Mayor John Suthers has served two four-year terms and under term limits cannot seek a third. He’s the city’s first strong mayor who served the maximum time in office and achieved dedicated funding, with voter permission, for road repairs and stormwater controls.
He also helped heal rifts that had developed between City Council and the previous strong mayor, Steve Bach.
Suthers served as a district attorney, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, U.S. attorney and Colorado attorney general prior to winning office in 2015.
He negotiated a settlement with the EPA to end the agency’s federal lawsuit over stormwater drainage, and advanced the City for Champions tourism projects.
As Suthers prepares to leave office, we asked him what might serve as guideposts for those seeking to succeed him and the voters who will choose that person. See a podcast with Suthers at Sixty35media.org.
Why is this election so important?
Every election is important. In this 2023 city of Colorado Springs municipal election, voters will elect a new mayor and four new city council members to represent them. Local government is where important decisions are made that directly impact people’s quality of life, including public safety, infrastructure, transportation and parks. This new set of leaders will shape the future of the city, and it’s my hope that Colorado Springs residents research the candidates and participate in the April election.
Given your successes as mayor in securing funding for stormwater infrastructure and roads, what is the top city need that is inadequately funded, and what would you hope your successor does to respond to this need?
First, we need to renew the existing sales tax for our trails, open spaces and parks. The TOPS sales tax is one penny on every $10 spent, and it is vital to our park system. My hope is that Council refers a TOPS renewal to the April ballot and voters say yes to TOPS. In addition, the park system overall has a substantial list of deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed, and I would urge future city leaders to consider raising the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax to provide funding to tourist-burdened parks like Garden of the Gods and North Cheyenne Cañon Park. Continued vigilance of our infrastructure is also crucial. Thanks to voters’ support of the 2C sales tax, we have dramatically decreased the number of roads in poor condition from more than 50 percent in 2015 to 38 percent today. That positive trajectory, however, will only last with continued support of 2C which expires in 2025.
What qualities should voters look for in their next mayor?
Serving as mayor is a difficult job, and I believe the more experience and background you have as a manager and policymaker, the better prepared you’ll be as mayor. I frequently draw upon my learned experience as a former manager of large organizations and often use my political and legal experience to strategize solutions on issues the city is facing. Political experience, especially knowing how to get along with a legislative body, has been particularly helpful in forging a productive relationship between the administration and City Council.
What has been the biggest surprise to you after you became mayor, and how can candidates running for mayor prepare for this?
I think what people would find surprising is how difficult the job can be. It’s not just attending dinners, cutting ribbons and posing for photos. Difficult decisions need to be made and political strategies need to be determined to accomplish objectives. There are many competing demands and expectations to manage, and setting and maintaining focus and stability can be more difficult than it appears on the surface. I typically work 60 to 70 hours per week. I was also surprised to find how much time I spent fundraising for city ballot issues, the Summit Visitor’s Center, City for Champions projects and more. That’s also hard work.