2023? My hopes for the year are modest — good health, good weather, good friends, good dogs and fun things to write about. Winning the lottery would be great, but unlikely since I don’t buy tickets. Much more fun to drive up to Cripple Creek and hope for a big win (had one in 2009!). Dream on… and speaking of dreamers, let’s think about the April city elections.
Four City Council seats will be filled by newcomers. At-large Councilors Bill Murray and Tom Strand are termed out, while Wayne Williams is running for mayor. Health issues have deterred District 3 incumbent Stephannie Fortune from running for the unexpired portion of her seat. Most significantly, John Suthers will be termed out and a new mayor will take office.
I’ve known, served with, written about, run against or had a drink or two with every mayor in the last few decades. And while we’ve had some truly awful elected officials in past years (think Charlie Duke), we’ve never had a bad mayor. They’ve all been good, and four have been exceptional: Bob Isaac, Mary Lou Makepeace, Steve Bach and John Suthers.
Isaac and Makepeace served in the pre-strong mayor era, when the mayor had relatively little power. The mayor was separately elected, chaired Council and the Utility Board, had a vote and a voice and that was about it. The council-appointed city manager ran things, appointing department heads reporting to Council. Isaac and Makepeace were canny politicians supported by compliant Council majorities, so both were able to shape community agendas.
Bob was careful about change, business friendly (like every mayor before or since) and utterly devoted to the city. A Springs native, West Point graduate, an attorney and a former Municipal Court judge, Bob was one of the smartest, most congenial guys you could ever meet — if he liked you. And once he made up his mind that he did, he’d change it if you seemed unworthy. Bob didn’t like big plans, big projects or far-fetched schemes for urban improvement. He liked low taxes, efficient service delivery and reliable public utilities. As the city grew and prospered during his 18-year tenure in office, his influence waned, and his compliant Council majority disappeared — so he quit in 1997.
Mary Lou Makepeace easily won the subsequent election. She led a progressive, future-oriented Council majority that championed parks, neighborhoods, open space and infrastructure. Much was achieved, but local and state TABOR restraints took their toll. Termed out in 2003, she nevertheless initiated many substantial projects that Isaac never would have touched, including America the Beautiful Park.
Political novice Steve Bach took office in 2011 as the city’s first strong mayor. A successful businessman backed by the business community, Bach quarreled incessantly with a dejected, disempowered and defeatist City Council. Council’s seasoned pols did their best to block Bach’s initiatives, but he succeeded in launching the then much-derided City for Champions project (C4C), which brought us the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, Weidner Field, the Ed Robson Arena, the Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center and the USAFA Gateway Visitors Center. Fed up with politics, Bach didn’t run a second time.
Bach was succeeded by Suthers, a brilliant administrator, skilled politician and visionary leader. He persuaded tightfisted voters to fund taxes to repair the city’s crumbling infrastructure, guided the City for Champions projects and came to embody a new era in the city’s history; competent, collaborative, unafraid and totally in charge. Like Isaac, he had the support of an overwhelming voter majority — and unlike Bach, he had a respectful and supportive Council.
But come April 4, he’ll be gone. Who’ll replace him? And what about Council? Let’s worry about that in 2023…