I’m not surprised any more to see unexpected friends and acquaintances whenever I go downtown, but even for me, last October’s meeting was unusual.
Stirred by reports of low interest rates, I’d taken a morning off from work, and drove downtown to an appointment with a banker. It took less than an hour to sign paperwork and write a check to originate a refinancing on my tiny Westside cottage.
So I walked across the street to Centennial Hall, to vote early.
On the way, I nodded to Lionel Rivera, the mayor. No security guard, no fanfare, just a guy walking to, I assumed, his real, earn-a-living-wage job in the Wells Fargo building.
I thought about extending a handshake and introducing myself; but, except in writing, I’m shy; and anyway, what would I say?
I went through most of my ballot decisions at lightning speed. My candidate choices were predictably all Democrats, and I voted for the city, county and state to keep as much income as possible; my wages as a teacher, and my quality of life as a citizen, depend at least partly on their solvency.
Then I got to the strong-mayor initiative, and came to a dead stop. I’d read that this reorganization of the city government would mean the mayor would no longer be a member of the city council, but would have a whole different level of authority. That sounded dictatorial — I liked it that the mayor had to put up with all the same inconveniences as council members! I liked, too, that image of Lionel Rivera walking to his job just like any other downtown businessman. I didn’t think a well-compensated strong mayor would do that.
But I remembered, too, the murky, dingy feeling of the USOC deal. I remembered the squares of asphalt downtown, where beautiful buildings used to stand. I remembered the bus system that limps along so futilely that I don’t even consider taking it. I remembered the city museum having to fight for its existence. I remembered the picnic Jake and I had last spring, at Red Rock Canyon, and realizing there were no trash cans, and packing our greasy napkins out like we were backcountry camping. I remembered how carefully I now have to plan my runs because hardly any parks have functioning restrooms.
I pushed the ‘yes’ button. Maybe the newly strong mayor wouldn’t have the same priorities; but maybe he’d have the power to make the needed changes.
So what is it I want from the new mayor?
Here’s the shopping list:
Make work, shopping and recreation reasonably accessible with public transportation.
Make the parks accessible with adequate trash containers and restrooms.
Understand that allowing the reflecting pools in Monument Valley park to turn to repellent swamps destroys the city’s image to both citizens and visitors.
Open the pools — keeping them closed just gives young adolescents less to do and more time to get in trouble.
Quit worrying about the medians — involve the volunteers!
Revamp the tax structure so that companies are rewarded for placing their headquarters downtown — and if you want the downtown businesses to succeed, consider a parking fee holiday, or at the very least make every parking meter downtown accept credit cards. People don’t like having to squirrel away quarters to feed parking meters.
Consider, on the other hand, charging a small fee for visiting the Pioneers museum — but insist that the money be used to publicize its existence and exhibits.
And for God’s sake, revamp the city web site to make it navigable — if need be, divide it into two sites, one for tourists and one for residents.
Finally, think about making Tejon Street, from Acacia Park south to Vermijo, a pedestrian mall. Much of it already is, on weekend nights. I never understood how two-way car traffic was supposed to help the businesses on that street. No matter the road warrior ethic — people don’t shop until they stop and park their cars.
That’s all small stuff though. What do I really, really want?
You know, I think I want to be led.
Kids in middle school will tell you that they don’t want any one to tell them where to go or sit, what to wear or what to talk about. But they’re wrong. The happiest, most productive classes I’ve seen are ones in which the teacher leads them in chants, songs, even dances… think of Jaime Escalante’s students in the movie “Stand and Deliver”, chu-chu-chu — ing . The rest of us aren’t so different, and we’re a military town. We like the feeling of esprit de corps; we like being about something. And for the last few decades, we seem to be largely about .. What? Shopping at the mall?
This is what Wikipedia says about Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who in the 1930s was the “little Napoleon” of New York:
“La Guardia revitalized New York City and restored public faith in City Hall. He unified the transit system; directed the building of low-cost public housing, public playgrounds, and parks; constructed airports; reorganized the police force; defeated the powerful Tammany Hall political machine; and reestablished merit employment in place of patronage jobs. He brought in vast sums of federal money.”
A lot of that doesn’t sound like a bad model for our future strong mayor.
We’re a bunch of villages now: us hippies on the West Side, the rich old guard and academics in the Old North End, the military retirees in Village Seven, the well-to-do New Lifers in Briargate. It makes us all wonderfully diverse, but often it seems we don’t live in the same city.
We need someone who’ll figure out how to make us all move in the same direction, at least some of the time. We need someone who will inspire, no, demand involvement from the citizens, to make this place the sparkling jewel its physical environment and heavenly weather promise.
Syrovy is a teacher in Colorado Springs’ District 11. Reach her at email@example.com.