Many eyes are on the Springs’ mayor’s job

Colorado Springs will choose a new mayor next spring, a fresh face to lead the city at a time when budgets are uncertain and the future even less sure. So who will it be?

The Business Journal has identified a handful of likely and perhaps not so likely potential candidates for the job, identified their strengths and weaknesses, and established the early betting line on each.

Some of these are familiar names to the business community, others less so to the wider public. Have we left anybody out? We expect so, but here’s the list at the moment.

Larry Small

Present job: vice mayor

Bio: Small has lived in Colorado Springs since 1973. He spent most of his business career with Lockheed Martin, retiring as chief of the company’s Turkish operations. Small served briefly on the City Council from 1991-93, and was elected to an at-large council seat in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007, and has served as vice mayor since 2005.

Political views: Center-right.

In the race or not: Expect Small to announce his candidacy after the November elections.

Strengths/weaknesses: Tough and often combative — traits that he may have developed as a Golden Gloves boxer in West Virginia — Small doesn’t shy away from fights. He’s taken on anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce, Focus on the Family, and has a low tolerance for mealy-mouthed political dialogue. Exceptionally knowledgeable, and an experienced administrator, he’d be a credible candidate should voters opt for a strong mayor form of government. But his virtues are also his vices: he’s made plenty of enemies by being plainspoken, and he’s a veteran council member at a time when many Springs residents may want change.

Campaign theme: “I’ll just tell people the truth,” Small said, “and we’ll see how far that gets me.”

Odds: 4-1

Brian Bahr

Present job: Owner/founder of Challenger Homes, a local entry-level and first move-up builder with model homes in 11 Colorado Springs neighborhoods.

Bio: Bahr founded Challenger Homes  in 2000. He had previously worked as an internal auditor for Sunstone Hotel Investors, and had been a real estate salesman and property manager. A Brigham Young University graduate, he lives in northern Colorado Springs.

Political views: Right.

In the race or not: Bahr announced his candidacy on Wednesday.

Strengths/weaknesses: Thus far, Bahr is a political unknown. He’ll formally announce his campaign and unveil his platform, and launch his website on Aug. 25. Given that his campaign spokesman is Kyle Fisk, a conservative Republican, it’s safe to assume that Bahr will be hoping for support from the conservative right.  His campaign press release touts him as “an individual of high integrity, significant personal financial resources and a long history of professional management experience.”

Like several other announced and probable candidates, Bahr hopes to turn his lack of political experience into an asset.  Asked to identify expected sources of support for Bar’s candidacy, Fisk demurred.

“It’s too early to say,” Fisk said after Bahr’s candidacy was announced. “He’s going to be meeting stakeholders in the community and sharing his ideas and vision.  Today was just saying, ‘Hey, I’m in the race.’”

While Bahr’s candidacy deserves to be taken seriously, his lack of political experience and identifiable support could be a handicap.

Campaign theme: “It’s time for Colorado Springs to stop simply surviving. Now is the time to thrive.”

Odds: 8-1

Steve Bach

Present job: owns Bach Real Estate Brokers, specializing in commercial properties.

Bio: First came to Colorado Springs in the early 1960s as a soldier stationed in Fort Carson. He returned to stay in 1974, and has worked as a both a broker and a developer since the early 1980s. He has been extensively involved in the community during the last 35 years, often focusing on initiatives to create and retain jobs.

Political views: Business-oriented conservative.

In the race or not: A strong maybe. “I’ve been talking with a few people (about the race),” Bach said. “I have no interest in the title of mayor. I’m at the twilight of my career, so I’ll only get involved if I think I can make a difference.”

Strengths/weaknesses: “Developer” may not be the ideal occupation for an aspiring politician, but Bach has never been one of the good ol’ boys. Quirky, articulate and deeply rooted in the community, Bach might be a compelling campaigner.

Campaign theme: “We’ve added 90,000 people and lost 2,000 primary jobs in the last 10 years,” Bach said. “Only 27 percent of our population is in the 25-44 age group — we need at least 31 percent. There’s 10 million square feet of vacant commercial space, and it’ll take 25,000 new jobs to fill that space.”

Odds: 5-1

Dave Munger

Present job: Retired. Now president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, as well serving on multiple community boards, including the Memorial Health Systems Commission, the Downtown Partnership, and Ecumenical Social Ministries.

Bio: Served in the Air Force as a signals intelligence officer for three years after graduating from college. Worked as a college administrator, and subsequently founded a “management, research, and marketing consulting firm” which he ran for 20 years. With his spouse, Paula, he also founded and ran an early-learning center in Virginia.

Political views: Center-left.

