Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Election: All about the party

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 2:14 PM

click to enlarge John Suthers gives his victory speech after winning a spot on the May 19 runoff election ballot, surrounded by campaign workers. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • John Suthers gives his victory speech after winning a spot on the May 19 runoff election ballot, surrounded by campaign workers.
For an election that was supposed to be non-partisan, Tuesday's city election was anything but.

Let's start with the most graphic evidence. El Paso County GOP executive Danny Cole was among the first to arrive at John Suthers' watch party at the Mining Exchange building. And then he stayed and stayed and stayed, despite the fact that all four frontrunners are Republicans, including Mary Lou Makepeace who landed a spot on the May 19 runoff election ballot against Suthers. The other two are Joel Miller, who pulled 16 percent, and Amy Lathen with 10 percent.

The room was sprinkled with staunch Republicans who have through the years demonstrated their devotion to the right: Bernie Herpin, Bob Balink, Wayne Williams, Dan May, Jeannie Smith, Dennis Hisey, Bill Elder and on and on. Even Attorney General Cynthia Coffman showed up.

So heading into the runoff, expect the race to take a tilt toward Republican issues. Already this morning Facebook was lit up with talk about the coming runoff within the framework of where the candidates stand on gun rights. Really?

We asked Cole about why he chose to attend only the one party. "I wanted to be on hand to clap," he says via email. "The party hasn't taken a position, but in my mind, it's obvious that Suthers is the right-of-center choice for mayor."

Suthers is clearly the favorite of campaign donors, having raised more than $340,000 so far; he still has more than $93,000 cash on hand.
click to enlarge One of many tables of tantalizing treats at John Suthers watch party. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • One of many tables of tantalizing treats at John Suthers watch party.

Makepeace, though, raised only about $88,000, and heads into the runoff with a mere $6,300

Suthers' bank roll was on full display on several food tables offering cheese stuffed mushrooms, crab dip, hot artichoke dip, mini desserts, vegetable crudités, marinara meatballs, smoked salmon dip, a cheese tray, chicken skewers, antipasto platter and assorted mini quiches.

The party had two cash bars, however, so Suthers wasn't springing for the drinks.


In any event, those who pumped lots of money into Suthers' campaign, and those of City Council at-large candidates Merv Bennett, Tom Strand and Jariah Walker, were happy they got two out of three. (Walker ran fourth to Bill Murray.) Those developers, Realtors, builders, business people and Colorado Springs Forward backers also installed Larry Bagley for the unexpired term in District 2 left vacated by Miller's candidacy for mayor.

So we asked Springs Forward executive John Cassiani if their election will reduce the discord on Council about which he and others have so bitterly complained. "There still might be a little bit of divisiveness on the board," he said. "We're getting people elected who can work together and work with the mayor to get things done."

The new Council, which takes office April 21, will be comprised of Bennett, Strand, Murray, Bagley, Helen Collins (who survived a recall on Tuesday), Keith King, Andy Pico, Jill Gaebler and Don Knight. (We'll leave it to you to decide whether that bunch can get beyond being divisive.)

Asked what Springs Forward's priority is, Cassiani said, "We have to solve our infrastructure problems." He didn't say how.

Moments later, Suthers arrived after the first drop of election results and took the stage to cheers and applause from about 150 people on hand, and picked up where Cassiani left off.

"We have to begin to address this infrastructure problem," he said, naming it as the second out of three priorities for his administration, should he win in May. The first was to change the political environment so that it's conducive to economic development, and the third was to aggressively promote new job creation, which are sort of one and the same, actually.

"My vision 10 to 15 years from now is we'll feel as good about infrastructure as the natural amenities" of the Pikes Peak Region that make Colorado Springs "a great place to live, work and play," he said.

Makepeace, whose watch party was held at NOSH, told the Independent on election night she would provide more detail on her positions assorted issues soon, including economic development — things like potholes matter, she said, because it matters how the city looks to businesses and industry who are being recruited to move here.

In a statement that is likely to become a theme during the runoff campaign, Makepeace said, "I think people don't appreciate the uniqueness of being mayor." A mayor plays a lot of different roles, she added, and that people might believe that past experience in other jobs might prepare them for mayor. But being mayor is a different kind of job, a role in which she served from 1997 to 2003, under the council-city manager form of government.

For example, she said, Council President Keith King felt his lengthy legislative experience would serve him well on Council but told her recently that it hadn't been as big of a help as he thought it would be. Perhaps the same might be true of Suthers, Makepeace said.

click to enlarge A couple of election workers were far from overwhelmed by last minute voters. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A couple of election workers were far from overwhelmed by last minute voters.
One thing that should be of great concern to any civic minded person is the terrible turnout that elected four people to Council and decided who will face off in the runoff. Only 39 percent, or 88,966 of the 227,911 registered voters, bothered to cast ballots. So we have three Council members who will make big decisions for the community and for Colorado Springs Utilities, which affects everyone in the city, who were voted in by 33,690 or fewer votes, or less than 15 percent of registered voters. 

Four years ago, 91,190 people voted.

In other election results, voters approved removing contracting authority for Springs Utilities from the mayor and placing it with Council, and allowing Council to oversee its own administrator and staff.

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