Rivera falls short, as usual 

Lionel Rivera stood at the podium Tuesday in the Antlers Hilton, fully realizing the value of this opportunity. Not many people have the honor or responsibility of giving a "State of the City" speech to civic leaders.

Rivera had that chance again Tuesday, and his 350 listeners (at $25 to $30 a plate) wanted the same thing they've wanted since he became mayor in 2003.

Not just cheerleading, but a measure of eloquence and vision.

Rivera delivered a scripted 30-minute address, not a hypnotic stemwinder by any means. He covered what everybody knew: the new Memorial Hospital North, road construction progress, expanded airline service. He talked about attracting and keeping good jobs, bragged about the Springs being a "world-class city" and discussed the need to upgrade downtown and central areas.

As always seems to happen with Rivera, his speech came up short. Send him to the plate with the bases loaded and two out, and he'll hit a long fly that goes almost to the wall but never out of the park. Or he might strike out.

This speech could have inspired our movers and shakers. Instead, Rivera showed why he's not the visionary leader we need, no matter how he tries. He's a nice guy who means well, but his verbal slips and off-base forays stop him short.

You'd expect a strong mayor, just re-elected, to lay out fresh dreams. Rivera went on and on about how great the city is and ignored problems such as rising crime in certain areas, lack of affordable housing, and the need for better downtown infrastructure to keep up with planned growth.

Instead, he brought up the frustration of new businesses popping up outside city limits, meaning no sales-tax revenue for the Springs. He took some unnecessary potshots, especially at Pueblo on water. He even stooped to condemning Doug Bruce, far beneath the dignity of a State of the City address.

The mayor also strayed over the line by saying the city would work with Gov. Bill Ritter's staff to "help them understand that going too fast on mandated costly renewable energy sources could dramatically drive up the cost of power ... and make Colorado less competitive for existing or new businesses." Huh?

With all that, Rivera blew his chance to hit a grand slam. He easily could have portrayed Colorado Springs as a sincere, sympathetic friend to nearby cities and a cooperative leader in the important quest for long-term water and energy solutions. Instead, it's more like us (or him) against the world.

That was obvious Tuesday night at a water forum, as Pueblo presented its case to a local crowd. Granted, the cities have become polarized, with many hurdles to clear. But Rivera mishandled the situation, attacking Pueblo's leaders and strategy and playing to a crowd stacked with Utilities employees, instead of trying to reach out publicly. It left a sour taste for those who see the positives and negatives on both sides. In other words, the mayor struck out.

He also could have greeted Ritter on Monday for the local bill-signing ceremony outside the Pioneers Museum. It was important enough for many other leaders to attend, including mayors of smaller area towns and numerous city, county and state elected officials. Instead, Rivera was conspicuously absent.

Last Friday in Pueblo, he represented Colorado Springs at a congressional subcommittee hearing on water. He answered questions and was well-prepared, but in a setting where he could've enhanced the way many outsiders view our city, Rivera made no serious attempt. He came off as smug and condescending.

Yet another gaffe by Mayor Misstep came at a big party in March for the opening of Memorial Hospital North. Rivera introduced and praised then-Councilor Bernie Herpin, yet failed to acknowledge the presence of state legislators, a county commissioner, City Manager Lorne Kramer, even state Attorney General John Suthers.

In other words, sometimes it's what Rivera says, and sometimes it's what he doesn't say. Regardless, he remains in position to make Colorado Springs a far better place between now and 2011. But he has to begin showing much more true leadership instead of stumbling on so many important occasions.

In fact, he's lucky some of those treasured city ratings don't include mayoral leadership in their equations. If they did, Lionel Rivera wouldn't be close to No. 1.

He'd rank far down the list, under the heading, "Needs vision."



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