An unexpected exit from the mayor’s race

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Politics, with its always-present potential to entertain and horrify at the same instant, delivered big-time this month with the Scott McInnis plagiarism implosion.

Why McInnis, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, hasn’t yet pulled out of the race is beyond most of us, though it sure revealed much about his character.

On the flip side, it was surprising to see real estate broker and property manager Tim Leigh withdraw so suddenly from the Colorado Springs mayor’s race.

Before his unexpected exit early this month, Leigh, the president of Hoff & Leigh, had spent months getting the word out about his candidacy.

To do so, one of Leigh’s tactics included sending out an e-mail on Sundays with his latest musings on what he believed it takes to lead a city and what might be required to resolve some of the issues afflicting Colorado Springs.

I liked a lot of what I read in those e-mails. Leigh struck me as a clear-eyed pragmatist with lots of intelligence and, better still, an open mind.

When he announced he was running, he said he was doing so because he thought he could bring a “fresh approach to the way we govern ourselves.”

It certainly was refreshing to hear Leigh give voice to some of what’s frustrating about life here.

The city, he’d say, is missing “cohesion at the top.”

“This is a citizenry of 500,000 people and … there’s no community here,” he’d rightly complain.

“We need to re-establish that we are a community,” he’d say. “We need to re-establish that it’s a global marketplace out there, and we are competing in that global marketplace. And if we don’t pull together and compete together, we will be overrun.”

Tying the interests of the local community to the global marketplace in the same thought? That doesn’t happen enough in this city, and Leigh seemed to be doing his best to push some of the right buttons.

In revealing his decision over the July 4th weekend, Leigh listed a few of the things he’d concluded while campaigning.

He wrote of the need for a strong mayor whose compensation would be at least on par with the city manager. “Consider that our city budget is around $2 billion (rough numbers, all-in); and we want a part-time guy earning $500 a month running that? Are we nuts?”

He also wrote about the need to rethink how the city develops its budget, and how we should embrace a different budgeting style that puts the emphasis on priorities rather than merely on costs.

He noted that he met with citizen groups established out of a growing distrust of city government — and had some strong and surprising things to say about that. “Hey fellas,” he wrote, “here’s a news flash — they (city workers) are (doing their best), so you can (relax). Do we need a watchdog group to oversee the overseers who are overseeing the overseers? Where does this lunacy end?”

Along this vein, Leigh had another important thought:

“We’ve been a city of commissions and studies; now we must become a city of doers. We’ve had a Charter Review Commission. We’ve had a Sustainable Funding Commission and now we have the Memorial Commission. Enough with the studies already!

“Smart people have provided guidance. The answers are the same every time. Let’s get the utilities guys their own governance; let’s get the hospital its own governance; let’s get the parks and arts their own governance — and let’s call for appropriate return on investment from each.”

Leigh, meanwhile, also had what looked like pretty solid support from the right people. Lorne Kramer, the former Colorado Springs Police chief and city manager, and Steve Schuck of the Schuck Corp. were said to be backing him.

So what happened? How did we go from what sounded like a promising campaign by a seasoned businessman to where we are now in six short months? Why did Leigh really pack his bags in retreat?

In his withdrawal announcement, Leigh said he learned that being a successful politician is a full-time job, and that when he decided to run, he was operating under the misguided notion that he could do both well on a part-time basis.

Really?

That full-time/part-time calculation wouldn’t have required too much math on the front end. It’s hard to believe Leigh had overlooked putting pen to paper on that question before jumping in to the race.

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t do much good to wonder what else might have prompted Leigh’s withdrawal. There is, after all, a more urgent question ahead: who else might challenge our thinking in the way that Leigh was beginning to?

The mayoral election isn’t until April. That gives us plenty of time to get a close look at the other candidates. But I’ll miss seeing what Tim Leigh might have brought to the table.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.