Reporter’s Notebook: A mayor alone will not solve Pueblo’s major issues
Both candidates are clear that to solve the major crisis facing Pueblo the new mayor will need help from the community, State and Feds
PUEBLO — On January 22, Pueblo will have its first chief lawmaker in decades, but both mayoral candidates are clear that the job won’t come with guaranteed accomplishments. It’ll take allies throughout the community and partnerships with other government bodies.
During a debate Thursday hosted by PULP, KRCC and KOAA the two candidates — longtime city council member Steve Nawrocki and local attorney and water board mainstay Nick Gradisar — spent extensive time talking economic development, tourism and the city’s main revenue stream (sales tax).
Gradisar wants to partner with local colleges to find solutions to keep millennials with advanced degrees in Pueblo. At a debate the next night, Nawrocki pointed out that both the PCC president and CSU-Pueblo president have always had a seat at the table with local lawmakers and the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation.
Nawrocki wants to spend $1 million each year on making Pueblo an attractive destination — that, he said he believes, will be enough to convince more people that Pueblo has big city amenities with a small town feel. They’ll move here, he said.
Both acknowledged on multiple topics that the city’s relationship with the county is “horrible.” That was a reason for a failed baseball stadium deal this year, both said during a debate Friday.
But no real solution to better working with county leaders emerged in that discussion beyond candidates saying they’d work to mend those divisions and communication shortfalls.
On the opioid epidemic, each candidate prefaced his answer with a line about how it’s not just Pueblo facing record overdoses. It’s the state and it’s the nation — and so for Nawrocki, it’s a problem for state and federal government.
Nawrocki, when pushed further by PULP on whether those lawmakers are doing enough to get resources to Pueblo, said the effort has to be collaborative. “They need to fund the kind of programs we need,” he said.
In 2017, a group of state lawmakers supported six bills that aimed to curb the opioid epidemic throughout the state, including in Pueblo.
Nawrocki attended the signing of that package of bills at the Pueblo Riverwalk that summer.
This year the opioid epidemic is quite literally the first item of business for the state Senate this legislative session. Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, unveiled Senate Bill 1 Friday morning. If passed, it’ll direct $5 million to grow a pilot program that has been operating in Routt and Pueblo counties that has allowed more medical providers to prescribe medication to help treat addicts.
Garcia was the main sponsor for the initial bill that created the program.
Gradisar said addiction should be treated as a medical problem rather than a criminal one, and that there aren’t enough resource in the region for mental health. It’s an argument similar to what eblo Sheriff Kirk Taylor tried to sell along with a sales tax increase that would fund a new jail and add much-needed detox beds in the city. Voters overturned that in 2016 and in 2017 when Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz made it his mission to find a way to fund a new jail in Pueblo.
But on money for battling the epidemic, Gradisar said he’s not convinced the state or federal government has anymore money than the city of Pueblo does, “who has the money caused the problems,” he said alluding to pharmaceutical companies.
Gradisar said Pueblo should try to leverage money from lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies to fund addiction programs. Several counties in Colorado, including Pueblo, have signed on to those types of lawsuits.
Similarly, both candidates said the city has a “limited role” to play in providing homelessness services in Pueblo. Nawrocki said the city hasn’t had to deal with the issue for much of the city’s history because non-profit organizations have been there to fill that capacity, but the struggle to secure a location for a permanent shelter has been plaguing city leaders long before cold weather hit the city in the last few months.
While Nawrocki said the city does have some responsibility in making sure people don’t freeze to death in Pueblo during the winter, he did say he does not believe it’s the city’s responsibility to own a building. He said he would support a non-profit or religious organization that wanted to take on that role through some type of funding or loan.
“As the mayor I wouldn’t assume the responsibility for the lack of facilities,” Gradisar said during the debate. “I think it’s fine what the city did in terms of renting that temporary shelter… (but) I think the city has a limited role.”
In assisting the homeless community, Gradisar said he’d make sure the city was represented at more meetings where resources are discussed.
Watch the full debate hosted by PULP, KOAA, and KRCC here: