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District 3 Council member Richard Skorman is pictured in April

during the swearing-in ceremonies for new board members at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

A long-time progressive voice in city politics, Colorado Springs Councilman Richard Skorman, will leave his seat at the end of the year, cutting short his latest four-year term to focus on his downtown businesses. 

Skorman was reelected in April to represent the southwest sector of the city by nearly 60% of the vote, a ringing endorsement of his two stints on council. A community leader since the early 1990s, Skorman has fought for open space, parks funding, wildfire mitigation, homeless services and affordable housing, among other issues that were all part of his campaign earlier this year.

He ran in April assuming the pressures of COVID-19 on local business would ease with the introduction of vaccines, but that has not been the case and he needs to step back to work with his business partner and wife, Patricia Seator, on reshaping their ventures, including a bookstore, toy store, café and restaurant on Tejon Street, he said. The restaurant will be reopening on Nov. 15 following a remodel. 

"We just have to remake ourselves," he said. For example, customers will soon be able to order Poor Richard's menu ahead of time for pickup via phone applications and he expects to offer more vegan options to appeal to that growing market, he said. 

The restaurant is also opening a large outdoor space behind the building to host events that it has been known for in the past such as concerts, book signings and other community events. The business' play area is also moving outdoors, he said.

In addition to pandemic-driven problems, the business is facing new competition with the arrival of Tattered Cover expected to open on Tejon Street next year.

Skorman, 69, doesn't expect to depart completely from public life and plans to stay involved in issues such as housing and open space. For example, he is a board member for the Fountain Creek Watershed District, a group he helped to found.

However, he could leave a void of experience on council after serving for 12.5 years, including a stint from 1999 to 2006.

The balance between more progressive and more conservative voices could also shift in his absence because the seat will be filled by appointment. Skorman was one of four often more progressive candidates on the board of nine.

"I really hope that they appoint somebody that is more in the middle like me," he said. 

Councilman Wayne Williams, who was elected in 2019, said Skorman’s resignation was “a definite loss for council,” and that it will be difficult to replace his experience and perspective. 

Skorman and the former Republican secretary of state did not see eye-to-eye on every issue, but Williams said that has never prevented the two from being friends. “One of the good things about Richard is he is passionate about the causes he believes in, but he also recognizes that other people may feel differently,” he said.

In a statement, Mayor John Suthers echoed that notion and said he was grateful for Skorman’s service to the city.

“While we have had varying points of view during his tenure, I have always found Richard to be candid, honest and collaborative,” Suthers said. “I know Richard will continue to contribute to our community as a businessman and involved citizen and I wish him the best in his continued ventures.”

Skorman expects to spend his final months on the council polishing up the 2022 budget and working with his replacement, although he cannot be involved in selecting the new council member.

He does not want to see the board become largely ideology driven and believes in the last five years the board has been balanced and has come to reasonable compromises. 

“I am going to terribly miss him being in City Hall and sitting on the dais,” said Council President Tom Strand.

When Skorman was council president, Strand was president pro tempore. The two essentially traded leadership positions earlier this year and have participated in myriad meetings with city leaders over the years.

Their shared history in city leadership isn’t the only thing the men share. Both hail from Ohio, and Strand, an at-large member of council, lives in the southwest Colorado Springs district Skorman represents.

Skorman entered local politics about 30 years ago when Colorado Springs played a key role in passing a statewide ballot amendment that prevented municipalities from enacting laws to protect gay, lesbian or bisexual people. His opposition to the amendment prompted him to come out as a spokesman for equality as a founder with the Citizens Project, a nonprofit still focused on civic engagement.  

Later in the decade, he worked with his wife on the trails, open space and parks sales tax and fundraising for Stratton Open Space, the first purchase of the dedicated funds. 

He also spent 20 years working for the closure of the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant. The city celebrated the plant's last day of burning coal this year and will shutter it completely no later than 2023.

Some of Skorman's battles from his first stint on council would be unthinkable today, such as fighting for city employees to have benefit coverage for their same-sex partners. During that time, he also pushed for a local DNA lab to help address the high rate of sexual assaults in town.  

In the coming years, he expects local politics will continue to shift to the center as younger residents move in and the city will continue to make progress on the most pressing issues, such as the housing crunch. 

"There is more interest in affordable housing than I have ever seen. People are finally realizing it's a crisis," he said. 

Strand says he takes comfort in knowing Skorman will still be a prominent face around town.

“He’s going to be there down on Tejon, and we can reach out to him and pick his brain and call him at night and ask what his thoughts are on any of the issues,” Strand said.

The Gazette's Evan Ochsner contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to clarify Richard Skorman's position on Amendment 2. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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