Sunday, November 16, 2014

RFK Redux

"I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."  LBJ, March 31, 1968.

All through the fall and winter of 1967-68 Robert F Kennedy debated with himself and his inner circle on whether to seek the presidency, challenging an elected president from his own party.  There was no love lost between RFK and LBJ; in fact, RFK had tried to keep LBJ off the ticket in 1960.  Still, running against a sitting elected official from one's own party was, and remains, high treason in any political race.  Challenging, and loosing, would certainly result in political banishment.  Eugene McCarthy had no qualms about such a challenge.  Today, McCarthy would be branded an extremist; he was running a one issue campaign: get the U.S. out of the Vietnam War at any price.  In the first primary held that year, in New Hampshire on March 12, 1968, McCarthy lost to LBJ, but won far more votes than expected.  Four days later, RFK stopped wavering and entered the race.  LBJ, being a shrewd politician, made the best decision for himself, his party and the nation.  He went on national television on March 31, 1968, to give a speech updating the country on the progress of the war in Vietnam, and after speaking at length on the war, shocked nearly everyone, except his wife, by ending the speech with the quote above.

In Colorado Springs we may be seeing a mini replay of history.  We have a mayor who has lost most of the support that carried him into office three and a half years ago.  Gone are the moderates.  Gone are the business women and men who need a city voice and involvement to woo new businesses to town.  Gone are those who thought he would provide community leadership.  Gone are those who thought he would provide city government with sound administration.

In September, we saw the entrance into the race of two candidates for mayor: Amy Lathan and John Suthers.  This past week, Mary Lou Makepeace entered the race, in all likelihood rounding out the list of big names in the race.  John Suthers, at least, had been considering a run for nearly a year.  Was Lathan's entrance into the race enough to convince Suthers of Bach’s vulnerability?

What decision will Bach make?  Will he, like LBJ, make the honorable decision and withdraw from a race that, at least, will be more expensive, both financially and emotionally than he may be able to comprehend?  When one runs against an incumbent, one must convince the voter not only that the incumbent is bad, but that the challenger is the better alternative.  On the first issue, one can see the ads now featuring potholes and other decaying infrastructure; depicting a city administration where the average department head tenure is less than 18 months; portraying constant squabbles with a city council he has made no attempt to woo or work with.  Additionally, there will be remarks from community leaders he has brusquely pushed aside when they dared to disagree with him.  LBJ was a master at his craft; Bach, not so much.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Beep, beep!

When I was growing up, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was the Road Runner.  As one may recall, it involved Wyle E. Coyote who constantly chased a road runner, presumably to make a meal of it.  Coyote would prepare elaborate schemes to catch the bird, all of which came to the same inevitable conclusion:  he either burned to a crisp, became disassembled or, my personal favorite, ran off a cliff and for a moment was running in place in thin air before falling to the canyon floor.  After every disaster, the Road Runner appeared smiling and said: “Beep, beep!”

One must wonder if the current city administration has become our own Wyle E Coyote.

About 12 days ago, Bach announced that Mark Earle, the city airport director, had “resigned.”  What was particularly telling was Bach’s quote of Earle’s reason for leaving in the Gazette article: “ ‘Why don’t you hire someone more in line with your philosophy.’ ”  I have known Earle through the years and seen many of his presentations to City Council.  I can easily hear him saying this.  However, it was probably not said with respect for Bach’s leadership.  What is more frightening is the thought that Bach will be taking over the negotiations with the airlines.  What, if anything, does Bach know about running an airport?  If he is confused about why passenger traffic is declining at Colorado Springs Airport, perhaps he should log on to Travelocity or any other airfare booking website and check the price differential between a flight from Denver or Colorado Springs.  It is a bad sign when one’s administration cannot retain highly qualified and respected people.  Further, that the news was released late on a Friday afternoon indicates that the Bach administration was intentionally trying to bury the story.

The disasters keep coming for the Bach Administration.  Last evening I checked the city election results!  I cannot remember any election in which the Housing and Building Association (HBA) got shellacked like it did in this election.  Sure, perhaps there may be one corollary.  In 1991, following years of bickering on City Council, including one incident in which a council member dropped the “F” bomb on an open microphone, the citizens cleaned house.  Of the three incumbents running for re-election that year, only one won.  The major combatants were turned out in favor of new blood.  (For trivial buffs, that campaign also featured the first television commercial in a city election.)  This year, however, the outcome is much more sweeping.  Particularly telling are the losses suffered by Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan, Bach’s leading supporters on Council.  The HBA and Steve Schuck (Bach’s biggest supporter in 2011) were out in front in January with quick endorsements of their slate of candidates, including Leigh and Dougan.  Leigh and Dougan did not lose close elections; they were soundly beaten.  Given their close and very public ties to the Bach Administration, this can only be seen as an indirect rejection of such.

Now Bach goes forward with his best allies on Council beaten.  This is a warning sign for any of the newly elected Council members or the three remaining incumbents of the dangers of alignment with the mayor’s office.  It is also a sign of a weakened mayor. 

Beep, beep.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


The election is coming up soon, so it is probably time for a review of the six district races and some predictions.

