Tim Leigh: vision trumps experience

Mon, May 24, 2010


Tim Leigh is mad, mad, mad at me!! Why? Because I suggested that Sallie Clark would be a better fit as a “strong mayor” come 2011.

Here’s what Tim wrote in his defense.

“I have been asked about my vision for Colorado Springs. It’s simple. My vision includes resetting Colorado Springs as “a world class destination.” If elected Mayor, I intend to spend my term working toward that goal. It seems to me that that is a large part of what’s missing in our city right now; that we have no supervening vision. We’re a rudderless ship bouncing in the rough waters of the global economy with no hope of landing at the port of profitable trade & booming economies.

And if we look to our history to find our future, it’s clear that my vision is merely a restatement of what our founders intended. They settled Colorado Springs as a world class destination and it became one. Now we must reset and reclaim our rightful destiny.

The next question is “how?” John Hazelhurst seems to think the only person who can answer that question is Sallie Clark. Now I like Sallie, and my comments are not meant to disparage her. (See Hazelhurst’s column from last Friday.) But, according to Hazelhurst, Sallie’s the only person “who has all the “necessaries”, including long experience in government and business, a deep pool of passionate supporters, vast political savvy and steely resolve”. He mostly writes-off Buddy Gilmore and me. I gotta tell ya, John, I take issue that you need to have “long experience in government” to run this city. In fact, I’d submit that that’s one of our problems. We need somebody who has been doing something besides government; someone who is not afraid to raise creative, outside-the-box, fresh ideas. “

I’ve heard that mantra before. Remember when Steve Schuck, Bruce Benson, and Marc Holtzman ran for governor, each spending millions of dollars of their own considerable resources in separate, quixotic quests for the state’s highest office? They believed that success in business coupled with no political experience made them uniquely qualified to be governor. The voters disagreed.

Local and state governments are not merely subsets of private enterprise, but a whole different class of organizations. They have different goals, different sources of revenue, and often require different leadership strategies to achieve success.

You wouldn’t expect to become the CEO of a major real estate brokerage with no experience in real estate, would you? If you did, it would be because of closely related business experience, and broad familiarity with the industry.

There have been exceptions. Close to home, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was elected despite (or maybe because of) his lack of experience in office. Most agree that he’s done a superb job in difficult circumstances (Tim, I assume that you and Buddy will both be donating to his gubernatorial campaign…right?). But such exceptions don’t disprove the rule.

Every one of our Mayors has previously served a term or two on city council. That’s the place to introduce new ideas, to hone your leadership skills, and gain the confidence and respect of your peers. Either Tim or Buddy would be superb council members…but it’s not much fun to spend four years as a second fiddle for no money. That’s for interns and non – profit volunteers, not visionary leaders!

Because of what amounts to a “perfect storm” of political blunders by our present council, which played out during the deepest recession in memory, it’s improbable that any sitting councilmember could be chosen to lead the city.

Enter Clark, who, as I pointed out, has all the “necessaries” (in Al Campanis’s unfortunate phrase) to be elected to the office.

That’s not to say that Tim couldn’t run and win. He’s a smart, engaging guy who has so far run a solid campaign. But here’s the question: could he run, win, and govern successfully?

As I read it, the “strong mayor” must be an administrator, a boss, a superb politician, and someone with clear, unshakeable focus. He/she will have to schmooze and subtly direct the now-independent council, choose administrators wisely, closely monitor the details of city government, relentlessly promote the city throughout the world (and fly economy while doing it!), create multi-hundred page budgets, and…oh, yeah, the vision thing!

Moreover, he/she will have to do it all under the baleful scrutiny of the media (I can hardly wait).

If Tim had served a term on Council, or on the School Board, or in any elected position, I’d have no doubts about his ability to run the city. Absent such experience, there’s a question mark.

But if Clark declines to run, the position will most likely be Tim’s by default. Politics is all about seizing opportunity and Leigh has done exactly that. Buddy Gilmore’s campaign is invisible so far, and Leigh has commanded the stage without a misstep.

Political experience or not, Tim has learned from Bill Clinton, from Barack Obama, and even from Doug Lamborn.

If you want an office, you go for it. It’s like courting – don’t assume that you’re not worthy until you’re rejected. It may be that the power boys have someone in mind to be the strong mayor, but he/she will be a distant third by summer’s end.

So maybe I’ll vote for Tim, on one condition.

Tim, it’s ‘Hazlehurst’, not ‘Hazelhurst.’

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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Chad Says:

    “My vision includes resetting Colorado Springs as ‘a world class destination.’ If elected Mayor, I intend to spend my term working toward that goal.”

    Yet another politician who doesn’t care about what the public he serves is interested in. He has a vision, by golly, and the public can only get in the way of him steamrolling towards it. These are NOT the kind of people we need in government!

  2. Karen Says:

    Thanks for informing me of the spelling of your name–I had it wrong!

  3. Buddy Gilmore Says:


    I think a lot of what you are going on is the fact that Sallie has been working as an elected official in our community for several years and a known quantity. I know Sallie and think highly of her. However, you know very little of myself, or even of Tim. One of the reasons Tim and I got into the race early is because there are many in this town that dont know us, other than Tim’s signs and some of my own community work. It takes time to develop the trust with the good people of Colorado Springs. We, along with the others who will eventually enter this race, must lay out our vision for the future and the roadmap to get us there. Both Tim and I have been officially in the race for around three months, and there is a long way to go. Spend some time finding out about our leadership skills, our ability to work with others, and our willingness to do the hard work required to get our city moving forward. If after your due diligence, you still decide to throw one or both of us under the bus, so be it. But at least you will do it with some understanding of who we are.

