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David Thielen

David Thielen

Posted: October 15, 2009 10:43 AM

Boulder City Council Election

What's Your Reaction?

Every city in Colorado is having a city council election right now. So what makes Boulder so special? For a very simple reason -- the voters here are nuts. Our city council election gives everyone the chance to once again say, "only in Boulder..."

What's so special about Boulder? Some say it's crazy left but that's not accurate. Yes we are looking at closing libraries while spending half a million a year on relocating prairie dogs. Yes it's virtually impossible for someone who works in the private sector to get elected because they might be beholden to "the man."

But at the same time, the "liberals" (endorsed by the Sierra Club) endorse policies that tend to increase the carbon footprint of the city while the "conservatives," who would be way too liberal to get elected in any other city in the state, endorse policies that would reduce the carbon footprint of the city.

Boulder is different. And while most of us living here like to complain about the insanity of our city, it's also what makes Boulder a place that we love living in. We love the difference.

And so on to this particular election...

We face an interesting question in this race: should we freeze Boulder in amber or should we continue to have a city that is unique and special, but also evolves as we move forward into the future. Or to put it another way, if NCAR didn't exist and it was proposed -- do we want a City Council that would approve it or one that would send them to another city?

The freeze in amber side actually sounds a lot like Ronald Reagan talking about how Boulder was better 40 years ago and wanting to return to that time. This will lead Boulder to be much like Charleston, South Carolina, where no building can be changed in the historic area (and it is close to impossible elsewhere). This will make Boulder even more appealing for those it attracts which will continue to increase house prices and accelerate the outflow of the middle class.

The side arguing for continued evolution (which in any other city would be viewed as too slow growth to ever get elected) makes a lot of the same noises about how Boulder was better in the past. But they do talk about the need for Boulder to continue to evolve. And in that evolution, try to retain some middle class here through increased density and additional building. This is similar to Portland, Oregon, where they continue to have a unique city, but it is evolving with strong efforts to provide higher density around mass transit trunk lines, etc.

I think we face another question on these two directions. A city that is static is not one that will bring in additional government labs and foster high-tech start-up companies. People who live in a museum are preserving the past, not imagining the future. Both are important. But we need to think about do we want to continue to foster Boulder as a place for innovative work and groundbreaking research -- or do we want to see that slowly move elsewhere as we lock Boulder in time.

So I have two sets of endorsements. People already know which direction they want to see Boulder go. The question is which candidates will take them in that direction. So here are the candidates that I think will best take you in each direction.

2½ seats are "safe"

Incumbents are almost always safe in Boulder. So Suzy Ageton and Matt Appelbaum will get re-elected. (Yes many are unhappy with Matt, but not enough to keep him out of the top five -- probably.) Macon Cowles is also an incumbent but he has become the symbol of the F.A.R. legislation. If there is a strong reaction against it, he could lose.

So with that, here are my endorsements depending on your preference. I only list four on each because of the safe seats. They are listed in preference order.

Go the Charleston route

  1. Macon Cowles
  2. Matt Appelbaum
  3. Tim Plass
  4. Jyotsna Raj

Go the Portland route

  1. Suzy Ageton
  2. George Karakehian
  3. K.C. Becker
  4. Barry Siff

My evaluation criteria

I offered to interview all of the candidates (and to buy them lunch). All except Rob Smoke accepted and I sat down and talked to each for an hour. My take on each interview is posted here on my blog as well as the recording of the interview (the recording is not posted for KC Becker as that was a condition of her being interviewed). I also have followed the articles in the Camera and the Q&As posted by a couple of the interest groups. I have not attended any forums and I have not watched any broadcasts (I'm very Internet centric).

This entire effort and selection is made solely by me. I have traded emails with a couple of people (not candidates) about this, mainly to bounce my thoughts about the choice of direction the city faces in this election. Here is my thumbnail on each candidate:

  • Suzy Ageton -- Suzy is one of my two favorites on the present council (Angelique is the other). She is thoughtful, intelligent, thinks things through, and brings up key points no matter how unpopular they may be. She also clearly wants to see Boulder move forward and try to keep it affordable for the middle class.
  • Matt Appelbaum -- Matt knows better than you or me what is best for Boulder, and is best for us. He's not as heavy-handed as Macon, which means he would like to see Boulder evolve a teeny bit, but he definitely believes imposing his vision on Boulder is best for us.
  • KC Becker -- KC clearly tries to find a balance between the environment and a city that meets the needs of its residents. She could easily be another Suzy/Angelique and will almost certainly want to see Boulder evolve. She also has a young child and that perspective is invaluable on council (those of you without kids will never understand why – don't even try).
  • Seth Brigham -- Seth was a pleasant surprise in my interview. He has some good ideas and definitely falls in the return Boulder to 1960 crowd. But for someone who has been a political gadfly as long as Seth has, his ideas are remarkably devoid of details.
  • Macon Cowles -- Macon is a very smart guy who has intensively studied making cities livable. He sees the opportunity to apply all this to Boulder to make it even better (a lot of which is don't make any noticeable changes -- unless it's to be smaller). If you want us all following that vision, Macon is your guy.
  • Fenno Hoffman -- Fenno is another smart guy who has intensively studied making cities livable. But from that he sees the opposite path from Macon and would like to see Boulder evolve. He has some very interesting ideas (and is a good 5th vote if you want the Portland route). But he didn't even get his website up till October -- his is not a serious effort.
  • Kevin Hotaling -- Kevin is our required ex-student candidate (we must have one each election). He has some good ideas, but so would almost anyone else who is a recent graduate. He doesn't bring anything special to the table.
  • George Karakehian -- George has been a small businessman here in Boulder forever (the initial miners bought their maps from him). He's served on lots of committees, raised kids, etc. Just as Tom Eldridge was very valuable on the council as a voice for the local business community, George would provide that same connection. Needless to say, George would like to see Boulder evolve.
  • Valerie Mitchell -- Valerie would do a great job of representing a significant part of our population that historically has had zero representation -- plain old working stiffs. Because of her unique perspective she would be a very valuable addition. Unfortunately the reason blue collar workers aren't represented is that they don't vote and so Valerie's odds suck. But she also would be a good 5th vote for the Portland route.
  • Tim Plass -- Tim has put in a lot of time in city government, most recently on the planning board. And Tim has never seen a building he doesn't want to have preserved so he will be an intelligent and eloquent voice for the Charleston route. And with his background he will help lock out changes even more.
  • Jyotsna Raj -- Jyotsna is a nice intelligent person whose contribution to the present discussion is that she went to one meeting and spoke in favor of F.A.R. That's the sum total of her public involvement to date. But she's a clear vote for freezing Boulder in time and there are only 4 of those running so she's the 4th vote for the Charleston route.
  • Barry Siff -- Like Jyotsna, Barry's efforts in city government to date have been minuscule. However, he has run a local race event company for years and in that effort has worked with the public agencies required to put these things on. He also has the background and connections to try and bring more events (and the tourist dollars that come with them) to Boulder.
  • Rob Smoke -- Yes Rob we get your joke, you're running -- that's supposed to be funny. Ha ha.

You can find more info on each candidate including their websites, Boulder Daily Camera interviews, etc. at Boulder City Council candidate & election.