Readers’ opinions send influential message

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Sometimes the best ideas come on the spur of the moment, inspired only by a healthy sense of curiosity.

That was the case last week during a regular mental chore — thinking of a new question for the Business Journal’s online poll. It’s just one of the ways we try to communicate with the audience and produce reader feedback, even if it’s simply clicking on an answer. We ask a new question each midweek, see how much of a nerve it touches with the business community, and draw conclusions from the results.

In fact, often it’s just as interesting — and as instructive — simply to see what ignites people to participate, since we know the actual outcome isn’t as credible as a scientific, professionally done poll. If our question attracts 100 or so answers, that signals apathy (or a poorly worded question) more than anything. If the responses rise beyond 200, then we’ve hit on a hot-button topic, regardless of how the answers break down.

This latest idea brought a different feeling on our end, starting with a simple question: Who is the most influential man in Colorado Springs? Quickly, though, we realized that gave a big advantage to elected officials like Mayor Steve Bach, Sheriff Terry Maketa or others with a broad constituency.

So we changed the wording to this: “Elected officials aside, which man wields the most influence in Colorado Springs?”

And that question seemed so appropriate, and provocative, that we decided on the spot to follow up with a politically correct sentence to (hopefully) invite more responses: “Next week’s poll will cover influential women.”

We offered six choices, plus an “other” for anybody else. Our participation level has been superlative, surpassing 200 on Monday and reaching 341 by our deadline on Wednesday, when we switched the online question over to women.

Most importantly, though, the actual vote for influential men quickly developed a consensus that only solidified as the totals continued to mount. We basically had a dead heat from Friday to Tuesday, with El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl and billionaire Broadmoor-Gazette owner Philip Anschutz deadlocked a good bit of the time with exactly the same number of votes, from the mid-50s to the 70s and beyond, holding steady at 33 percent each. Finally, a late surge gave Hybl the edge.

Nobody else came close. As you can see in the usual poll results on our op-ed page (p. 21 in this issue), it’s a long dropoff from there to Broadmoor president and CEO Steve Bartolin as well as the “other” option, both of which had stayed around 10 percent. It honestly surprised us that Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, Nor’wood Development Group president Chris Jenkins and U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun didn’t receive significant votes.

Again, it’s not scientific. But the fact that Hybl and Anschutz stood out from the rest tells us that our answer for the most influential man is plural, not singular.

It’s also totally believable. Hybl is 71, Anschutz 73. Both have led remarkable lives, Hybl twice serving as Olympic Committee president and also in advisory functions for the White House, in addition to his El Pomar duties. Anschutz has built a vast fortune in oil, entertainment, railroads and sports, even now hoping to bring a National Football League franchise back to Los Angeles.

They have access to more money than anyone in town, Anschutz in his own pocket, Hybl with his El Pomar position.

Yet, both of them have shown their willingness to enhance Colorado Springs for generations to come, which obviously has something to do with this vote.

You just never know whether everyday people are really paying attention, but in this case they obviously are. They know who controls the biggest purse strings.

So what comes next? Who will stand out as the most influential woman, again not including anyone now serving in elected office? That disqualifies County Commissioner Sallie Clark and City Councilor Jan Martin. But it still leaves strong candidates, such as Margaret Sabin, president and CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services; Laura Neumann, Mayor Steve Bach’s chief of staff; UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak; Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler; Susan Edmondson, president and CEO, Downtown Partnership; Robin Roberts, president of Pikes Peak National Bank; former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, and more.

Obviously, CSBJ readers felt longevity made a difference in the vote for men. But that might not necessarily be the case in the week ahead.

Still, curious minds want to know how intelligent people in Colorado Springs are thinking. That’s why even an innocent little poll at csbj.com can create lots of conversation in any given week. (If you have any suggestions for future questions, please send them to ralph.routon@csbj.com.)

We’re not trying to sway these votes or affect the outcomes. We just want to be your facilitator, and keep you coming back each week for more.