In December, America’s first Gen Z member of the United States Congress tweeted: “Just applied to an apartment in DC where I told the guy that my credit was really bad. He said I’d be fine. Got denied, lost the apartment, and the application fee. This ain’t meant for people who don’t already have money.”
Brand-new Rep. Maxwell Frost’s follow-up tweet clarified that he ran up a lot of debt running for Congress, and driving Uber didn’t cover his living costs. “@AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] went through something similar in 2018 and it’s still a problem!” he tweeted. “I also recognize that I’m speaking from a point of privilege cause in 2 years time, my credit will be okay because of my new salary that starts next year….”
Frost is the newly elected representative for Florida’s 10th district. If he was a newly elected Colorado Springs city councilor, he wouldn’t afford that apartment any time soon. If he was a city councilor with kids, he couldn’t pay for child care either.
City councilors here earn $6,250 a year. The average rent for a home in the Springs is $18,840 a year. Child care in El Paso County runs $11,571 a year for just one kid. City Council is a full-time job — but it pays pocket money.
The salary makes it clear the role is only meant for the privileged. Our refusal to pay even a “living wage” for city councilors throws up insurmountable barriers for almost all young people, people of color, single parents, people with school-aged children — basically anyone who isn’t old and white and cushioned by wealth.
Other cities of similar sizes see the need for diverse representation, and recognize a council seat is a full-time job. Denver city council members earn $101,167 a year; Boston, $99,499; Seattle, $129,685; even Columbus, Ohio — with a cost of living 15 percent lower than the Springs — pays $57,000.
The Springs’ paltry salary for councilors was set in the 1980s, in a vastly different Colorado Springs. The job can now require up to 60 hours per week and, with the city exploding, city councilor is one of the most important jobs around. Several county commissioners draw salaries of almost $132,000, and it’s hard to argue they’re any more useful than city councilors — let alone 21 times more useful. Yet, as we reported last June, voters have rejected three separate measures seeking higher pay for Council members in the last 20 years, most recently in 2013 when they batted down a proposed $48,000 salary. (Yes, that’s still less than half what Denver city councilors earn.)
Council President Tom Strand has taken a stand on the issue, saying a $50,000 salary would attract more diverse candidates, and arguing Council should reflect the population it serves. “I’m going to make this a life mission to increase the pay so people in their 30s and 40s who aren’t taken care of by a spouse or parents can do this and still support their families,” he told us last year. “We need to do it. We must do it.”
With Colorado Springs growing at breakneck speed, it’s time to recognize that we need smart, creative, driven, diverse Council members from all walks of life to guide our community into the future. If we keep saving those seats for people who already come from privilege, we’re missing out on a wealth of talent, energy, innovation, perspective and leadership.
Maxwell Frost is 25 years old. Born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian father, he was adopted as an infant, and has been organizing and volunteering since the age of 15. He didn’t have personal wealth or retirement checks, but he’s now seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I know we won’t change the system until we change our leadership,” he said during his campaign. “It’s time for poor, working-class, and young people to have a seat at the table.”
It’s time for Colorado Springs to say the same.