On Tuesday, April 27, Colorado Springs mayoral candidates Mary Lou Makepeace and John Suthers responded directly to citizen inquiries during a public forum at Colorado College’s Cornerstone Arts Center.
The forum, sponsored by the Trails and Open Space Coalition, KRCC, and the Independent, featured questions from the audience, social media, and the moderators, Colorado College sophomore Abe Mamet and Rocky Mountain PBS’s southern regional director Kristy Milligan.
The theme of the forum centered on sustainability in order to demonstrate each candidate’s stance on environmental consciousness and economic sustainability in Colorado Springs.
“I think it was a great focus,” said Susan Oldfield, a retired Colorado Springs resident. “It was different from the other forums with topics that stand alone.”
Suthers, the former Attorney General for Colorado, explained that he believed the city is at a “tipping point” and that “we either grow” with the proper economic development and incentives or “we start to shrink” if the city’s current economic environment remains the same.
Makepeace, who was previously the Colorado Springs mayor from 1997 to 2003, envisions the city as one that is “vibrant, innovative, and collaborative.” She emphasized her bottom-up platform, prioritizing the citizens in determining the future of Colorado Springs.
Part of such a future relies on the city’s parks to attract visitors and new residents. Recently, the city fell into $180 million in backlog for parks and maintenance.
Both candidates agreed that in order to salvage the city’s parks system, they must work with the Utilities Board to redistribute funds.
Conservation efforts were not the only environmental issue that arose during the forum. Citizens probed the mayoral candidates about the quality of the city’s infrastructure in regards to stormwater drainage.
Fitting with his economically driven platform, Suthers proposed a budgetary solution to excess stormwater.
“I’m already meeting with the City Council for a strategy going forward,” said Suthers. “I think we have to go forward with one major infrastructure proposal, including a $19 million fund the City Council sets aside for annual stormwater.”
Makepeace agreed that City Council budget would be necessary to mitigate stormwater issues but suggested an additional environmental solution to the problem.
“This recent Council did a memorandum to look at stormwater in the short-term, and the budgets plus the money in the general fund would take care of backlog,” said Makepeace. “I think that’s a good thing, but we tend to look at long-term stormwater as a problem. Successful communities see it as an opportunity in, say, recreation.”
Both candidates argued that such infrastructure solutions, in addition to pothole filling and prevention, would not only satisfy the needs of current citizens but also attract new residents and visitors to Colorado Springs.
Citizens also raised questions about how the mayoral candidates would attract younger professions to Colorado Springs. A disparity between the number of retirees and young professionals could jeopardize the city’s ability to collect taxes from the working age population to support retirees.
Suthers emphasized job creation to attract young professionals, which in turn would bring the associated amenities like urban renewal and housing.
Makepeace suggested the creation of a Young Professional Advisory Board to better involve young people in city government.
The forum did spark critique from the audience. Jeff Webb, a senior Grants and Design Analyst for the Parks Department, was disappointed by the lack of discussion on quality of life in Colorado Springs.
“When I look at Suthers, he has amazing experience to operate effectively, and Makepeace has the ideas,” said Webb. “But I was disappointed with both since neither talked about quality of life. In taxes, I only pay $92 to the general fund. We cannot mortgage away our future with taxes that low.”
“The candidates nibble around the edges,” said Oldfield. “I’d pay more if it’s an investment.”
The runoff election between Makepeace and Suthers will take place on May 19. All votes will be collected through a mail-in ballot.