Incumbents, except for one significant surprise, and a familiar face returning to the political stage told the story of the Colorado Springs city election Tuesday night, with the drama ending shortly after 7 p.m. as soon as the first returns were released by City Clerk Sarah Johnson.
Jill Gaebler (District 5), Andy Pico (District 6) and Don Knight (District 1) won re-election to their second four-year terms as district representatives on City Council, while former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman captured the soon-to-be vacant District 3 seat. David Geislinger ran unopposed for the District 2 position.
The surprise came in southeastern District 4, where Yolanda Avila knocked off incumbent Helen Collins. Avila, who is legally blind, pulled away to a 559-vote margin over Deborah Hendrix, with Collins running third.
"It's hard to find words to explain the feeling," Avila said, as she was mobbed by friends and supporters at a celebration with Skorman at the Mining Exchange's Gold Room. "This victory is going to bring vitality back to District 4."
Three ballot issues won lopsided, city-wide approval from voters, including one designating up to $12 million in excess city tax revenue for stormwater purposes, which had 65.6 percent. Also passing were a change requiring 60 percent voter approval for the sale of all or any substantial portion of Colorado Springs Utilities (with a whopping 80 percent saying yes), and a proposal allowing the city to enter into broadband contracts or partnerships for providing service, winning 61-39 percent.
The district races for City Council produced a disappointing outcome for Colorado Springs Forward, the community organization that took an active role in promoting candidates in most districts. Pico was the only winner backed by CSF, while challengers supported by the group came up short against Gaebler, Skorman, Knight and Avila.
Gaebler defeated business owner Lynette Crow-Iverson easily, 66-34 percent or 9,576 to 4,860 votes in the District 5 area of central Colorado Springs.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm so honored that the people saw that I was their voice, and that they voted to re-elect the person who represents THEM on City Council," Gaebler said to Indy reporter Pam Zubeck. "We will see a lot of incumbents who will hit the ground running and step out to do things that are important to the people who elected them. They are not beholden to anyone except the people."
Gaebler said she would like to address campaign finances soon, after more than $600,000 was spent on this election.
Skorman, the well-known downtown businessman who served on City Council from 1999 to 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011, won convincingly in District 3 (west and southwest) against Chuck Fowler, with an edge of 58-42 percent, or 9,058 to 6,621.
"This outcome brings balance back to the Council," Skorman said to the Indy's Nat Stein. "Voters didn't go for the special interests, so it shows they want change. The voters also sent a strong message about money in politics. It's the nastiest campaign I've ever seen, but we [including himself, Avila and Gaebler] stayed positive throughout."
Skorman said he will propose a change to the City Charter limiting campaign contributions in future elections.
Knight, a retired Air Force colonel who prevailed by a large margin over three opponents in 2013, kept his northwest District 1 seat in similar fashion by beating business owner Greg Basham, 10,530 to 5,143 or 67-33 percent.
The closest race of the night came in District 4, as Avila was on her way to edging Collins and Hendrix. Avila had 2,340 votes with Hendrix at 1,781 and Collins 1,618. Avila reached 41 percent to Hendrix's 31 percent and Collins' 28 percent.
"The outcome speaks for itself," Avila said. "This is about people power."
Avila, who ran for an at-large seat two years ago, ran an aggressive campaign and played up the fact her family has deep roots in the area. Recent polling had shown her in a close race against Collins and Hendrix.
Pico, who won a tight three-way race four years ago in the eastern District 6, had no problem being re-elected. He trounced three challengers, including former state legislator Janak Joshi, by amassing 52 percent of the vote. None of the others reached 20 percent.
The turnout, already lower than in the recent past, fell short of expectations at the end after the spring snowstorm that struck the region Monday night into Tuesday.
Going into election day, the city had received 67,338 ballots for a 26.76 percent turnout, well below the 41 percent final turnout for the comparable (City Council district races) election in 2013. The early returns boosted that to 75,269, but still only 28.64 percent turnout. Later returns increased the total votes to 83,244, or 31.67 percent. More than 251,000 registered voters received mail ballots (not counting those returned as undeliverable), a jump of 25 percent from about 200,000 four years ago.
Former Councilor Jan Martin, who attended Gaebler's celebration at the Navajo Hogan, said this will be the most moderate Council in years, comparing it to the late 1990s when Skorman was serving along with others such as Mary Lou Makepeace and Judy Noyes.
At the Colorado Springs Forward watch party at MacKenzie's Chop House, Crow-Iverson said she would not run for office again, while Basham said he wasn't sure. Crow-Iverson told Indy reporter J. Adrian Stanley that the campaign was much different and more negative than she had expected.
“It is what it is; you know, we did the best we could and I’ll continue to stay involved in the community,” Crow-Iverson said. “It’s much harder than people think, and I think it's mostly because of the media. The media’s so negative that it makes it really hard on people.”
Basham praised Knight for running "a really honorable campaign. I have nothing but respect for him. He won fair and square, not one negative word out of his mouth. He won and I'm comfortable with that."
As for the overall election, Basham said, “”I don’t know what the message is. I tell you there was a lot of talk of dark money and I thought that was a little ... it kept us off the topics, and we should have been talking about the issues.”
At-large Councilor Bill Murray, attending the Skorman-Avila party, said, "Now, finally, I won't be alone anymore, and I can do what I came here to do, which is work. ... Dark money wasn't the problem. It's what dark money wants that was the problem. If people see there's a level playing field, it gives them hope to keep moving in a positive direction."
Avila said her win, combined with that of Skorman and Gaebler, means this: "What the three of us have in common, and what the people want, is a real connection to our districts."
The Independent endorsed all six winners: Knight, Skorman, Avila, Gaebler, Pico and Geislinger.
For the latest numbers, go to https://coloradosprings.gov/election/results.