City candidates have to apply business principles

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Here’s a challenge for all you would-be entrepreneurs — run for City Council.

You have three months to create, finance and market a new organization. Once you commit, you’ll be subject to frequent, fierce and often unfair media scrutiny. If you succeed in your local test market, you may be able to go statewide and, if you’re really lucky, even nationwide.

Your market is geographically narrow and demographically wide. You can only market to 16.6 percent of city residents, and must design your product to appeal to everyone between 18 and 100.

It could be a laboratory for entrepreneurs — especially since the entrepreneur is the product.

Successful candidates have many characteristics of successful entrepreneurs: big egos, unafraid of risk, adept at raising money and good at sales. They can recruit followers, they’re well-organized, and they’re good communicators.

It’s fair to assume serious candidates have already announced, so let’s analyze the campaigns in their nascent stages. Without passing judgment on their electability (or lack thereof), which candidates deserve a gold star?

District 5 candidate Jill Gaebler gets the first. Hers looks to be a difficult, competitive race, as she’ll oppose well-thought-of incumbent Bernie Herpin and District 11 board member Al Loma. Gaebler has to carve out her own niche and convince potential supporters she’s a serious candidate.

She formally announced her candidacy last week at Colorado Springs Charter Academy, a successful charter school she co-founded several years ago. Her event lured 100-plus people on a weekday morning, an achievement that few newly-minted pols could match. The crowd was diverse and interesting, including local luminaries such as Suzi Bach, Laura Carno, Al Brody and Dave Gardner. Her campaign themes seem attuned to her crowd and district. The themes: creating jobs through support of local businesses, enhancing infrastructure to support new growth, and building a fiscally sustainable city government.

But even the most brilliant business plan will fail without adequate financing. Gaebler has raised $2,625 so far, but she’ll need to up the ante considerably to compete successfully.

District 2 incumbent Angela Dougan gets another gold star. The direct, plainspoken Dougan was raising serious money while most hopefuls were preparing for the holidays or dozing in front of the TV. Alone among candidates, she filed a finance report on Dec. 3 showing contributions of $6,600. The sum was impressive, and the contributors even more so. including Northgate Properties ($2,500), Chris Jenkins ($100), David Jenkins ($250), Ralph Braden ($250) and the late Kent Petre ($100). A month later, Dougan had raised another $4,794, bringing her balance to $10,487.91 (including funds remaining from her 2011 campaign).

Dougan has money, name recognition, and broad support from the conservative establishment — not to mention the advantages of incumbency. Still, she’s launched the kind of scrappy, ferocious campaign you’d expect from an outsider. It’ll be interesting to see whether her pre-emptive strike will scare off opponents and let her cruise to victory unopposed. A market without competition — the dream of every businessperson.

We’ll revisit the campaigns every couple of weeks. One thing’s for sure: On April 2, six campaigns will win platinum stars, and the rest will be consigned, in Leon Trotsky’s phrase, to the dustbin of history.