With five weeks before ballots hit the mail, nine of 11 candidates vying to be Colorado Springs’ first strong mayor tried to differentiate themselves Thursday in their first forum together.
While all the candidates kept the conversation cordial and even shared a few laughs, longtime businessman Richard Skorman, a councilman from 1999 to 2006 who served two years as vice mayor, offered a blunt assessment of why he believes he’s the best choice.
“I’ll just say it. (Councilman Tom Gallagher) and I are the only ones here who have been there,” he said. “It’s a $3 billion-a-year, 7,000-person operation. I wish that many of the people in this room would’ve thought about running for council first.”
Skorman said he wasn’t implying that the other mayoral candidates are incapable, but that city government is “quite complicated” and has “so many moving parts.” In addition, he said, the next City Council will have up to seven new members after the April 5 election.
“You’re going to be drinking from a fire hose,” Skorman told the other candidates.
The 1 ½-hour forum was held by the Governmental Affairs and Public Policy Board of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. The board is separate from the chamber’s Political Action Committee.
“We don’t make endorsements so you can all relax,” board Chairman Dan Stuart told the candidates at the start of the forum. “This will be an effort to get to know you a little bit.”
(To see photos taken at the forum, “friend” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/danieljchacon)
In addition to Skorman and Gallagher, the other candidates who attended the forum were Steve Bach, Brian Bahr, Mitch Christiansen, Buddy Gilmore, Phil McDonald, Dave Munger and Marvin Venson Jr.
The two candidates who didn’t participate in the forum were Kenneth Paul Duncan, who didn’t respond to a request to attend, and Kelley Pero-Luckhurst, who declined to attend, said Jessica McMullen, the chamber’s legislative aide.
Candidates have until Wednesday to file nomination petitions to the City Clerk’s Office. Mail ballots go out March 11.
In addition to the mayor’s race, the ballot will include five at-large and two district council races and two proposed city charter changes.
Bach, a commercial real estate broker and one of the founding members of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., said he is the only candidate in the race with a track record of building coalitions.
“We have a new form of government that is not fully defined,” he said. “It’s going to take an unprecedented level of cooperation between this new council and (the mayor) to make it work.”
Bach, who has lived in Colorado Springs about 45 years, also said he has a track record of “attracting and retaining high-quality jobs” as a founder of the EDC and a member of other business initiatives.
Gilmore, a defense contractor, said he’s also been in the city for decades creating jobs.
“I started a small business from scratch,” he said.
“I understand the process of developing coalitions. Our company right now is chasing one of the largest contracts that we’ve ever chased. It’s a $4 billion contract, and I tell you, when you start attacking something like that, you better know how to build coalitions, you better understand how the pieces fit together,” Gilmore said.
Bahr, a homebuilder, said he’s been on the campaign trail for about seven months, getting to know voters and their concerns and helping stimulate community dialogue.
“I’ve been taking a long time to let the voters get to know me, where I stand and what principles I’ll lead by and being able to show that I’ve done that in the past,” he said.
“The challenges of our city are similar to challenges I’ve dealt with as a businessman.”
McDonald, who owns and operates a uniform shop, said he has an insider’s view of how city government works. McDonald said he worked at city-owned Memorial Health System as a paramedic for a few years and then for the Police Department as a court marshal for nine years.