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Where’s our leader-in-chief? | PULP Editorial

Maybe it’s time to bring up the Mayor question because we can’t figure out who’s leading this town. 

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I honestly couldn’t tell you the direction of Pueblo. I could not tell you where the city wants to go or what the city hopes to accomplish in the next five years. If there’s a grand plan I could not tell you where to find it or who is leading it. 

I don’t even know if one exists. The only grand plans for Pueblo are for the Riverwalk and I-25. And by grand, it’s more spot redevelopment on the Riverwalk instead of a comprehensive approach to fixing the Historic Union and Main Street areas. 

Pueblo exists in a vacuum of leaderlessness. I couldn’t name you the one person in charge of leading us out of this mediocrity in which we have been stuck. While many people have the influence to be the leader, there is not one person that has the authority to set our direction. 

Our city is too big to be leaderless and too small to realize it.

We are at the mercy of passing fancies, both good and bad, but whichever way the wind blows so does Pueblo. When malls were the next big thing we built one. When an industrial park was the fad, we built one. When urban centers needed walking parks we built one. Renewable energy is hot so we bring in Vestas. When wind energy was the target of Congress’ scorn, we almost lose Vestas. 

Pueblo is not dictating its future to anyone. We are no threat economically, or politically to any other entity. We are a threat socially but that’s because this town is ineffective to solve our poverty problem. We get pushed around.

Pueblo is susceptible to flashy presentations for snake oils and job growth. 

What’s needed is that one sophisticated leader that gets it — less Pueblo and more, well, caring Pueblo. If you are from Pueblo, when I say he or she has to be less Pueblo, you know what I mean. For those of you who don’t know, being less Pueblo doesn’t mean you turn your back on the town; it means you don’t turn Pueblo into what 40 of your best friends’ pockets want.

To change we need a Mayor. The city manager system has gotten us this far but the unmet demands of the new world economy mean Pueblo has to change.

Pueblo’s mayor needs to be coalition builder. The town is fractured and a mayor should be the person to bring parties to the table and get them to think about the long term. 

Our mayor needs to get Districts 60 and 70, PCC and CSU-Pueblo working with PEDCO, the Chambers of Commerce and business leaders to focus on 21st century industry, not 19th century labor. Right now, they all want to reach this goal but there’s no one who can hold them responsible.

Then it’s the mayor’s job to be cheerleader-in-chief to attract these 21st century jobs. If Colorado Springs gets a Wal-Mart Supercenter, our mayor gets Target to expand its facilities at the airport. If Boulder is the golden-boy of renewable energy, our mayor goes up there, figuratively punches the golden-boy in the teeth and attracts renewable energy firms here. 

A good mayor would focus our arts and tourism towards one common goal, not a handful of small ideas. He or she should unite the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and the Creative Corridor with the Pueblo Convention Center and other tourism organizations under the vision — working together you are stronger.

Our ideal mayor is not a strong, almost dictatorial mayor with council members acting like a royal court. If a new mayoral system is introduced it would need to be billed as a check to council. City Council can control the purse, be representatives of the citizens and keep a close eye on the mayor and city staff. The mayor would be tourist-in-chief, business recruiter, cheerleader, reconciliator, but most importantly leader and visionary. 

There are drawbacks as the mayor would try to impart his or her will on the town. There’s no guarantee we would find an altruistic mayor to lead Pueblo. Frankly, we could end up with a career politician who is keen on the paycheck but not the office. No politician is ever going to do everything right, but what’s the alternative?

Who is leading right now? Who can go to Colorado Springs and fight for our water? And then go to San Francisco to entice a small tech start-up to relocate? Then visit Washington D.C., to tell a Senator ignoring us it would be a shame if Pueblo forgot the Senator’s name at election time. Then return home to put a shoulder around two fighting groups and have them focus on the problem not each other.

We used to be the center of the steel industry in the West; now, of what are we the center?  If we want that to change, we can’t be at the mercy of who has the loudest idea this season. We need a humble, yet proud fighter to lift up this town, to rally behind our commonalities, and not let us get pushed around. It’s time Pueblo grows up, gets a true balanced mayoral system and we find our leader.

 

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

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Colorado

Pull – Don’t Pray – for Pueblo: Yard-sign activism must be met with bootstrap action 

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Maneuvering the pickup over the dirt road so rutted and deeply cratered that our heads bounced dangerously close to the cab’s ceiling, Sal Katz, a retired army combat veteran, laughed.

