Goodbye, Jerry

Thu, Sep 10, 2009


The “great recession,” as pundits now refer to our ongoing economic woes, has had predictable consequences in our city.  We’ve seen businesses downsize or close, government revenues contract and neighbors pack up and move away.

But it was nevertheless surprising to hear Councilman Jerry Heimlicher announce that, five months after having been elected to a second full term, he’s resigning and returning to his Tennessee birthplace.

The reason?  He’s concerned that Ford might follow GM into bankruptcy.

Heimlicher worked for Ford for nearly 38 years, enjoyed substantial success and now receives a reasonably generous “executive pension.”  He anticipates that, should Ford file bankruptcy, his pension would be drastically slashed.

“I had a lot of friends at GM,” he told me, “and when I saw what was happening to them, Mary Margaret and I began to have conversations about our situation, and we decided to make changes before we might be forced to make them.”

That means selling their comfortable home, which is perched on the side of Cheyenne Mountain, and moving away. It means reducing expenses, and positioning themselves for an unknowable future.

“We’ll be going to our 50th high school reunion in Tennessee, where we both went to the same school,” Heimlicher saidd, “and it just feels right to take this step.”

At the council meeting when Heimlicher formally announced his decision, Vice Mayor Larry Small, who was presiding over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Lionel Rivera, thanked him for his service. 

Visibly moved, his voice cracking at times, Small noted that they had followed similar paths in their lives, culminating in their present posts on City Council.

Heimlicher was a model councilmember.  He was diligent, informed and responsive to his constituents.  A few years ago, when a blocked sewer main led to flooded basements and backed-up sewers in every house on my west side block, Heimlicher was our champion. 

Sweeping aside Colorado Springs Utilities’ absurd contention that it was somehow our fault that the main had blocked up, and that utilities bore no liability for the mess, he convinced his colleagues on council to change official policy, compensate us and compensate any future victims of such accidents.  He was there the night of the spill, talking to homeowners and getting the facts, as well as communicating with utilities officials and other members of council.

I know from experience that it’s easy to pontificate, and easy to get your name in the paper.  It’s not so easy to spend an evening dealing with angry homeowners and harried utilities workers. And it’s even more difficult to solve such a problem.

Jerry’s experience in business served him well.  He was used to solving problems, used to difficult situations and unafraid to take a stand, and defend it.

There will, I’m sure, be a couple of dozen applicants for his seat.  As Sen. Michael Bennet knows, it’s a lot easier to get one vote, or five votes, than to raise money, walk the precincts, work Rotary, Kiwanis and the Lions, and win an actual election.

Whoever is selected will inevitably be compared to Jerry.

He or she should be prepared to be found lacking. There’s an old story, attributed to a now-obscure rhythm and blues performer who, during a concert, followed  Bo Diddley on stage.

“Man,” he said, “that Bo just goes out there, and digs a hole so deep on the stage, that you go out and just fall in it — and nobody even notices that you’re there.”

So long, Jerry — we’ll miss you.



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