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'Facts' of flier strike a nerve with Colorado Springs mayoral candidates

May 3, 2015 Updated: May 3, 2015 at 7:40 am
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Mayoral candidates John Suthers and Mary Lou Makepeace talk before the start of a debate sponsored by KKTV and The Gazette and moderated by Don Ward Monday, April 27, 2015 in the KKTV studios. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Pro-marijuana people have promulgated a factually flawed flier promoting mayoral candidate Mary Lou Makepeace over competitor John Suthers.

Makepeace has disavowed connection with the leaflet. Suthers says he's certain she knew nothing about it.

"I don't think Mary Lou has any responsibility for this flier at all," he said Wednesday. "I'm absolutely convinced of that. One of the problems with these outside groups is candidates have no control over the content."

Save the Springs, a political action committee, takes responsibility, said group Vice President Newell Ledbetter, whose advertising firm produced the flier.

Ledbetter said the committee's $10,810 in contributions came from Every Vote Counts. The nonprofit is "a group of citizens upset at the ignorance" of the City Council for voting 5-4 to ban recreational marijuana sales in 2013 after nearly 5,000 local voters backed Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

"I do find it interesting that all of a sudden marijuana money is showing up, and she (Makepeace) puts out a press release Monday saying she supports recreational marijuana (sales in the city)," Suthers said.

Makepeace and Suthers are facing each other in a May 19 mayoral runoff election, after no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 7 municipal election. The runoff is an all mail-ballot election; ballots have been mailed to voters.

INTERACTIVE: See where the candidates are getting their money.

Each Vote Counts' campaign contribution was made between March 11 and April 3, according to the Save the Springs campaign finance report.

And though Makepeace issued the news release Monday, she had declared her opposition to the pot sales ban as early as March 4.

"We put our heads in the sand if we think it would somehow stop kids from getting marijuana or stop it from being in our community," she said at the time. "But why didn't the council ask the question of voters? We see Manitou, Pueblo and Denver, and they seem to be doing just fine. Why doesn't the council listen to the people?"

Mark Slaugh, a marijuana- rights activist with Every Vote Counts, declined to comment on the flier, deferring to Ledbetter.

Ledbetter said he couldn't specify who created the handbill's content, as 30 or 40 people emailed ideas back and forth before the final product was printed. "It changed probably 15 times," he said.

But if it was intended to be accurate, it needed to change again.

Ten items labeled "The Facts" include a claim that Makepeace didn't get contributions from outside the city, while 90 percent of Suthers' donations came from elsewhere.

Suthers has received nearly 80 percent of his money from local donors and Makepeace nearly 87 percent, according to campaign finance reports filed April 15.

Out-of-town contributions to Makepeace included $100 each from Dallas and Cheyenne, for example, while Suthers got $250 from Dallas and $200 from Seattle.

In all, Makepeace had raised $90,699 and Suthers had received $358,423 as of April 15. After expenditures for advertising and other items, Makepeace had $3,358 remaining, and Suthers had $100,086.

Another "fact" on the list says Makepeace stands behind gun rights, but Suthers doesn't.

"The notion that somehow Mary Lou is a gun advocate and I'm not is pretty laughable," Suthers said. "I've always had an 'A' rating from the NRA; I doubt she's responded to one of their surveys in history."

"I consider myself a supporter of the Second Amendment," Makepeace said. "I grew up in North Dakota. Everybody hunted. Those are their (Save the Springs') issues. They're not my issues."

The flier also notes that Makepeace knows how to budget but says Suthers "wasted tax dollars on frivolous prosecutions."

As Colorado attorney general, Suthers said, he only prosecuted lawbreakers in cases with sufficient evidence to bring to trial. "I have a feeling they're talking about some kind of marijuana case, but I don't know what it is."

Suthers also refuted the claim that he aspires to use the mayor's office as a "stepping stone to governor."

"I have unequivocally said I will run for nothing else; this is it for me. I've been very clear about that in many public settings," he said.

In recent debates, Makepeace has said in closing comments that she has no ties with special interests and hasn't "made a deal with the devil."

"I just find it interesting that she's inferring I'm a captain of interest groups," Suthers said. "I find it interesting that she asked for the endorsement of every single group that endorsed me - the police, firefighters, Regional Business Alliance, Realtors .

"The world is full of interest groups. It just so happens in this election, a lot of the more involved ones are supporting me. She would have loved to have them supporting her."

Over the years, Makepeace has had her share of endorsements. She served 12 years as a City Council member before being elected mayor in 1997 to finish the late Bob Isaac's term, and she was elected to serve as mayor until 2003.

"He was taking from my remarks what he thought; I was talking about me. I apparently struck a nerve," Makepeace said. "I believe I said I haven't made a deal with the devil. And I haven't."

But Suthers bristled at any implication that he has made such a deal.

"I've been in public life quite a while, and I have never in my entire career made any commitment in exchange for political contributions other than that I would do the best job I could in the job I was seeking," he said.

Despite that contretemps, Suthers said, "I will say this about the general campaign. Throughout the whole thing, I've thought the candidates themselves have done a pretty good job.

"In the first round, the most rancor came from (anti-tax activist) Doug (Douglas) Bruce and (gun rights proponent) Dudley Brown. But the candidates themselves have been very professional."

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Staff writer Maria St. Louis-Sanchez contributed to this report.

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