Packed crowd hears from nearly all mayoral, council candidates

February 24, 2011

An estimated 200 people packed into the Westside Community Center for an election forum Thursday, getting their first taste of the breadth of mayoral and City Council candidates on the April ballot.

The forum, hosted by the Organization of Westside Neighbors, was the first time that nearly all  the candidates came together in the same room, attracting a standing-room-only crowd.

“It’s really great for people to come out and show interest because that’s the problem with our political process today,” said Prince Dunn, 73. “People don’t take interest even when the information is offered.”

In all, 24 candidates showed up.

All but one of the nine men running for mayor participated in the forum. Steve Bach said he had two previously scheduled events and was unable to attend.

Fourteen of 16 at-large council candidates showed up, though three of them — Ed Bircham, Richard A. Bruce and Gretchen Kasameyer, who are part of a slate orchestrated by activist Douglas Bruce — were late because of another event.

The two candidates vying for the District 3 council seat that includes the west side, Lisa Czeltadko and Michael Merrifield, were up first.

All candidates gave quick introductions and then responded to questions they had previously received.

“We did not want a stump-the-candidate-type of forum,” said Welling Clark, president of OWN.

The questions included whether candidates support extending the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax and whether they would support collective bargaining for city employees. Most said they would support the tax extension but oppose collective bargaining for city workers.

The council candidates were also asked whether vacation home rental properties should use the same process required of bed and breakfasts to become established. Some in the audience said that was important, but not one of the biggest issues facing the city.

“It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Sallie Clark and her husband own a bed and breakfast, could it?” Councilman Sean Paige said, laughing.

Sallie Clark, a county commissioner, is married to Welling Clark.

Paige, who was appointed to represent District 3 but is running as an at-large candidate, said he had “no indication” that vacation rental homes were a big issue on the west side until it was brought up at the forum.

But, he said, being the host of the forum “gives you the perogative to ask the questions you want.”

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