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Colorado Springs’ Suthers: Pueblo’s template for ‘strong mayor’?

Author: Dan Njegomir - November 3, 2017 - Updated: November 3, 2017

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a former state attorney general, mingles at the annual legislative barbecue kicking off the Colorado State Fair on Aug. 28, 2015, in Pueblo. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a former state attorney general, at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo in 2015. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Puebloans are being asked on the Nov. 7 local ballot whether they want to elect a “strong mayor” to serve as their city’s chief exec. A city manager runs City Hall right now with the oversight of only the city council.

As voters ponder the proposal, some observers are saying the city need look no further than just 40 miles up Interstate 25 — to Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers — for an example of an effective strong mayor in action. Colorado Springs became the second Colorado city in 2010 to rewrite its charter to create the strong-mayor post; Denver was the first, over a century earlier. Colorado Springs previously had an elected mayor who cast a vote alongside City Council members and presided over them but had few powers they didn’t.

In Pueblo, there’s no mayor at all, and some see Suthers and Colorado Springs as a template. Reports the Pueblo Chieftain:

Backers of the mayor initiative have pointed to Suthers as the kind of leader they think Pueblo needs — a skilled politician who can be a persuasive advocate.

The Chieftain report quotes Chris Woodka of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District, which had engaged in protracted, hardball negotiations with Suthers over a contentious water project that would benefit Pueblo’s northern neighbor. Pueblo, among other concerns, had demanded assurances the Springs would resolve its long-standing problem with stormwater runoff that has been fouling Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River where it runs through Pueblo. Woodka told the Chieftain’s Peter Roper:

“He was very important in negotiating the agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County over the Southen Delivery System (water project). …

“… Suthers led the negotiations in getting a commitment from Colorado Springs to spend $460 million on stormwater control and I doubt just council members would have been willing to go that far.”

Could an elected mayor put that kind of clout to work for Pueblo?

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.