District 1:  A standard rule of thumb is that a controversial incumbent wants a lot of opponents to split the anti-incumbent vote.  I am not sure whether that will work in this district.  Tim Leigh has two main opponents: Don Knight and Joe Barrera.  Only Knight has any money, which makes gives him a one on one with Leigh.  At the candidate forums I attended I thought neither Leigh nor Knight connected very well with the audience.  I am guessing that Leigh will win on the basis of name recognition with Barrera getting just enough traction to split the anti-Leigh vote.

District 2:  This is a one up between the incumbent Angela Dougan and Joel Miller.  Dougan is one of two council members (Tim Leigh is the other) who usually votes the way the mayor wants.  She has a lot of money, over three times the amount Miller had in the last report.  At the campaign forums she also brags about being the most conservative council member.  She did not talk about any issues, much less any nuances of an issue, and alone of all the candidates at the forum, she did not use all of the time given to her for an introductory speech (everyone else ran long).  Unfortunately for Dugan, her reputation as a council member is poor and there is no one to split the anti Dougan vote.  I think Miller has just enough money to run a credible campaign and ekes out a win.

District 3:  This is the hardest to call.  There are three candidates, Keith King, Jim Bensberg and Brandy Williams, all with name recognition, money and a winning track record.  Of the three, King’s campaign fund is most puzzling; he has probably three to four times the funds necessary to run a good campaign.  Why?  Are donors trying to curry favor in the event of a victory?  Since I will not permit myself to straddle the fence, I will say Bensberg wins, but I would not be surprised with a King victory either.

District 4:  This race is also difficult to call.  Helen Collins and Deborah Hendrix have the money; Hendrix has over twice the funds Collins has, which alone makes her the favorite.  Dennis Moore has just enough money and endorsements to be in the race.  And Gary Flakes is infamous.  I did not think any of these candidates connected with the audience; all had trouble dragging people out of their iPads or smart phones.  Dennis Moore has been a Republican precinct walker for many years and has demonstrated the willingness to do the grunt work necessary to win a small district race.  I think Dennis Moore wins in an upset.

District 5:  This is essentially a one-on-one with Jill Gaebler running against Bernie Herpin.  Al Loma is also in the race and may play a spoiler role splitting the anti-incumbent vote, but he does not appear to have enough money.  If the vote comes down to name recognition, then Herpin will win.  If Gaebler has been successful in organizing small neighborhood meetings and meet-and-greets, she will win.  Indeed, Gaebler is the only candidate to really connect with the audience at any of the candidate forums I attended.  She had just enough energy to pull people out of their electronic devices, catch their eyes and hold them without being over the top.

District 6:  This is the race that strikes fear in the hearts of all.  This is also essentially a two- candidate field: Ed Bircham and David Moore.  David Moore has the endorsements, money and virtually all of the support of the power elites in Colorado Springs.  Bircham has name recognition and a very surprising sixth place finish two years ago.  Playing a hunch, I think Bircham finishes on top this time.

Issue 1:  This is the TOPS modification measure.  While I personally oppose this (please see my post from a few weeks ago), I expect it to pass.

Issue 2:  Pay for Council.  The role of council is in great flux right now.  If a separate utility board is created, council's work load will be much smaller and the time / salary requirement also smaller.  I just think this is the wrong time for this measure.  I expect it to fail.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sorting Through the QUE

Once each quarter, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs College of Business and Administration publishes a review of economic metrics in El Paso County Colorado.  (Available here)  Known as the Quarterly Updates and Estimates or QUE, it is a must read for anyone in public office or in business in Southern Colorado.   One can even subscribe to it free of charge and have it delivered each quarter to your email inbox.   Several items in the most recent publication merit comment.

The first one is the data set on housing starts in El Paso County.  Housing starts are up in El Paso County over the last year.  Good news.  However, the data set used by UCCS only details the last two years for a year-over-year comparison.  Curious, I visited the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (PPRBD) for a longer term view.  The PPRBD data set goes back over a decade, and provides not only the total number of permits issued, but the total dollar value for those permits as well.  This enables a rough calculation of the average dollar value of the permit issued.  Using a crude inflation deflator, one can compare the average dollar value of a permit over time:

Single Family Permits
Single Family Gross Value
Average Value per Permit
Average Value of Permit - Inflation Adjusted

From 2005 to 2009 the gross number of permits cratered, as El Paso County suffered along with the rest of the nation from the fallout of the interrelated housing and banking crises.  However, the average value of the permits issued skyrocketed both in absolute and inflation adjusted terms.  Indeed, in 2012 El Paso County had almost recovered all the way to the 2005 high in gross value of housing permits; but on only about 1/3 of the total permits.  Fewer permits mean fewer housing starts and, thus, fewer construction jobs, while the higher dollar value of those permits means that city and county sales tax revenue should be recovering quite nicely.  And it appears, based on the most recent City sales and use tax report, that they have.

The second interesting data set to be pulled from the QUE are the details on the unemployment rates.  At the end of 2007 there were about 290,000 jobs in El Paso County.  Today there are fewer than 270,000.  Factor in the growth in the population of about 60,000 to 70,000 people and we have a significantly worse employment situation than the official unemployment rate of 9.2 percent.

An improving real estate market is not solving the unemployment problem.

(I would like to acknowledge and thank my wife, Robin Purvis, for her willingness to edit my posts each week.  She has saved me countless times from my mistakes.)