BY PETER JONES
It was a bad election year for incumbents on the Englewood City Council as two long-serving officials lost their positions last week in the wake of acrimony.
“The community is kind of looking at how council is dysfunctional,” said Councilmember Steve Yates, who came out a relatively distant third in the race to keep his job. “People don’t know where it’s coming from. They don’t watch the meetings, so incumbents are not looked upon very well, even though we’ve done some pretty phenomenal work.”
Englewood also lost its mayor—not through loss of an election, however, but by his winning of an elected municipal judgeship, and additionally elected two new members to the local school board while returning the incumbent board president.
Linda Olson, the city’s District 2 council incumbent, ran unopposed.
Political newcomer Cheryl Wink [45 percent] took a resounding win in the City Council’s only citywide election, beating another first-time candidate, city volunteer Joe Anderson [31 percent] and incumbent Yates, who came in last at 24 percent.
Wink, a classical musician by training, thinks her fresh perspective is what got her to the finish line.
“I know I worked as hard as I could from very early on,” she said. “But I think the people have spoken and I think the people are indicating what they want in terms of leadership. It’s something a little different than they’ve seen in the past. I give it everything and I know how to work hard. I know how to learn what I don’t know.”
Yates says he had become increasingly certain he would not win his bid for re-election after he became consumed with his business and was unable to adequately campaign. Still, he says he has no regrets about losing his seat.
“Cheryl ran a fantastic campaign,” he said. “She’s a great person. She’s smart. She’s going to make a lot of good decisions. I cannot be happier for having her as a replacement.”
Still, Yates says he was disappointed by the role of negative campaigning, including robo-calls, in what he thinks was a concerted effort by a small group city-government critics to take down the two incumbents who lost their races.
“People who are not people of integrity will manipulate, twist and turn,” he said.
District 3 Councilmember Laurett Barrentine, who has often sparred with Yates, is a leader of Englewood Citizens for Open Government. She supported Wink, but disputes the notion that there was any large-scale movement to unseat Yates or anyone else.
“The only weird thing is that the [at-large] candidates got together and decided to be civil and nice to each other,” she said. “I’m unaware of anything they were doing, including campaigning against each other.”
Wink says she is ready for the kind of antagonism that sometimes hits the council chambers and was particularly present in this year’s District 4 race.
“I’m fully aware of it,” she said. “It’s a game of chess. Certain leadership skills and certain methodologies of working with people—these are all tools I have, tools that haven’t yet been applied on our council to manage some of what doesn’t work very well. I may smile a lot, but I’m fully aware.”
In another defeat for longtime incumbents, Councilmember Rick Gillit lost his race to newcomer Dave Cuesta by 61 votes after a bitter contest that saw a lively debate over the city budget and a negative robo-call against Gillit in the campaign’s 11th hour.
“Neighbors appreciate face-to-face interaction,” Cuesta said of his win. “I walked and knocked every weekend for the past 10 weeks. I hit well over a thousand doors, heard a lot of great input from my neighbors, and I think that’s what got me over the finish line.”
Cuesta sees his win as directly connected to what happened in the city’s at-large race.
“I think we were ready for a change on council,” he said. “As I knocked on the doors, I kept hearing it’s time for change.”
Gillit congratulated Cuesta and wished him well, but was clearly distressed by the negative campaigning, including the robo-call paid for by Cuesta’s campaign and credited to Englewood Neighbors for Ethical City Council, which is described by Cuesta as his “campaign committee.”
The call accused Gillit of misappropriating city funds.
“When you call the number mentioned in the call, nobody answers,” Gillit said.
Cuesta says the charges in the robo-call stem from a recent state court ruling that found a letter Gillit wrote to constituents using city resources was a violation of Colorado’s campaign laws. He was ordered to reimburse the city for the cost of the mailing.
Gillit defended the letter and its contents.
“The city manager looked at it. The city attorney looked at it. The postmaster looked at it, and no one viewed it as a campaign letter, except my opponent’s people and the judge,” Gillit said.
As for disagreements over a balanced budget, Gillit stands by his position.
“[Cuesta] just doesn’t understand that government can bring money in from the year before as part of their budget for this year,” he said.
Like Yates, Gillit thinks the race’s results largely came down to a bad year for incumbents.
“It happens. We did some things folks didn’t like,” he said. “There’s the anti-everything group. I’m concerned about the future of the city if this is the mindset going forward.”
Barrentine, who has often disagreed with Gillit and Yates, says she did not believe there was a concerted citywide campaign against either candidate, citing the lawsuit against Gillit.
“I don’t think anybody else had to do anything to them. Their wounds are self-inflicted,” she said.
Mayor Joe Jefferson was victorious in a three-way contest to become Colorado’s only elected municipal judge, winning with 51 percent of the vote, with Associate Municipal Judge Angie Schmitz taking 40 percent and attorney Clifton Hypsher coming in at 9 percent.
Jefferson, a term-limited city councilmember, said he was grateful to the voters and volunteers to his campaign.
“I’m excited to get to work at the municipal court and also to lead the council through this transitional period,” he added.
With Jefferson’s departure from council, his elected colleagues are expected to appoint a successor from the city’s District 1 to complete the final two years of his term.
Board of Education
Three candidates in a five-person race won seats on the Englewood Schools Board of Education. They were Jennifer Hubbard [25 percent], current President Tena Prange [24 percent] and Caty Husbands [23 percent].
Hubbard, a first-time candidate who was the top vote getter was as surprised as anyone by the results.
“I did a lot of work getting out into the community. Other than that, I was honestly shocked that I did as well as I did,” she said. “The biggest thing I hope to accomplish is just to get the community more involved. I think Englewood has started doing that by doing things like the Arts Gala.”
None of the other winners had returned requests for comment at press time.
The unsuccessful candidates were Todd Fahnestock [16 percent] and Carl Montegna [12 percent].
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