The first debate between mayoral candidates Steve Bach and Richard Skorman on Friday evening was a bruising affair with Skorman repeatedly attacking his opponent for his ties to developers, his lack of government experience and even, by implication, his bedtime.
In Skorman's closing statement, he blasted Colorado Springs' sprawl and lack of planning and tied both to Bach.
"This guy wants to give the keys to the developers," Skorman said, drawing gasps from the packed crowd of 400 at the El Pomar Foundation Penrose House.
While Bach was more reserved, even saying that he was sure he and Skorman would be friends after the election, he displayed some sharp elbows of his own, touting his lack of government experience as a positive and casting Skorman's past tenure on City Council as a failure.
"Richard said we didn't plan," Bach said. "He's right and he was there. With all due respect, Richard's had his chance to lead. He was on council for seven years and was vice-mayor until he quit."
The two men are vying to become Colorado Springs' first strong mayor in a May 17 runoff election. The first formal debate between the candidates was sponsored by The Gazette, News First 5, and El Pomar's Forum for Civic Advancement, among others.
The most pointed exchange of the night came in a back-and-forth over whether each man would sign a proclamation for a gay rights parade. Skorman said Colorado Springs' reputation for intolerance was a job-killer, scaring off large companies and making the city unattractive for young professionals.
"To be the anti-gay capital of the United States, it's not good for our image," Skorman said. "It's not good for jobs."
Bach said he didn't support any form of discrimination. Moderator Rob Quirk, news anchor at News First 5, questioned him on that, saying Bach had been criticized for stating he wouldn't sign a gay rights proclamation.
Bach said he never said that, but Quirk came back saying he wrote essentially that in a Focus on the Family survey. Bach then said he wouldn't sign a proclamation for either a gay rights parade or a Focus on the Family event.
"I don't think we should have a parade for people 6-feet-5," Bach said, who stands that tall.
Skorman responded, saying, "Steve, I think that's bad for business, what you just said. People that happen to be gay and lesbian live in this community, they pay taxes, they create jobs. If you're really interested in jobs, why shut the door?"
The role of government was also a point of contention. Chuck Fowler, chairman of The City Committee, one of the debate's co-sponsors and a group that advocates outsourcing government services, asked the candidates about the Enterprise and Issue 300 that defunded it. The committee is non-partisan, but some of its members have donated to Bach's campaign.
Bach attacked Skorman for supporting the unpopular fees that funded the enterprise.
"Richard was on council when, by a 5-4 contentious vote, the stormwater fee was imposed on us without our approval," Bach said. "He did it then, he'll do it again."
Skorman came back later in the debate, saying that Bach was contradicting his own no-tax pledge on the issue and that the stormwater fee was crucial in winning approval from Pueblo officials for a needed SDS permit.
"Steve, you're on record for putting in front of the voters a Stormwater Enterprise tax, or did you sign the no-tax pledge?" Skorman said. "And you're in favor of SDS water, but you wouldn't have voted for it. Where's the no tax pledge?"
Both candidates said they support modifying pension plans for future city hires, but Bach went further than Skorman in advocating for outsourcing city services and freezing or cutting city staff.
"Should we replace or should we rehire the 350 vacant positions in the city today?" Bach said. "How about outsourcing? How about public-private partnerships?"
Skorman said he'd be open to some outsourcing, but said public safety personnel make up the majority of local government employees and that he didn't believe those services could be privatized.
"Do you want a rental cop showing up when your wife is being assaulted?" he asked. "Do you want a non-paramedic showing up when you're having a heart attack?"
And that bedtime jab? In talking about whether Colorado Springs is an attractive destination for young people, Bach repeated a line he's used before that he thinks the city is exciting, but he goes to bed early. Skorman's rebuttal?
"I go to bed at 11," he said.