The big dogs' big money 

City Sage

The municipal election is all but over, though the official date is April 7. It's too late for any darkhorse to make a last-minute surge, and probably too late for the front-runners to be tripped up by late-breaking news.

Mail ballots have been around for years, but it seems clear that most of the enthusiastic amateurs running for our nonpartisan City Council seats failed to consider that the campaign season essentially ends weeks before the election date and begins months before nominating petitions can be picked up.

Previous campaign experience has helped at-large candidates Jariah Walker, Tom Strand and Merv Bennett, as well as District 2 candidate Larry Bagley. They've also benefited from an unprecedented unity of the business community. For the first time I can remember, different groups of city business leaders have endorsed and funded a single slate of candidates.

Bennett, Strand, Walker and Bagley were thus anointed. Call them the Fortunate Four — all were endorsed by the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, and Colorado Springs Forward.

Those endorsements meant more than empty words. They brought serious money to each campaign.

For the past two years, many business leaders have been disappointed and exasperated by City Council's dysfunction. Council drew particular ire for attempting to defund the Regional Business Alliance and the Convention and Visitors Bureau; for its hostility toward City for Champions; and for its unending quarrels with Mayor Steve Bach's administration.

Hence the coordinated endorsements. Leaders from all four entities sought candidates whose positions on important issues were reliable and consistent. They'd had enough of unpredictable newbies, eccentric conspiracy theorists and long-winded ideologues.

"We just want Council to shut up and do its job," says one business leader. "It shouldn't be that hard. We don't have time for these damn fools."

For the period between Feb. 25 and March 16, Bennett reported $10,725 in contributions, Strand $13,425, Walker $10,965, and Bagley $14,900. Almost all of their contributions came from entities and individuals linked to PPAR, HBA, CSF or the RBA. By contrast, Bagley's District 4 opponent, Kanda Calef, brought in $1,080 and at-large candidates Glenn Carlson, Nick Lee, Longinos Gonzalez, Joe Woyte and Bill Murray together reported combined contributions of less than $2,000.

More than ever, running for Council is expensive. In the future, candidates who can't count on support from the big dogs will have to start working a year before the election, go after free media and walk neighborhoods. It'll either be that or spend several hours a day begging for money as if one were the lowest form of political life — a sitting member of Congress.

Nor, it seems, did the four organizations take time to get to know all the candidates. When interviewed by the Independent, a number of the unchosen ones listed above said that they hadn't been asked to talk with any of the "Big Four" groups. Carlson, Murray and Lee were endorsed by the Independent; Carlson also garnered an endorsement from the Gazette.

In past years, those endorsements might have made them credible contenders. But in today's clamorous world, newspaper endorsements appear less significant. Getting out the message requires money, and plenty of it.

If the big dogs get their way, Council may become less quarrelsome and more focused on its job. Will it be more forward-looking and visionary? That's debatable.

It's the Colorado Springs dilemma. The traditional leadership class makes pleasing noises about attracting and empowering young professionals, but money follows the geezers. Bagley, Bennett and Strand are seasoned, 60-plus community leaders. Walker may be a YP, but one with a local pedigree so sterling that he's considered reliable.

One thing is clear: Those four organizations supporting the Fortunate Four aren't doing anything wrong. They're deeply concerned about the city's future, and they're trying to make things better. That's laudable, but if you don't agree with their choices, you need to get involved next time.

Six district Council seats will be in play in 2017. It's not too early to identify smart, innovative candidates who can lead our city into the future ... especially ones who didn't go to school with your parents.

And don't look at me — I went to school with your grandparents.

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