“Just a little bumpy,” he said. “But let’s swing in here and park,” as he stopped the truck. “And listen, be careful of the dogs, they can be aggressive.”

It was an early morning in July and the heat was already oppressive. We were near the banks of the Fountain River behind the northside Wal-Mart, and were checking on people who were homeless and lived tucked away from nearby traffic. Katz and fellow Vietnam veteran Ed Ryan, was part of Posada’s response team who checked on people on camps around town, those who lived near the slag heaps left over from CF & I, and at the campgrounds in Pueblo West, dots on a map that Posada had identified as needing water, medical help, and information about services.

It was 2015 and Pueblo County had recently made the sale of recreational marijuana legal. At the same time, Pueblo had been touted as one of the country’s least expensive places to live. The state had voted to expand Medicaid. All had created a perfect storm for an influx of people from out of state looking for a new home. The out of state plates on cars piled high with furniture and stuffed with families filled Posada’s parking lot: I talked to many of them for a story for the Guardian with the unfortunate title, “Welcome to Pueblo, Colorado: The Pot Rush Town for the Marijuana Industry.”

I say unfortunate because the story was not only about travelers who had come for jobs in the new marijuana industry. It was about the response of Pueblo’s social service agencies to the city’s rising poverty rates among Puebloans, and how the agencies, whether governmental or non-profit, were already struggling to help the city’s poor and had been for many years, when the out-of-staters arrived.

It was about how Edie De La Torre, executive director of Pueblo’s Cooperative Care Center, Anne Stattelman of Posada, and Sister Nancy Crafton of El Centro De Los Pobres, and others, do the daily and unglamorous work of helping people do the most basic things: eat, receive medical care, and have a roof over their heads.

My path as a freelance writer landed me in Pueblo in 2014: a city I had only visited a few times because my boyfriend is here, a place the national media often refers to as “flyover country,” a city that shares many of the same social problems as other former industrial towns across the country: high poverty and crime rates, few job opportunities, failing schools, the opioid crisis, hospital closures.

But in the years that I’ve been reporting about what it’s like to live in Pueblo, a city so different than the rest of the Front Range to the north, I’ve tried to write about the people here who are working to make a difference in the city. These are the untold stories that needed to be told on a national level, to show people around the country that you can’t stereotype people by poverty or unemployment statistics.

So I wrote about Rob Archuleta, the addiction and recovery counselor whose sports program helps heroin addicts for Vice and Daneya Esgar, the state house representative I came to know for a story on the shut-down of Planned Parenthood for Dame. I learned that despite Pueblo’s high obesity rates, the city’s health department is on a mission to help people make better choices, in a story for Quartz. And that the Pueblo Mall is still the place many shop, in a piece for the Washington Post.

In the years since I’ve been here, despite the so-called Pueblo problems, the same ones that as a former state hospital and Parkview nurse told me, “made Pueblo come to a screeching halt after so many people lost their jobs at the mill, and made them feel so hopeless” are being challenged. Residents are forming neighborhood watches across the city—from the Blocks to Bessemer to the East Side, Facebook is being used to connect people who might not otherwise know each other, who share the same interest in protecting themselves and fostering strong neighborhoods. State Rep. Daneya Esgar and State Senator Leroy Garcia, both hometown heroes, have regular town hall meetings about Black Hills Energy rates. You see them shopping at Safeway or grabbing dinner at the Irish Pub.

The national media often portray working-class towns like Pueblo, the ones that don’t share in the wealth of boomtowns like Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and even Colorado Springs, with a black cloud overhead, so heavy that things can’t possibly change.

But they can, slowly. As an outsider, I’ve seen it.

Though drivers still throw out trash out of cars as they speed down Abriendo, there have also been community clean-up days, residential trash service is now a requirement, and the city is picking up the old furniture, mattresses, and beer bottles that used to line Red Creek Road. Local businesses and schools volunteer at transitional and low-income housing so that the families and children there share holidays with the rest of us.

And of course, most recently, teachers are striking, for better pay and better schools. Pueblo is going to choose a mayor for the first time.

In short, people here care. They are tending their community gardens, calling in suspicious houses with people coming and going who they don’t recognize, installing clean-up bags for pets in neighborhood parks, having clean-up days on the reservoir trails, and organizing local artisan shows. They are taking action.

That’s the new narrative to counter the old and why the signs that dot the city that read “Pray for Pueblo” need an adjustment of just one word. Replace “pray” with “pull” and you tell a new story: people who are pulling for their town and working one person at a time to actively change it.

