To those of us covering it, the 24-candidate City Council race may seem like the biggest show on earth, but it may scarcely register on the radar screens of most Colorado Springs residents.
Our neighbor Susan was surprised to note that Jim Bensberg was running for office.
“I didn’t even know there was an election,” she said, “but I got this ballot in the mail, and there’s Jimmy! I’ll definitely vote for him.”
Bensberg, Keith King, Brandy Williams and Tom Gallagher have name recognition, many friends, and lots of acquaintances. In a low profile election, that would ordinarily guarantee election – but they’re all running in District 3.
Who will win? I have no idea.
King has the most money, the highest profile and the slickest campaign. With a quarter of century of experience in elected office, he’s as comfortable as an old shoe, and therein may lie a problem.
Fifteen years ago, I was chatting with Lindsay Fischer, then as now the dean of Colorado Springs attorneys. The conversation turned to longtime Mayor Bob Isaac, and I opined that Bob could easily get elected to a fifth term in 1999.
“I’m not sure of that,” said Lindsay.”Even the finest cut of beef has a sell-by date. No politician can stay in office forever.”
In the event, Isaac resigned before the end of his term, so we’ll never know whether Lindsay was right.
Yet his point is valid. Times change, and many of King’s erstwhile supporters have passed away, while thousands of present-day voters weren’t even born when he was first elected to office.
For those fortunate enough to get elected to office, time seems to stand still. Twenty-year incumbents still think of themselves as young in spirit, yet seasoned and matured by their years in office. It never occurs to them that they may have become irrelevant to a new generation of voters, that maybe it’s time for them to move on.
Why stay around? In an honest city such as ours, there’s no money to be made in elected office, no cushy lobbyist jobs awaiting retirees, and no particular honor in serving. You do your time and at the end of your term you get a cheaply framed certificate attesting to your good character, and that’s it – not even the $100 that released prisoners get.
Recidivism is common among prisoners, who likely return to their criminal ways because it’s what they know. It’s a lot more common among politicians, because serving in elected office is profoundly addictive.
As a member of council, a state legislator or a county commissioner you imagine yourself to be at the center of the universe. Powerful people kowtow to you, because you participate in decisions that affect their lives in important ways. It’s a heady feeling, and you internalize it – you imagine that this is your world. And then you’re out of office, and no one cares.
Your calls go unreturned, your emails ignored, and Rotary doesn’t want you to speak at their meetings. You don’t like this new life. Might as well admit it – you’re addicted to (political) love.
So you run again…and again…and again. You say that it’s all about serving your community and putting your experience to work, but it’s not. It’s all about you and your need to be on stage.
Is addiction driving the campaigns of Bensberg, King, Bernie Herpin, and Gallagher? Maybe – only they can say. All four have been at least competent and occasionally inspired in office, and any one of them could serve with distinction in the future.
At least two of these aging hopefuls (and possibly all four) will fall short in this campaign. Take it from one whom the citizens tossed to the curb 15 years ago – it ain’t so bad! You get used to it, life goes on, you go to your weekly PA (politicians anonymous) meetings, and I’ll tell you a secret…
I definitely would have run if I thought I had a chance! Go for it, geezers…