Election 2014 Aftermath

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by Rick Langenberg

Aquatic Center proponents gear up for $15 million project development

 

Even with a commanding election victory that surprised many political insiders and supporters, proponents of a $15 million aquatic center project don’t have much time for post-Nov. 4 celebration parties.

The big local champions of election 2014 were the ambitious pursuits for a Woodland Park aquatic center, which got the thumbs-up by voters by a nearly 70 percent margin. This followed two devastating defeats for previous proposed recreation and aqua-related projects that would have required tax hikes. However, this time, aqua center folks campaigned on a project that didn’t require any additional tax increase and that stayed away from amenities that competed with existing recreational facilities. But this vote still requires the city of Woodland Park to finance the construction of the future facility featuring several pool areas. “We were very pleased,” said Gerry Simon, president of the Woodland Aquatic Project, at last week’s city council meeting, shortly after handing a ceremonial swimming suit to Mayor Neil Levy. He cited a remarkable level of support for a campaign that asked for bond issue payments. “It was a home run,” said marketing consultant Mike Perini, in a later interview in describing the final vote and overall campaign. “The Woodland Pool Committee did an outstanding job.”

But in the wake of this victory, the Woodland Aquatic Project proponents concede they have plenty of work to do, if they hope to achieve the goal of breaking ground on the facility next year and completing it by the end of 2016. In fact, the next mini-drama in the local aquatic arena centers on where the facility will be located. During his administrative report last week, City Manager David Buttery conceded that the exact site of a future aquatic center is still under debate. A hearing on this subject is slated for Nov. 20 in the WP City Council chambers.

City leaders have tried to rally support for constructing the aquatic center inside the Woodland Station development, the main anchor area of the Downtown Development Authority. But according to sources, this idea has been greeted with much skepticism by some community residents.

Buttery last week conceded that city leaders need to have a public discussion regarding where the pool hub will be located. He said Memorial Park, the Woodland Park High School and Woodland Station have been the main sites considered so far. In addition, the Meadow Wood Sports Complex and private land areas have been mulled as good alternatives.

Whatever option is finalized, project proponents have to act fast. According to Simon, the aquatic center group needs to finalize design and engineering plans for the project. It also must initiate a major capital campaign to try to raise additional funds for other amenities associated with the project and to possibly help lower the city’s aqua center debt. The group is also looking for new volunteers.

Some leading aquatic center proponents say they don’t care where the site is located, as long as the project moves forward. “We need to seize the momentum (from the Nov. election) and build it,” said Perini. His firm Perini & Associates did the original community survey in 2011 that laid the groundwork for orchestrating a campaign for an aquatic center. This survey indicated that 73 percent of the respondents supported an aquatic center as a top community amenity. This was very close to the actual winning percentage of the pro-2A (aquatic center) vote. This survey also indicated that most community residents didn’t favor a tax increase for financing the project.

Sheriff victory

The other big local victor of the 2014 election was incumbent Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, who overcame probably the most aggressive counter campaign from an unaffiliated contender in recent years, to win a second term in office. He garnered close to 59 percent of the votes in the race against Mark Manriquez, an investigator with the Division of Gaming. The two ran against each other four years ago, but this time, Manriquez launched a much more active, visible and grass-roots campaign.

According to Perini, who served as the sheriff’s media spokesperson during the campaign, Ensminger’s convincing win was attributed to the sheriff’s strong track record in office, his success in lowering crime throughout the county and his staunch stand in supporting gun rights. “We stayed on message and took the high road,” said Perini, in referring to a decision not to address his opponent on various issues and accusations. He also referred to a final endorsement by the National Rifle Association as pivotal. Plus, the sheriff received the endorsement of top law enforcement leaders in Cripple Creek and Woodland Park and by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Manriquez, meanwhile, heavily criticized the sheriff’s polices in running the jail and operating an agency that he contended was ripe with lawsuits and officer turnover. He also questioned Ensminger’s success in handling major crime cases. The challenger’s campaign definitely had some high points, such as a community barbecue, just outside Divide, that attracted a large and festive crowd. But Manriquez had a campaign chest that didn’t compete with Ensminger, and the incumbent had an impressive number of community supporters. However, the two sheriff candidates engaged in a spirited debate during a forum hosted by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce that attracted much attention.

With this verdict, some political observers say this may demonstrate the difficulty of running against Republican incumbents in Teller County. In a concession statement, Manriquez congratulated the sheriff, but maintained he was quite happy with the campaign he and his supporters ran. The challenger took pride in the fact that he attempted a campaign, aimed at uniting unaffiliated, Democratic and Republican voters together. “I am extremely proud of the achievements of the campaign, especially considering a small budget and no affiliation with a political party. The outpour of support and engagement throughout Teller County was, to say the least, incredible,” said Manriquez, in a statement on his website.

In reality, Manriquez did much better than other unaffiliated and Democratic candidates who have challenged Republican incumbents in the last 10 years. The last time Republican elected office-holders in Teller County were challenged in a general election occurred in 2008, as part of the initial Barack Obama surge, when two Democrats tried to unseat popular Teller commissioners Jim Ignatius and Bill Buckhanan. These bids fell short by more than two-to-one margins.