Mayors of Colorado Springs - CSPM

Mayors of Colorado Springs

In 1997, the new Colorado Springs Municipal Court building at the corner of Kiowa and Weber was named for long-time Colorado Springs Mayor Robert “Bob” Isaac. Known simply as “Mayor Bob” to most, Isaac served as Mayor from 1979 until 1997 when he stepped down, deliberately promoting Vice-Mayor Leon Young as the first Black Mayor of Colorado Springs. And there were more firsts to come. Following the conclusion of Young’s term, Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace was elected as the first woman, and after she was term limited in 2003, Lionel Rivera was elected the first Hispanic Mayor of Colorado Springs.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

In the early 1900s local American politics were rife with corruption. Political machines ruled local governments, which operated in the interests of the ruling elite class and not civilians. During the Progressive Era people looked to alter their local government’s structure in order to overcome the cronyism that was running rampant. One of the solutions developed for this issue was the city manager system of governance. Rather than elect a mayor, who would be beholden to big donors and in control for the duration of their term, cities began looking to hire city managers. City managers were hired officials entrusted to maintain the day-to-day operations of a city. There role was intended to take politics out of local governing decisions. They were expected to operate as business a manager, acting in the best interests of the city, as opposed to a politician.

The idea of switching to the city-manager system first arose in Colorado Springs in the 1910s. in 1917 Colorado Springs residents rejected switching to the city manager plan. Then in 1921 the plan was up for a vote again and passed. Residents elected 9 members of a commission who then elected a candidate amongst themselves to serve in the now mostly honorary position of Mayor. The commission was tasked with legislative responsibilities while the city manager would be tasked with executive duties. This system of government would be in use in Colorado Springs for nearly 90 years before it faced a hefty challenge from a local development group.

In 2010 voters considered Initiative 300 which would abolish the city-manager style of governance and instead put into place a strong-mayor form. David and Chris Jenkins, who ran the Nor’wood Development Group, heavily funded the campaign supporting the initiative. Initiative 300 passed and local businessman Steve Bach was elected as the first strong-mayor of Colorado Springs.

It is important to note that the rhetoric and sentiment behind both the campaigns for a city manager in 1921 and those for a strong-mayor in 2010 were very similar. Both groups decried the lack of government accountability and insisted on a change which would better serve the interests of the city. The development of the city manager position in Colorado Springs and the recent advent of the strong-mayor system demonstrate that throughout time Colorado Springs residents have wanted government accountability and are weary of corruption and nepotism amongst their local elected leaders.

Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician

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