Voters were on the verge of tossing out every incumbent in the Colorado Springs City Council races Tuesday, including two who often aligned with Mayor Steve Bach: Angela Dougan and Tim Leigh.
In preliminary results, Dougan and Leigh, as well as incumbents Brandy Williams and Bernie Herpin, were losing in a major shakeup that would leave just three experienced council members on the nine-person board.
“People wanted change, obviously,” said Richard Skorman, a former council member and vice mayor who has remained active in local politics. “I worry about losing all that institutional history — people who have some experience. You have a new mayor who has chosen his own staff, so a lot of the old staff is gone, and a new council with a huge learning curve. We’re going into unexplored territory.”
The most stunning defeats were in Districts 1 and 2. Leigh, currently an at-large council member who was running in District 1, raised $21,175 in the campaign — about twice as much as his nearest competitor — but he was losing the race with about 20 percent of the vote. The apparent winner, retired Air Force officer Don Knight, had about 56 percent of the vote, a remarkable achievement in a five-person race, said outgoing council president Scott Hente, a Knight supporter.
In District 2, Dougan was losing to political newcomer Joel Miller, 39 percent to 52 percent. A third candidate, Bill Murray, received about 9 percent of the vote, even though he had thrown his support to Miller last month to avoid splitting the vote and handing Dougan an easy win.
Dougan was the only candidate publicly endorsed by Bach, who lives in her district, and she had support from such political stalwarts as Congressman Doug Lamborn. El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and District Attorney Dan May. She also raised more than $30,000, compared with Miller’s $9,400.
“I guess I can go get a new job,” Dougan said while reading preliminary results on an iPad. “I have my life back.”
Dougan called Miller about 8:30 p.m. to congratulate him and told him to “call me if you need me.”
Miller said voters appreciated his position on the issues.
“I think that it sends a loud message that money and power don’t always win the election,” he said.
In District 3, Williams was trailing former state senator and representative Keith King with 33 percent of the vote, compared with 39 percent for King. Former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg had 16 percent of the vote. Two other candidates, Tom Gallagher and Bob Kinsey, threw their support behind King and Williams, respectively, but both received some votes.
Williams said King spent $50,000 in negative campaigning against her, and had a bitter concession. She stepped out of her party at the Blue Star to call King.
“I just told him he should take his dogs off me,” said Williams, who raised about the same amount of money as King.
Williams, who campaigned on the fact that she was the only “young professional” on council, believes she was booted out by an older, wealthier contingent of voters who supported King but who didn’t represent her district’s demographics.
In District 5, incumbent Herpin was losing to Jill Gaebler, 32 percent to 36 percent, in a four-person race. Gaebler, an Air Force veteran and former development director at Greccio Housing, had backing from Skorman and Bach’s wife, Suzi, but Herpin received endorsements from high-profile groups that included the Colorado Springs Utilities Employees Advocacy Group, Colorado Springs Regional Alliance, Pikes Peak Association of Realtors and Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition.
Herpin, however, did not receive backing from the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association, which endorsed Gaebler instead. He suggested the CSPPA may have been backing Bach’s “slate,” because the group had endorsed him in the past. But Bach disputed having a slate, and Gaebler said she won because she appealed to people from various political backgrounds and beliefs.
“The room was filled with common ground,” she said at her party. “That’s what we really need in this city.”
Bach declined to comment Tuesday night.
The other two races had their share of drama, even without incumbents. In District 4, the candidate considered the frontrunner — Harrison School District 2 Board President Deborah Hendrix — was losing to Helen Collins, 35 percent to 40 percent, in a four-person race that also included convicted felon Gary Flakes.
Hendrix had received support from King, the Housing and Building Association, the Police Protective Association, Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. But she said her clean campaign was no match for the negative ads that Collins ran against her.
“Some people vote based on that type of information,” she said. “I don’t.”
Collins, a veteran and personnel background investigator who ran as part of a slate with anti-tax activist Doug Bruce two years ago, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Another member of that 2011 slate, Ed Bircham, was in the night’s tightest race, District 6, with less than 200 votes separating the three candidates. Andres G. Pico had 34 percent of the vote, David H. Moore, 33 percent, and Bircham, 33 percent.
There was plenty of speculation as to why the incumbents were getting kicked to the curb. Dougan blamed it on their putting a measure to increase council pay on the ballot.
“They apparently didn’t understand that I voted against it,” she said. “People apparently though that if council wants more pay, then let’s get rid of the incumbents. It is odd that every incumbent lost. I think council pay made a big difference.”
Leigh blamed it on Colorado Springs Utilities and the CSU Employee Advocacy Group, which endorsed Knight and Miller. Leigh was often critical of Utilities’ operations, and said he disliked all the “smoke and mirrors” in dealing with the city enterprise.
“I’m convinced that whether I am re-elected or not, Colorado Springs Utilities has decided this election,” he said before the results were posted.
Gazette reporters Ryan Maye Handy, Jakob Rodgers, Matt Steiner and Wayne Heilman contributed to this report.