Updated: July 10, 2005 at 12:00 am
FOUNTAIN - Councilman Al Lender still has one of the bagels he found in his yard a month ago. Neatly printed with the words “Bagels Suck,” it’s dried out and as hard as the coffee table, but he’s holding onto it, anyway. “I hung it in my office,” he said, “to remember how mean people can be.” Lender believes the bagels — scrawled with derogatory messages and thrown into his yard in early June — were tainted with something that sickened his dog, but he doesn’t know that for sure. He wonders if the culprit chose bagels not just because he’s from the Lender’s Bagel family but as a slur because he’s Jewish. But he doesn’t know that, either. There’s a lot of uncertainty hanging over Lender’s head these days. First and foremost: whether he’ll survive the July 19 recall election in which Fountain residents will decide whether to oust him from the council seat he won nearly two years ago. True to form, he’s fighting it. But in April, as opponents mounted the campaign against him, he seemed uncertain about whether he wanted to remain in office after all, offering a letter of resignation, then quickly withdrawing it. Another example: This year, Lender said he would run for mayor. He’s changed his mind about that, too. Instead, his friend Jim Coke will make a bid for the top job, running against former El Paso County Commissioner Jeri Howells. “I don’t think I would do a good job,” Lender said. If someone made trouble, he said, he’d react too hotly. “You know how I am,” he said. Maybe, though, he’ll run for county commissioner. “I’m thinking about running against Dennis Hisey,” Lender said, “If everything goes well.” The grandson of Harry Lender, who emigrated from Poland and started Lender’s Bagels in Connecticut, Al Lender was raised in Connecticut. A self-described “wild, little kid,” he attended military school, then spent six years in the Navy before becoming a welder. In 1991, he came to Fountain, where he met and married his wife, Rosie. She didn’t want him to get involved in politics. “I was reluctant,” she said. “My dad said, Never discuss politics — no one comes out a winner.’” Her husband has a different philosophy. Elected in 2003 to an at-large council seat, he quickly distinguished himself as someone quick to voice opinions — and bluntly. His friends say he doesn’t let anything get in his way of standing up for the little guy. “Al asks questions. He’s for the regular guy,” said Dean Cimino, who is seeking to fill Lender’s seat if Lender is recalled. His style may be abrasive, but “politeness gets you nowhere,” Cimino said. Lender’s detractors say his personality has a lot to do with their displeasure with him. “He has a propensity of blowing his top and turning red in the face and turning his back on people,” said Darell Craighead, who spearheaded the recall and is seeking to fill Lender’s seat. Lender struggles so much with people that he’s lost his ability to influence or effect change, said Mayor Ken Barela, who plans to vote to remove Lender. Lender and his family don’t deny he has a short fuse. “There’s no gray areas with Al,” said his stepdaughter, Renee Pinello. Her relationship with Lender has played a role in the public furor over her stepfather. Lender’s critics have made much of his criminal history, which includes a 1983 conviction for dealing cocaine and a 1997 conviction for third-degree assault on Pinello. They’ve resolved their issues as a family, and others should accept that, she said. “Why don’t they look at the fact that I live with my father and mother?” she said. Craighead argues his criminal history is pertinent because Lender hasn’t changed. In March, Craighead made a police report saying Lender charged at him in City Hall after the two exchanged words. No charges were filed. “It’s that type of behavior that’s a liability for the city,” Craighead said. Although personality clashes take center stage, Lender said issues, especially growth, do play a role. He fears Fountain is growing too quickly and says city officials haven’t heeded residents’ message that they want their city to remain small. Fountain is growing at an annual rate of 5 percent to 7 percent, with 400 to 500 new homes every year, a rate expected to continue through 2010. Lender, who lives with his family, eight dogs and three horses on 15 acres, believes more homes ought to be built on larger lots, preserving the rural character. The minimum lot size for a single-family home is 6,000 square feet, and Lender thinks too many homes that size are being built. The city’s goal is to provide homes for families with different incomes, planning director Dave Smedsrud said. He said the city promotes developments with a variety of lot sizes, an approach Craighead supports. Cimino sees it Lender’s way. Many people tell him they’re moving away to find a more rural setting, he said. “Fountain wants to cram in as many houses as they can,” he said. The polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 19 at City Hall, 116 S. Main St. CANDIDATES The candidates seeking to fill Al Lender’s seat on the Fountain City Council if the recall election is successful: DEAN CIMINO Age: 39 Personal: Married with two children. Business: Owner of Fountain Pawn. Activities: Volunteer soccer coach and chairman of Fountain Board of Adjustment. Issues: Says he believes in controlled growth. Feels that city officials make it difficult for small business owners to thrive and that city officials spend money frivolously. Endorsements: hasn’t sought endorsements. DARELL CRAIGHEAD Age: 41 Personal: Married with two children. Background: Has served in the Air Force for 20 years. Currently stationed at Peterson Air Force Base. Plans to retire and remain in Fountain. Activities: Regional commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization and serves on Fountain’s park and recreation advisory board. Issues: Says Fountain should annex growth areas so it can better control what happens there, and that it also must court new businesses and industry so it can ensure its self-sufficiency. Says the city should promote diverse developments with a mixture of properties. Endorsements: Mayor Ken Barela, Councilwoman LeNore Ralston, mayoral candidate Jeri Howells.