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CITY ELECTION: 5 District 1 candidates differ on some issues

March 8, 2013
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This is the second in a series of stories about the April 2 Colorado Springs municipal election.

Tim Leigh goes into the Colorado Springs City Council District 1 race with the advantages that come with being a sitting council member and having a large pot of contributions, but four opponents hope enough voters will be dissatisfied with his record and more aligned with their stances to oust him.

Leigh has raised about four times more than his closest opponent, and has the backing of some of the area’s most influential organizations, including the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Realtors Association.

But his call for a review of Colorado Springs Utilities’ operations and practices, his statement that it has “no legitimate supervision,” and his criticism of a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract to control emissions at the Martin Drake power plant have not endeared him to some of the workers at the city enterprise. Utilities’ Employee Advocacy Group has endorsed one of his opponents, Don Knight.

“I think this election’s primary battle has to do with the governance and management of CSU, and District 1 is part of that war,” says Leigh, who was elected to Council in 2011 as an at-large member.

With five candidates, not everyone will be on the same page about Utilities. Leigh and Knight believe City Council should no longer be the sole governing board for the enterprise, though Leigh leans toward an appointed board, while Knight favors a “hybrid” board of appointees and elected members. Joe Barrera believes council members should retain their role as the Utilities Board. Linda Mojer and Julie Naye don’t think council needs to get out of the Utilities business, but say there could be reason to tweak the system.

“There should be some options there for that board to be reconfigured slightly,” Mojer says.

The candidates also are split on what should be done with the Drake plant. Barrera and Knight say this isn’t the time to decommission it.

“We cannot afford to shut down Drake,” Knight says.

Mojer and Naye aren’t drawing a line in the sand about Drake. Before doing anything, they say, the issue must be studied thoroughly.

“Our city must not abandon its investment until such time as we have a viable, economic alternative,” Naye says.

Leigh wants a conversation about Drake on a higher plain that considers the city’s overall energy operations and national energy policies.

“Everybody’s gotten so hung up on the Neumann thing,” Leigh says. “Nobody’s got an eye on the right ball.”

The candidates have differing stands on the future of the Utilities enterprise. Knight, Naye and Barrera want it to remain publicly owned, and Mojer says the city shouldn’t rush to divest itself of it. Leigh isn’t ruling out anything — selling it, revamping it, maintaining the status quo — but he wants a thorough study of the enterprise.

Despite their differences, the candidates have stayed away from negative campaigning to focus on their own stances and qualifications. The negativity has come from outside organizations, with one, political consultant Patrick Davis’ Set It Straight, attacking Leigh for “offending constituents and picking fights with other council members,” and bringing up an ongoing ethics investigation triggered by the developer of Drake’s emissions control system.

One group, Citizens for a Sound Government, attacks Barrera for being “far left,” a characterization he denies.

“I’m not a liberal; I’m a moderate,” Barrera says. “I’m a middle-of-the-road guy, liberal on some issues and conservative on some issues.”

Another website brings up his bankruptcy filing in 1996. He says it came about because he couldn’t find a job, but he was able to turn things around.

“What it does is, it makes me more sympathetic to the people who lost jobs and homes during the recession,” Barrera says. “I understand the point of view of people who are struggling.”

Many groups have endorsed candidates for the District 1 race, but one is notable for its decision not to back a candidate. The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, a merger of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., said it couldn’t reach a consensus on which candidate to endorse.

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