*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on November 3, 2017. It can also be found online here.

We’re now repeatedly reminded that Americans are intensely divided: a recent poll found “seven in 10 Americans say the nation’s political divisions are at least as big as during the Vietnam War” and a writer recently opined that too many believe “politics needs to be weaponized to be enjoyed.”

Not in Manitou Springs. You may not have heard, but there’s a tight race for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Nicole Nicoletta, elected in 2015 to a two-year term, seeks another on Tuesday against a challenge from long-time resident and retired lawyer Ken Jaray.

Even if you don’t live or vote in Manitou, you should care about who wins. What’s struck me is the civility on both sides. Maybe they’re just exceptionally kind people. Maybe they both know the other has nothing but the best intentions. Maybe, as a cynic would say, they’re both practical and therefore made polite by the prospect of being on the vote’s short side.

Whatever the reason, these candidates are considerate. I’ve recently encountered both: Jaray called a couple of months ago; Mayor Nicoletta walked up to the house last week. Each conversation focused on the issues and what they’d bring to city hall. Both touted personal strengths. Neither made personal attacks. It was nice; one neighbor talking to another about making the community better. That’s what politics should be.

To recapture the hearts of those that have lost faith in modern politics, and for The Gazette readership’s benefit, I asked both candidates to recreate the essence of these encounters and introduce themselves.

Mayor Nicoletta wrote, “I work very hard to give members of the community what they want. I can’t always make that happen but rest assured public safety and community service are my priority. Being mayor is an honor and I take it seriously. Thank you for a great first term!”

Mr. Jaray: “I am devoted to our community. My wife and I have lived in Manitou Springs for 38 years and raised our two sons here. I’ve been involved with helping to make our community a better place to live, work and play since 1980. I’m a retired lawyer and businessman and will be ready to go from day one.”

I also asked what their visions and first steps on taking office in 2018 might be. It matters if the captain has a vision, a compass that always finds some North Star through storms and steady seas; as well to know where to look for the first port-of-call. With two points you can plot a course, and a voter can spot a trend-line – the sort of knowledge that’s helpful in picking which captain to elect “my captain.”

For her part, Mayor Nicoletta’s vision is, “That the unique character of Manitou Springs is preserved while mindfully moving forward through the inevitable changes taking place in our region, nation and globe.” And, her top priority is: “Implementation of Plan Manitou. This comprehensive plan includes policy and action items on everything ranging from infrastructure, historic preservation, hazard mitigation, organic land management and everything in between. This is the City’s vision for the next five years.”

Mr. Jaray wrote, “My vision is that we will maintain the assets that we have (streets, sidewalks, parks) and preserve our natural, historic and cultural resources. I will also help manage our $30 million budget taking into account both short and long-term challenges. To best address the individual challenges of our neighborhoods, I hope to tap the extraordinary pool of talented residents.” And, on his initial step, he said, “I want to listen. Citizens and advisory board members have expressed concern that their voices aren’t being heard and of a high level of distrust. I will begin day one to reshape the culture of inclusion, collaboration, and trust. We will give everyone a seat at the table. Restoring trust and respect are critical to building a strong community.”

Two trajectories for Manitou Springs; two dedicated individuals vying to serve their community. A hard call, but one voters in Manitou should be proud to make.

It’s not an equal comparison, maybe a pebble to Pikes Peak, but – if only the rest of America’s political contests were like the race for this mayoral office. Sure politics is tough, but it can also be decent. Just go to Manitou Springs.


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