When President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a fourth term in 1944, his campaign seized on an old country aphorism to use as his re-election theme: “Don’t change horses in midstream!”
But as every businessperson knows, different tasks require different skill sets. A company’s charismatic founder may not be the person to take the mundane, detail-oriented position of running an established business. Sprinters have fast-twitch muscles, while distance runners are slow-twitch people. Offensive linemen can’t play cornerback, and vice versa.
Apply that to City for Champions.
It’s difficult to imagine any Colorado Springs elected leader besides Mayor Steve Bach putting such a complex proposal together in the space of a few months, and then persuading the Colorado Economic Development Commission to ignore the recommendation of its own staff and award the city $120 million in state tax increment funding.
Bach had to be the pit bull. Rightly or wrongly, he kept City Council out of the loop and put the deal together with a half-dozen staffers, some hired guns from Denver and a blue-ribbon advocacy team unmatched in the city’s recent history. Once it went public, Bach had to fend off media naysayers and deal with an outraged Council majority while keeping the project on track.
After the proposal was unveiled, it was clear that one project was a nonstarter. The baseball stadium had to go, so in less than three weeks, Bach’s team replaced it with an entirely different project. Goodbye Sky Sox, hello Sports and Events Center.
Baseball? What baseball? We’re America’s Olympic City!
It was a masterful performance — and now it’s time for a new team.
Mayor Bach, Chris Jenkins, Dick Celeste, Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Doug Price have been the faces of the deal. They need to step back into the shadows — and empower those who will be charged with explaining and selling the deal to the skeptical residents of Colorado Springs.
Within a week or so, the mayor will name a committee to oversee the long process of funding and building the four projects. Such committees are usually filled with certified community leaders — that is, most of the members are male of sex, white of skin and gray of hair.
This group should be different. Its members should be skilled in the art of persuasion, approachable, personable and unburdened by business or political conflicts of interest — real or apparent. For example, Jenkins is a great guy, but since he stands to benefit personally from the two downtown projects, he’s not a good spokesperson for them.
Who should be on the committee?
First off, Susan Edmondson and Aimee Cox. Edmondson, now CEO of the Downtown Partnership, has headed the Bee Vradenburg Foundation and prior to that was The Gazette’s arts and entertainment editor. She’s beloved in the arts community, and scarily media-savvy.
Cox, who works for Bach in the city’s economic vitality department, previously served as City Council administrator. She’s been a Manitou Springs councilmember and is widely respected for her intelligence, integrity and quick eloquence.
Add two of the city’s most credible PR people, Meredith Vaughn and Camille Blakely. They know how to make a pitch, know how the city works, and deeply understand our market.
Appoint a couple of former elected leaders, whose independence and credibility can’t be questioned. What about former Council President Scott Hente and downtown businessman Richard Skorman?
And how about some former world-class and/or Olympic athletes? Goose Gossage, Jill Trenary, Alison Dunlap, Lisa Rainsberger — any or all would be amazing.
Educators? Colorado College president Jill Tiefenthaler is a fierce and effective advocate for her institution, and for her adopted city.
And let’s bring some artists aboard — why not the multi-talented husband and wife duo, Douglas and Mallori Rouse, as well as filmmaker Pete Schuermann along with his banker spouse, Ashley Seiler Schuermann?
Finally, we need some elders — wise men and women of unimpeachable integrity, with long records of community achievement. We couldn’t do better than former mayor Mary Lou Makepeace and attorney/philanthropist Sandy Kraemer, if they’d consent to serve.
There are some deliberate omissions. No currently serving elected officials are included. Both the Board of County Commissioners and City Council will likely have to weigh in on any proposed local public funding, so prior public advocacy might be seen as inappropriate.
But make no mistake, this is an advocacy committee, and it will be tasked with the biggest job imaginable.
Selling the city’s future.