In the race or not: Fully committed. His campaign has a website, Twitter account, and a relatively inactive Facebook page ( 54 friends).

Strengths/weaknesses: A longtime community activist, Munger is well-regarded by many community leaders, past and present. His bio is tailor-made for an aspiring pol in Colorado Springs, where voters have historically supported candidates with business, military and community experience. In these uncertain times, will voters still support Munger’s moderate, non-confrontational approach? Or will they opt for radical change?

Campaign theme: “Let’s work together again to focus on three priorities: restoring trust, creating jobs, and advancing community.”

Odds: 3-1 (the frontrunner, at least for now).

Sallie Clark

Present job: County Commissioner. With spouse, owns and operates Holden House, a Westside bed and breakfast.

Bio: Clark has lived in Colorado Springs since 1985. She opened Holden House in 1986 and first became involved in local politics in the early 1990s, when she successfully led a neighborhood coalition that prevented the closure of Fire Station 3. She ran for mayor in 1999, lost, ran for city council two years later, won, resigned her seat to run again for mayor in 2003, lost, ran for county commissioner in 2004, won, and was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2008. She has twice been chosen by her peers to serve as commission chair.

Political views: Center-right.

In the race or not: Not yet. Asked whether she’s planning to enter the race, Clark said, “I have no plans to do so at present.” Political wags will focus on the “at present” part of her response.

Strengths/weaknesses: Clark is one of the canniest politicians in Colorado Springs. Her Westside base is impregnable — supporters and opponents alike refer to her as either “Boss Clark” or “The Redhead.” Her support runs across party and ideological lines. A Clark campaign for mayor would likely attract hundreds of volunteers and a powerful network of contributors. Now heading Republican Scott McInnis’ campaign in El Paso County, Clark won’t commit until that campaign is over. In normal times, her long experience and extensive political network would make her a virtual lock — but these may not be normal times.

Campaign theme: Expect Clark to emphasize her Colorado roots, her business experience, her neighborhood activism, and her success as a county commissioner.

Odds: 5-2

Buddy Gilmore

Present job: CEO, Shape Technologies.

Bio: Gilmore is a successful entrepreneur who founded Colorado Springs-based Shape Technologies in 2000. A year later, he emptied his 401(k) and put his home up for collateral to grow the company, now a successful defense contractor. Recently elected to the board of directors for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Gilmore was involved in the creation of a special court in El Paso County for war veterans who commit nonviolent crimes.

Political views: Right.

In the race or not: One of two announced candidates, Gilmore said in February that he’ll withdraw if treatments for his recently diagnosed prostate cancer become “too intensive.” Contacted more recently, Gilmore said that he remains “firmly committed” to the race.

Strengths/weaknesses: Successful entrepreneur, Air Force veteran, conservative politically — what’s not to like? Gilmore may be able to mount a powerful campaign, but he’s yet to do much, other than hiring former Doug Lamborn staffer Ashley Walters.

“We’re kind of layin’ back,” Gilmore said. “There’s a lot of time until April, and all the air’s being sucked up by the governor’s race. We’ll wait until after the election to really launch the campaign.”

Sounds reasonable, but as a relatively unknown, Gilmore may have frittered away his chances by being so disengaged. It may be difficult for him to marshal support and create name-recognition in such a short time. On the other hand, if he can position himself as the favored candidate of the conservative right, he has a good shot.

Campaign theme: “Communicate,” said Gilmore, “We don’t talk as a community. It’s all about starting to communicate.”

Odds: 7-1

Sean Paige

Present job: appointed to City Council last year to fill the district seat vacated by Jerry Heimlicher.

Bio: Worked for 14 years in Washington at the intersection of conservative politics, journalism and public policy, including a stint as press secretary for the 1996 presidential campaign of Ambassador Alan Keyes. He came to Colorado Springs in 2002 to replace Dan Njegomir as the Gazette’s editorial page editor, serving in that position until 2007. He now serves as executive director of two Colorado Springs policy groups, the Limited Government Forum and Local Liberty Action. He’s the editor of Local Liberty Online.org, a website which, he says, “is focused on the fight for freedom in America’s backyard.”

Political views: Libertarian with a capital “L.”

In the race or not: A very strong maybe. “I won’t enter the race if there’s someone running who represents the ideas and policies that I’ve been advocating,” he said, making it clear that such a candidate has yet to appear.

Strengths/weaknesses: Paige is smart, articulate and fiercely effective in debate. In a council dominated by dispirited veterans, he’s been a highly visible newcomer. His Libertarian beliefs may be attractive to many voters, but others may find them extreme and eccentric.

Campaign theme: “I don’t think people care what the power brokers say,” Paige said.

Odds: 4-1