25 by 50: A new series intersecting the voices, people, and stories of Southern Colorado. In 2018, PULP will be taking a look at the region we call home to examine, challenge and highlight what it means to live in this part of the state. We will be asking national writers, journalists, and local voices to start a discussion on what’s been called the “hardest place to live in Colorado.”


Jill Rothenberg is a freelance writer who has written for the Washington Post, CNN, Vice, Forbes, and Runners World, and others. Find her at www.jillrothenberg.com

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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Thoughts on Home

Pueblo, A City for the Creative

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Much of this doesn’t exist…

It’s Sunday brunch time and the new local coffee place is filled  with a few college students trying to finish the last of their term papers before they leave for break as well as a few professionals on their laptops pretending to work while watching YouTube.

The menu is sparse for a coffee shop and the prices are well, Oregonian in nature, but the place is full on a Sunday.

The low winter sun shines on a nice young couple just off a morning hike in Beulah who stretch with purpose as they get out of their Subaru. They drove down from Monument for the day to hike and then to amiably walk around the downtown.

On the agenda a bookstore, the clothing shop, the silkscreen poster shop, the local pottery and then off to a brew pub for a quick pint before heading back up. Maybe they’ll stop off at the Italian deli in Bessemer that they heard about on public radio station just last week.

It’s open now on Sundays because there are people everywhere after the story on the new food culture of Pueblo was shared like wildfire on social media.

“Finally! The recognition Pueblo deserves is getting more play in Denver and Colorado Springs,” the new mayor of Pueblo says to herself.

“All that hard work of spending close to $1.5 million in tourism dollars is working.”

She was panned heavily by the Pueblo Chieftain for advocating for a big increase in tourism dollars but over the last year with the city working closely with the creative arts and tech industry, focusing less on heavy industry and more on creative ones, properties once thought too expensive to own now boom with new businesses.

The new plan worked as a new paper goods place has just opened in Bessemer. A few years ago, these storefronts were embarrassingly vacant considering they near a highly travelled portion off Interstate 25. Thousands of cars a day ignored the exits and kept going for a few more hours until reaching Santa Fe.

Now the inexpensive buildings are seeing new tenants — artists, jewelry makers, coders — young professionals needing inexpensive rents to fuel their new start-ups.

Just over the bridge into the Eiler’s Neighborhood is a new block-house design building. It’s a start-up investment firm taking a chance on the new renewable energy firms relocating to affordable Southeast Colorado after a few counties banded together to lure satellite offices of the largest renewable energy businesses in the world to the region.

It’s a unique marriage among renewables, the cannabis industry,  cryptocurrency businesses and surprisingly Evraz, who all need the same thing — cheap, affordable energy. Just years ago Pueblo had the highest energy rates in Colorado; now with the focus on renewables, Pueblo offers the cheapest energy rates in the state.

At least on Main Street none of this matters today. It’s a warmer day, and the “Pueblo-made” sign on the jewelry store has drawn in the customers. It was another great weekend of business for the boutique. It doesn’t hurt that former Pueblo Community College trained chef, who had a stint at the Broadmoor, has returned home to open his dream kitchen offering new takes on Pueblo favorites.

The menu is filled with adjectives blending the names of local farms around the region with Southwest favorites. The restaurant has spurred on a rejuvenation around the downtown core because of last year’s profile in the New York Times about how Pueblo is reinventing its culture not by trying to be a franchise city, but by locals — creatives seeing potential in rust belt cities.

The long-lines, constant customers and curious parking situation have been a mixed blessing. A few, who moved back into Pueblo from Pueblo West to be closer to the action are buying up the downtown lofts and signing the leases on the new apartment buildings going up.

With the new development Pueblo has become a three-crane city but now some are worried the surge in energy and growth will strip Pueblo of its feel.

Rumbles of gentrification surround the growth. But on the east side, the spread of success slowed at the Fountain Creek.

The old Safeway still sits empty. For a time, there was talk of housing a new creative collective for the workspace. In would have been copied from the fantastical Meow Wolf art collective in Santa Fe since that profitable art space was fashioned out of a bowling alley. Then there was the East Coast grocery chain that was bandied about but it never came to fruition.

But with the creatives moving in generating the demand for more college educated jobs, Colorado State University – Pueblo finally consumed more of the northside and the eastside. Student housing, student pubs and cafes generate energy that are seeping over Highway 50 into 8th street.

Some look back and wonder what happened, what was the change. The answer was Pueblo realized the enormous creative talents that existed in Pueblo and rewarded them.

