors, neighborhood advocates or folks who wanted a safe liberal-to-moderate district. Johnson hewed carefully to applicable federal law and city ordinances, and presented a plan that pleased almost no one.
Of the ousted Gang of Four, only Dougan could reasonably be called an incumbent, since the new D-2 is wholly within the boundaries of her former district. Meanwhile, Leigh ran in a district represented by his rival, Council President Scott Hente. It's no coincidence that Hente contributed to Don Knight's campaign — they're friends. And Herpin's new district bears little resemblance to the one he represented for four years.
So how's that hopey-changey thing working for Colorado Springs residents?
In 2011, we elected six rookie Councilors and a rookie mayor. Two years later, voters elected six more rookies (five, if you give King credit for time served in the state Legislature).
If the voters ran an NFL team, we'd say that they don't know how to make personnel decisions. No sane general manager turns over two-thirds of his roster every two years, unless the team is unspeakably bad.
Is that what voters believed? So it seems, judging from their choices.
Putting aside Helen Collins' victory in D-4, where low turnout and weak opposition enabled the stridently ideological Navy veteran to claim the prize, voters sent a clear message.
They want smart, disciplined, thoughtful representatives. Collins may be ideological, but she's not dumb. Councilors-elect Andres Pico, Knight and Joel Miller are a whole lot smarter than your average politician (imagine a Matchwits competition between those three and any three randomly chosen state legislators), and King is nobody's fool.
We're a military city — and now we have a military Council. Miller, Knight, Pico, Collins, Gaebler and incumbent Val Snider have substantial military experience. Given that military culture is cooperative, hierarchical and mission-focused, we're unlikely to see public quarrels or long, self-serving speeches from the Council dais.
Will the new Councilors defer to Mayor Steve Bach as their superior officer? Nope — they've already read the charter, and they know who runs what. I somehow doubt that Pfc. Bach can beat a roomful of retired majors, colonels and commanders into submission ... even if their first official action is to change the name of City Hall to CityCOM.
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