The neighborhood activists and earnest community builders who thought they could substitute their own redistricting plans for those proposed by City Clerk Sarah Johnson might have not bothered to do so had they downloaded “Steel Magnolias” from Netflix.
Johnson is one of those polite, soft-spoken southern women who have no problem making decisions, and no problem sticking to them.
Her preliminary redistricting plan, released in September, didn’t win universal praise. At an Oct. 14 public hearing, the plan was criticized for dividing communities of interest, for crossing precinct boundaries, and for being insufficiently attentive to the needs of minority populations.
On Tuesday, Johnson unveiled the final plan, which made a few changes in district lines, but was otherwise identical to the preliminary plan.
There were a few complaints, which Johnson acknowledged and ignored.
The City Charter makes the Clerk solely responsible for re-districting, and city ordinances dating from 2001 remove Council from any role in the process.
Under the council-manager form of government, Council hired and fired the City Clerk. As a direct report, the Clerk was unlikely to do anything that might upset a majority of her employers, and no one much cared in any case. The quadrennial redistricting might cause insignificant boundary shifts owing to population changes, but so what? With only four districts in play, such small variations made no political difference.
But when the voters opted to change the form of government, the game changed. The Clerk didn’t have to make nice to Council, since she’s the mayor’s appointee. Mayor Steve Bach may have been interested, but he was uninvolved.
“I had no contact with the Clerk,” he said. “It’s her decision to make, and she made it.”
Now we have six brand new districts. That’s six new political entities within the city, each with a population of 70,000 souls. Come April 24th, each district will elect a City Councilor.
Three incumbents (Jan Martin, Val Snider, and Merv Bennett) will retain their at-large seats. Council President Scott Hente is term limited. Lisa Czelatdko, Tim Leigh, Brandy Williams, Bernie Herpin, and Angela Dougan will have to run for district seats if they want to continue their council service.
The horse race is on — so what are the early odds?
District 1 — Northwest Colorado Springs. Incumbent Tim Leigh is well positioned here. Absent a highly credible opponent, Council’s indefatigable gadfly can count on support from Mayor Bach and the business community. It’s Leigh 2 to 1 against the (yet unknown) field.
District 2 — Northeast Colorado Springs. Incumbent Angela Dougan is unlikely to have any serious opposition in this district, which includes much of the area she currently represents. Dougan 1 to 3.
District 3 — Downtown, Old Colorado City, and Southwest Colorado Springs. Folks, get ready for a good, old-fashioned goat rope. Incumbent Lisa Czelatdko’s current district includes all of the new District 3. Incumbent Brandy Williams also lives in the district, as does former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who is reported to be considering a run. Much of the city’s traditional leadership class lives in the district. Each candidate has substantial strengths, but Bensberg and Williams are better placed than Czeladtko, whose early missteps and frequent clashes with Mayor Bach may hurt her. Williams and Bensberg 3 to 1, Czelatdko 6 to 1.
District 4 — Southeast Colorado Springs. While this isn’t quite a “majority minority” district, its demographics are attractive to African-American or Hispanic candidates. No incumbent resides here. Longtime activists Joe Barrera and Willie Breazell have deep roots in the district, if somewhat different political philosophies.
District 5 — The North End, Patty Jewett, and East Central Colorado Springs. Another interesting matchup, pitting incumbent Bernie Herpin against former mayoral candidate Dave Munger and (possibly) nonprofit exec Jill Gaebler. Gaebler’s sure to have the Mayor’s enthusiastic support, while Herpin and Munger have strengths of their own. Gaebler 3 to 1, Herpin and Munger 4 to 1.
District 6 — East-Northeast Colorado Springs and the Banning-Lewis Ranch. No incumbent here, and no announced candidates. Its demographics suggest that strongly conservative candidates will find favor with voters, so several may step forward. Again, support from Bach and the business community will be crucial.
Overall prediction: the new Council is likely to be more conservative, more supportive of the mayor, more business-friendly, and considerably less interesting than our present feisty, combative crew. I’ll miss them.
Ave atque vale.