“What do you think?” Mayor Steve Bach asked a reporter after preliminary election results were released on Tuesday evening. “Was this an anti-incumbent statement?”
It was all of that and more. Voters rejected every incumbent on the ballot, ending the Council careers of Tim Leigh in District 1, Angela Dougan in D-2, Brandy Williams in D-3, and Bernie Herpin in D-5. Candidates backed by the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, including Dougan and Leigh, lost in five of six districts.
By jettisoning four incumbents, voters removed every city representative on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, the organization responsible for regional transportation planning.
Critical city interests are at stake. The “new” Council quickly must appoint three of its members to serve on the body, all of whom will have to learn on the job.
With six years of service, Jan Martin will be the longest-serving councilor on the body, and the only one who was around prior to April 2011. Val Snider and Merv Bennett have each served for two years, making this the least-experienced Council for decades.
Of the six newly elected councilors, only Keith King has any previous experience as an elected official. District 3 voters chose former state legislator King over at-large incumbent Williams and former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg.
District 1 victor Don Knight, who easily defeated a field that included incumbent Tim Leigh and challengers Joe Barrera, Julie Naye and Linda Mojer, offered his take on a night of change.
“Almost every person I talked to asked about Colorado Springs Utilities,” Knight said, “and when I told them that I strongly believed that Utilities should remain municipally owned and that I supported the Neumann project, it was clear that was the right answer.”
Jill Gaebler, who defeated Herpin, HBA-backed Al Loma and retired businessman Roger McCarville in District 5, credited a broad range of supporters for her victory. Her endorsements included the Police Protective Association and the Sierra Club.
“It’s been a fascinating journey,” Gaebler said. “I’m really looking forward to the next four years. I think that it’s been a great night for Colorado Springs.”
King was equally optimistic: “I’m very pleased and grateful — it’s a wonderful night.”
Five of the six newly-elected councilors have served in the military. Knight served as an Air Force officer for 26 years. D-2’s Joel Miller graduated from the Air Force Academy and has served as an Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard officer and pilot. D-4 victor Helen Collins served in the Navy for 20 years. Jill Gaebler was an Air Force officer for seven years, and District 6 winner Andres Pico spent 21 years as a Naval Flight Officer, retiring as a commander.
Given that at-large incumbent Val Snider is an Air Force retiree, six of nine councilors now will have extensive military backgrounds.
Of the six district races in this election, at least four could be considered upsets.
Running against favored incumbents in multi-candidate fields, Miller and Knight garnered over 50 percent of the vote. Incumbents Leigh and Dougan were crushed by the newcomers, despite raising more money and pulling in important endorsements.
In District 4, the largely self-financed Helen Collins pulled in 39 percent of the vote, defeating Harrison School District 2 board president Deborah Hendrix, community activist and military retiree Dennis Moore, and convicted felon Gary Flakes. It had been widely assumed that Hendrix’s highly visible position on the Harrison school board, together with strong establishment support, would give her an easy victory. Final results showed her trailing Collins by 300 votes.
Former Councilor Tom Gallagher, who withdrew from the District 3 race several weeks ago, offered an explanation.
“The Harrison district only covers a relatively small part of District 4,” he said, “So maybe (Hendrix) wasn’t that familiar to most of the voters.”
Gallagher’s departure in District 3, coupled with his endorsement of King, was widely viewed as a key to that outcome and to Williams being defeated.
In District 6, only 246 votes separated winner Andres Pico, David Moore and Ed Bircham. Moore, who drew support from the HBA, the Regional Business Alliance, Police Protective Association and the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, was considered the favorite with Bircham a probable second. Pico, whose command of the issues impressed many at candidate forums, was the surprise victor.