It only took a little more than two years for John Pitchford to decide that he could do a better job as mayor than the incumbent.
Pitchford, an Army veteran who moved to Colorado Springs in December 2016, sees himself as a self-funded dark horse — a candidate willing to spend his own money to unseat John Suthers.
He’s already outspent every candidate except Suthers, lending his campaign about $104,000. Through March 10, he’d spent $17,208, campaign finance filings show.
Still, that’s not even a seventh of what Suthers has spent. But Pitchford plans to spend as much as $60,000 in this race, mostly in the campaign’s final weeks.
Pitchford, 71, said he’s running to restore fairness to city politics, which he believes has been dominated by developers who wield too great an influence over mayor’s office.
“I feel this place has very serious problems,” he said. “And basically, it revolves around who is actually controlling the city. This would be the developers.”
He’s a strident opponent of the 2016 Strawberry Fields land swap early in Suthers’ first term as mayor in which Colorado Springs traded more than 180 acres at Strawberry Hill to The Broadmoor hotel for 371 acres split between 14 different parcels.
That decision by City Council — which Suthers called a “win-win” — spurred a court battle that ended in 2018 with the Colorado Court of Appeals upholding the trade. Opponents said they feared the deal would set a dangerous precedent for public lands by ceding pristine public land to a private business.
He also vehemently opposes tax breaks to lure companies to Colorado Springs, such as the $16.2 million in incentives recently offered to Scheels All Sports.
By offering such generous incentives, he argues, the city is giving away vitally needed tax revenue that could go to better causes, such as improving the city’s roads. He said a renewal of the 2C ballot measure — which imposed a 0.62 percent sales tax increase to fix pot holes and fund road improvements across the city — is only needed because past administrations managed the city’s budget so poorly by being too gracious to developers.
“We don’t need to be giving selective tax advantages to these small groups of people,” Pitchford said. “Scheels is, for example, a billion-dollar business. I’m sure they could carry their own weight in this community, if they wanted to be here. I see no reason they should be getting a special tax break when other businesses aren’t.”
He also wants to examine the city’s fee structure for developers, and possibly raise any rates that are less than those charged by other municipalities in the state.
His focus on fairness for all residents — not just corporate behemoths — hearkens to his time as a military officer in the 1990s, when he said he gained a passion for justice and a deep distaste for corruption while working as a dentist.
Beyond reforming the city’s handling of economic incentives, he pilloried Suthers’ homelessness action plan for having a vague timeline with little in the way of dedicated funding.
And he routinely advocates for residents to have a greater voice in city decisions. For example, he favors putting forth a ballot measure asking whether to legalize recreational marijuana sales in the city, despite his concerns that marijuana home grows have fed a black market for pot.
Pitchford said he also supports Issue 1 — a ballot measure that would give Colorado Springs firefighters collective bargaining, although not the right to strike.
It all fits with a single goal, he said: return a sense of fairness to the city. Under the strong mayor form of government, Suthers has become an “autocrat who doesn’t want to listen to the people.”
“(Suthers) didn’t listen about Strawberry Fields,” Pitchford said. “Didn’t listen about the bike lanes. Isn’t listening about the hockey arena. Isn’t listening about the expansion of The Broadmoor. He believes he doesn’t have to listen, and that’s the problem.”
Oklahoma Publishing and The Broadmoor are owned by the Denver-based Anschutz Corp., whose Clarity Media Group owns The Gazette.