At times, there is a coolness in Lorne Kramer’s expression. Like when he’s sitting alone in a crowded room. His black-framed half-glasses ride low on his nose, a far-away look fills his eyes, and you wonder what he’s thinking. Nevertheless, when he stands to greet a visitor, the frown disappears, a smile spreads across his face, and he extends his hand in hometown hospitality
Kramer has been a cop most of his professional career. Maybe the cool look is a defensive expression worn into his face from over 40 years in law enforcement. Now, he’s city manager of Colorado’s second-largest city, so maybe the expression will serve him well.
However, just over a week after the Colorado Springs City Council named Kramer to the city’s top post – City Manager – Kramer has a smile on his face and he’s downright friendly. His new office is sparsely decorated, but brightly lit by numerous floor-to-ceiling window lights. The handshake is firm, and the eye contact is frequent. His smile comes easily, he uses first names extensively, and makes his visitors feel welcome.
Kramer had his dreams; most of which are fulfilled. Like many youngsters, he wanted to be a professional baseball player. “That didn’t work out,” he said, with a mischievous grin on his face. Instead, he became a linotype operator, melting big chunks of lead in a stifling pressroom in Southern California. He worked hard at the Highland Park Journal, just outside of Los Angeles. Eventually he became assistant pressman.
But that wasn’t where it was at, and Kramer knew it. “By coincidence, my neighbor was a Los Angeles policeman,” Kramer said. “I was about to turn 21 and one day he and I were talking over the back fence.”
Kramer took an adrenaline-filled ride one Saturday night with his neighbor the cop. “It was exciting and it was a good fit for me – I’d never thought about being a law enforcement officer before that,” said Kramer, relaxing in his sunny office in the restored City Building.
The pressroom days went away and so did Kramer – to the police academy.
When Kramer came back from academy, he got a rude awakening. On tap were the deadly Watts riots of 1965 in South Central Los Angeles. “I remember the times being extremely stressful. It was a seize mentality,” Kramer said. “I was shot at many times because I worked in the heaviest crime areas most of my career.”
Kramer was good at his job and was on the fast track to the top. He quickly made sergeant, then lieutenant. He headed security for the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, taking charge of 2,500 people in the public safety task force.
“I’ve known a lot of heroes in my day,” Kramer said. In his time in Los Angeles, 66 officers were killed in the line of duty. Three of them were his partners.
Kramer was on the short list to become a deputy chief in Los Angeles. “There’s no doubt I would have made deputy chief,” said Kramer, “so I took a bit of a gamble coming to Colorado Springs.”
Yet it was time for a move, he said. “I felt staying in L.A. wasn’t going to allow me to do some of the things career-wise that I wanted to do – for lack of a better term, I had a vision of what a modern police department was supposed to be like, so I was looking for an opportunity.”
Kramer decided to walk away from the Los Angeles Police Department, and became chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Fast-forward 11 years. Kramer believes he found his vision in Colorado Springs. He believes he’s created a modern department here.
“The caliber and prestige of the Colorado Springs Police Department is highly recognized in a lot of communities,” Kramer said. “I kind of feel like it’s taken for granted here in Colorado Springs.”
In his job as police chief, Kramer was also deputy city manager, learning how to manage employees. Since the Jan. 8 retirement of embattled former city manager Jim Mullen, Kramer has been acting city manager.
He has the support of the entire city council, and was offered the job March 11.
“I have always supported Lorne Kramer for the position,” said councilperson Sallie Clark. “He has a great leadership style; he’s trustworthy, he does his homework.”
Kramer and Mullen have vastly different management skills, said Clark. That’s about all Clark will – or could – say about Mullen. The city apparently agreed not to discuss Mullen, and may face a lawsuit if it does so.
“Employees like Lorne, they feel comfortable around him,” Clark said. “Every request for information does not have to go through a complicated bureaucracy.”
Despite glowing reports, Kramer has a few peccadilloes in his past. There’s the scolding letter from the American Civil Liberties Union in 1998, asking Kramer to instruct his officers to quit issuing citations to people for cussing in Acacia Park
The city’s ordinance banning “offensive” language, the ACLU said, violates the First Amendment. “The First Amendment does not allow the government to punish individuals simply for using language that happens to offend a police officer,” the ACLU said.
One of Kramer’s first jobs as city manager will to appoint a new police chief. He won’t have to look far. The new job will go to one of two of Kramer’s deputy chiefs: Pat McElderry or Luis Velez. The pair have alternated as acting chief since Kramer became acting city manager.
Also high on the list for the new city manager: “One of the primary things on our citizen’s minds are our transportation issues – that is related to growth and the influx of people into our community.”
Another topic expected to surface soon is locating funding for a new civic or convention center. A committee comprised of Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce President Will Temby and other business leaders has organized a finance committee to study ways to fund the structure.
Kramer said he could support a new convention center, but is unsure how it would be funded. Tax increases might be a tough sell, he added.
“I think our economy is strong, but it is fragile,” he said.
“I think a civic center would be very beneficial to this community, but I think we have to listen to what the public has said over the years,” Kramer said. “The public has clearly said they are not willing to support that with public dollars. But I think that building a convention center would be very beneficial for this community.”