  4. The Watcher Says:

    What troubles me more than anything is that Tim Leigh actually is concerned about what John says.

    Anyone that his lived here for any length of time knows that John was pretty much an inept local politician that now gets paid to spout his fairly liberal opinion.

    Sallie Clark– Too much of an appeaser and not a leader. Just because you can administer policy does not make you an effective leader (remember Jimmy Carter?). And yes John, I read your blog to see what sort of lunacy will come out of your head next. Not because I agree, but so I can understand how the other half thinks.

    This city and this paper can do better. Is Tim Leigh the answer? I am not sure yet, but it is a start. Is John the answer? Absolutely NOT! Perhaps the CSBJ could hire someone that would offer a view counter to his. Now that is an article I’m sure many would love to read.

  5. Peggy Masisa Says:

    You go Tim! Sometimes new and fresh ideas verses experience are just what is needed to set the boat back on course.

  6. Rick Wehner Says:

    Back in the summer of 1983 Terry Harris made the following comment:

    “El Paso County is in such dire financial straits that the public no longer can get the same level of service from county government.”

    The county has been in and out of “financial crisis mode” for the 26 years since – the worst of which came during Sallie Clark’s time on the board.

    With the fiscal challenges facing the city, would electing a county official to the position of mayor make any sense at this time? Or, at any other time when real leadership is called for?

  7. Buddy Gilmore Says:

    John, One last comment in regards to my being “invisible”. This city is 200 square miles in size, and every citizen does not subscribe to the notion that the world revolves around the the two dozen or so blocks that define the downtown area. In fact, one of the reasons why we sometimes act like a dysfunctional community is because some who spend all of their time in the confines of downtown proper are not in touch with the far edges of our city. When was the last time you saw a town hall meeting with city officials held in, say, Briargate, or Stetson Hills, or Mountain Shadows? Those folks count, and those are the folks I’m talking to. You need to get out more, John. I promise you – your car will not fall off the edge of the earth if you cross Platte.

  8. Liam Says:

    Very interesting to read, indeed. And I am surprised that Leigh took to heart the comments that John wrote. Apparently Leigh’s handlers have not advised him how to handle the local media… an excusable rookie error, but not an error that a “strong mayor” would make.

    This town does not need a visionary who lacks local elected experience. It needs a bona fide business manager who is supposed to be replacing a city manager (isn’t that what reformists for a strong mayor form of government are pushing?) I do not want to overemphasize the need for knowing how local government works – but it IS a little different than managing a small business – and anyone who pays attention knows that typically the first several years spent on City Council is spent simply getting oriented and knowing how government operates. Very few rookie council members are effective leaders or legislators in their first 2-3 years of service… rookie council members are very well worth the $6250 they’re paid. But paying a rookie strong mayor $100k to learn the job in the first couple of years is a completerly different story (one that doesn’t seem like a good use of the money to me).

    We can be quite sure there will be more mayoral candidates surfacing between now and whenever, so it seems premature to assume Leigh and Gilmore (and maybe Clark?) are the only viable candidates. I’m guessing there will be at least 3 or more who have not yet announced, and most likely the list will include someone who has previous elected experience.

  9. Jon Says:

    ~ The Watcher (Post #4)

    I thought I was the only one to read this blog to better understand how to vote! John makes it easy. Read what he says and prescribes, then do the opposite.

    It’s certainly easier than listening to the conservatives that can’t seem to focus on the core issues that could easily sway upset moderates to the right…good to see others looking for clarity from John ;)

    Why doesn’t the CSBJ hire someone to write across from John? You probably get more readers when you upset them rather than placate them.

  10. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Thanks for the comments! Watcher, I gather from your comments that the memory of my brilliance as an elected official has dimmed, and that I can’t count on your support from now on…OTH, you’re right that Tim should ignore media pinpricks.

    But I still think that those who discount the importance of actual political experience are misguided. Governments are messy, complicated beasts, the products of many generations of compromises and half-measures. They can’t be reformed as businesses are reformed, by bankruptcy, merger, or going out of business.

    No one who has not sat on the dais and suffered through endless school board, county commission, or city council meetings ought to assume that he/she is qualified to lead such an organization.

  11. John Hazlehurst Says:

    And BTW, ran into one of the city’s major power players yesterday afternoon, who scolded me for making fun of Tim Leigh. He told me that he knows, from long personal experience, that Tim is a talented negotiator a man with a genius for building agreement and achieving appropriate and fair outcomes. I don’t disagree-but as Sam Rayburn once told LBJ apropos of President Kennedy’s “New Frontiersmen”, “They may be just as bright as you say, Lyndon, but I wish that just one of ‘em had run for Sheriff somewhere.”

  12. Liam Says:

    I ran into a power player the other day also, albeit only a semi-major one. But it’s safe to say Leigh likely won’t get her vote as a result of her own “long personal experience” with him in the bizz world (“Genius” never came up in our conversation).

  13. Rick Wehner Says:

    Perhaps the key in the next mayoral election is who has the best plan to deal with the impact on the local economy with the passage of prop 60 and 61 and who at this time is preparing for that eventuality?