When Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers took office in 2015, he already had an impressive resume in Colorado politics. But the city was in the midst of growing pains. Former mayor Steve Bach was criticized for his leadership — mostly due to his inexperience in politics.
It was unknown where a politically-savvy Suthers would take the city.
Pueblo might not see that same series of events if it treads carefully, plans and the next leader takes strong stances, Suthers told PULP in a recent interview.
The city faces a higher poverty rate than the rest of the state, a lagging economy, an underperforming school district and crime that paints the city as dangerous. Those are all going to be significant challenges a new mayor will have to, at least in part, address if they want to be seen as having a successful term, Suthers said.
“It won’t be easy,” Suthers said. “Pueblo’s got some tough issues to deal with. Number one, you’ve got a crime problem and you need to confront that it’s a gang-driven problem. You need a mayor that’s not going to sweep it under the rug.”
The city’s crime often attracts reports, local and from major publications such as the New York Times, even as crime is mostly trending downward, according to FBI statistics.
Suthers is quick to highlight the Steel City’s positives, though. He said he thinks that if those qualities are played up by the right person, Pueblo could see a major direction change in the coming years.
“You’ve got a great climate, you’ve got nice places to live. You’ve got wide open spaces. PEDCO has some money to spend. You’ve got a lot going for you,” Suthers said. “But you’ve got to convince people.”
And that persuasion might be the most important quality in Pueblo’s first mayor.
Suthers was no stranger to politics when he took office in 2015. From 2005 to 2015 he served as the state’s attorney general. In 1999, former Gov. Bill Owens appointed him as executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
He said that experience served well for serving Colorado Springs, even as leading a city is a much different job than attorney general or a political appointment.
Former Colorado Springs Mayor Bach is mostly remembered for the friction he had with his city council, often butting heads over issues ranging from the budget to how swiftly he sent crews out to devastating wildfires.
Mostly, Suthers said he believes a lot of that disagreement was personalities, not so much the transition to a mayoral form of government.
“I spend a lot of time having lunch with the council and the mayor doesn’t have to send the budget until October 1. I start in June in what i think is going to be in my proposal. So by October there’s no real surprises,” he said.
That kind of communication has been helpful, he added.
Already, a couple of Pueblo mayoral candidates have reached out to Suthers for advice. While he wouldn’t confirm which candidates, Suthers said his big piece of wisdom is in choosing a chief of staff because they have such a big hand in everything the mayor does.
He also recommends a runoff election. Pueblo leaders have yet to determine how they’ll elect a mayor.
“You don’t want to elect a strong mayor with 20 percent of the vote,” he said. “You want someone who has at least the majority of the vote. I feel like that helps in Colorado Springs.”