Pueblo said to itself, no company is going to come in and save us but the people that build things, make things, bake and cook things, paint and mold things — the people that create an experience, a dream, a song, a feeling of nostalgia — we want to be those people and we want others to come here to see what we create. And we want to be a place that when one leaves here, they leave with a piece of something that was made in Pueblo and inspired by the Steel City.

Much of this should.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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Thoughts on Home

Enough is Enough: Sexual Harassment at the Colorado State Capitol

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If there is a moment to drop politics and have a human moment then I’m going to spend the rest of the editorial struggling with what we printed last month.

Thirty some odd days ago, our nation and our state was different. In that time Colorado saw for the first time that even those sitting in the high seats of Colorado State Government can be targets for harassment and assault.

The State learned that sitting State Representatives were harassed, groped or pursued in ways that were unacceptable.

It started with Rep. Daneya Esgar who told us that she was groped by a man she “regularly worked with.” Then Rep. Faith Winter told a Denver Radio station she was harassed by Rep. Steve Lebsock.

Then other aides, interns and lobbyists came forward to oust Lebsock, and other legislators, both Democrat and Republican, of alleged inappropriate behavior and harassment.

Before Thanksgiving, Rep. Lontine said she was also groped by a legislator but didn’t disclose a name.

This all may be the beginning of more accusations coming to light but the current tally of those with allegations leveled against them beyond Lebsock are Rep. Paul Rosenthal, Senators Jack Tate and Randy Baumgardner, one unknown legislator and the individual who touched Esgar.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Senate Majority Leader Kevin Grantham have pledged, twice now, to introduce reforms to allow victims and the alleged perpetrators of harassment to have due process but also to enact stricter punishments.

Incredulously, the old process allowed the leadership in both houses to be investigator, jury and judge. And there’s no real way for a legislator accused of this indiscretion to be removed.

This whole thing, beyond the harassment, is frustrating and disgusting to watch as it plays out.

The frustrating part is seeing elected officials stay quiet on harassment. I fully understand that as a female legislator, staffer or intern, if your accusation isn’t a guaranteed political career ending kill shot, the blowback can burn you more than the harasser. If Colorado didn’t know that before this scandal, it should now.

We are seeing that play out in the accusations made and the responses at the State Capitol.

Lebsock defended his actions, saying it wasn’t true and that he wasn’t going to resign. This was after calls from the Governor and other Democratic legislators. On the other side of the aisle, two Republican State Senators accused of wrongful behavior, Baumgardner and Tate, have largely stayed silent on their accusations and the State Senate GOP has pressed that it’s important for due process to take place.

For all the campaign promises and self-promotional talk of “district first” this whole process just reeks of district last.

Let’s just concede staffers, interns and lobbyists don’t have the luxury or power to come out more forcefully. There’s a power dynamic here and it disadvantages anyone not elected.

And let’s just concede that Esgar, Lontine and Winter are also right that merely coming forward and blasting out names may make things worse for them because of the current culture facing women and victims.

So that leaves the rest of the legislators on the hook for standing up for the victims, against the harassers and saying we will not tolerate in Colorado for constituents.

I can’t even believe I have to try to sell the fact that constituencies should know if their elected State Representative or Senator is a harasser.

We all can agree we don’t want to unfairly level accusations against innocent men or women without due process. But let’s be real about what was happening. Harassment at the state capital wasn’t a secret. Democratic leaders knew of the Winter-Lebsock incident. Staffers and lobbyists knew certain members of the legislature, Democrat and Republican, were not safe to be around. People knew and it wasn’t until the media asked questions did they move on this.

And I say all this because I go back to what started all this — Daneya Esgar’s admission that a colleague inappropriately placed his hand on the inside of her thigh at a public event. Why her incident is so egregious isn’t just because of the act, but rather because of who she is, where she was and the moment, while brief, illustrated harassment so clearly.

Let’s call this for what it was. This was about power through sexual aggression. It should bother you, it should bother the legislative leadership (it didn’t as they appeared lukewarm to her statement), it should enrage the constituents of House District 46 knowing someone violated their elected representative (full disclosure Esgar is my Representative) and it should rally fellow legislators to say, “No more.”

Sadly, just like in D.C., we are watching political expediency rule over moral authority. Remember there are six legislators, some named and some not, accused of harassment. No one has resigned with just over a month to go before the new session.

What’s needed now is for victims saying no more silence, and their colleagues, who profess to be proponents of the victims, to not tolerate one more incident of harassment towards Colorado Legislators and those who work at the capital. What’s more important now is not to enable perpetrators even if it costs your party the seats.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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