The two Colorado Springs City Council candidates competing to represent District 6, in the northeast part of town, sparred over experience in the community, renewable energy and campaign finance during a virtual forum aired Tuesday.
Councilman Mike O'Malley, appointed to the seat in January, is facing Garfield Johnson, a teacher with his doctorate degree in education, in the race for the seat previously held by Andy Pico. It is one of six district seats on the April 6 ballot. Voters will select a representative specific to their district. The three at-large council members are not facing an election.
The District 6 candidates have run less visible campaigns than some of the candidates in other districts. For the example, the candidates did not participate in the forums hosted by Fox21.
Click or tap here to watch the forum.
However, both men agreed to participate in a forum filmed Monday hosted by The Gazette and KOAA that featured questions sent in from readers and viewers, who were curious about the candidates' top priorities and backgrounds, growth management and strategies for avoiding utilities price hikes.
O'Malley is a U.S. Department of Transportation advisor to North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command and said ensuring the city is ready for a pending $2.6 to $3 trillion federal infrastructure bill is his top priority.
He has already started talking with city staff about making sure as many road projects as possible are "shovel ready" if the federal funding is approved, he said.
Johnson said his main focus would be improving police and fire protection services and working on partnerships to prepare students in local schools to work in those departments.
On managing Colorado Springs Utilities, O'Malley said his degree in marine engineering has prepared him to oversee the city's water, sewer, gas and electricity utilities because ships are cities at sea. He supports the transition to renewable energy, but also understands the risks, he said.
O'Malley lauded Utilities' recent management of the deep freeze in February, noting that no homes lost heat and no one faced bill spikes in the thousands of dollars as residents in other states did.
Johnson said he was opposed to shuttering Martin Drake Power Plant downtown because the change could drive up costs for everyone.
While expanding on his worries about developing wind energy, Johnson changed course to point out O'Malley's limited experience in the community.
"I don’t applaud you for coming into our city after you have only been here for 19 months and trying to tell us you have a solution because you have some education on board of a ship. This is serious business," Johnson said.
O'Malley moved to Colorado Springs in July 2019 and said he has always gotten involved in any community where he's lived.
"I assessed what was going on, I jumped in and I started doing what I could do," he said.
In a response to a question about how he would approach growth in Colorado Springs over the next five years, Johnson said his first step would be to get big money and dark money out of local politics, saying his opponent represents those outside influences. Once campaign finance reform is undertaken, the city can make progress, he said.
"We can get sensible solutions that comes from the constituents of our community so that they can have a voice and not big money and not dark money," he said.
O'Malley did not respond to his opponents comment about campaign finance. Campaign records show he has accepted $5,000 from Nor’wood and $5,000 from the Housing and Building Association's committee as of March 10, as candidates in other races did. But he had not spent any money on his campaign between Feb. 25 and March 10. Johnson's campaign records appeared incomplete.
O'Malley focused on the question of managing growth rather than responding to criticism, saying in the short-term the community needs to focus on affordable housing, in the mid-term the city should focus on transportation and infrastructure, and long-term the city should encourage investment in research and development so that more companies can export products from Colorado Springs.
"I want to ensure that growth is done responsibly," he said.
The District 6 forum was the last in a series of six hosted by the Gazette and KOAA. All forums are available to view online.
Here are links to previous forums: