Business Counts, but the Community Rules

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Weekly

21 January 2007
Eric Fried

It’s a biennial rite of spring: the proliferating signs in empty lots, the deceptive mailers clogging your mailbox, the candidates knocking on your door. Yup, it’s time for Fort Collins city elections. By now you should have your Fort Collins municipal ballot in your hot little hands. If you’ve already mailed yours back, thanks! If you’re still pondering who to vote for, then we need to talk.

A lot has changed in two years since our last election. I’m pleased to see the world coming around to my way of thinking, both nationally and locally. Way back then, a (slim) majority supported President Bush and The War, those of us warning against global warming were voices crying in the wilderness, and solar and wind energy were pipe dreams of aging hippies. Now two-thirds of Americans, including the troops, see the Iraq debacle as a mistake, even the president admits global warming is real (he just won’t do anything about it) and everyone from Governor Ritter to redder-than-red Eastern Plains farmers are hot to trot for renewable energy.

Two years ago, the local lines were clearly drawn between the pro-growth and slow-growth camps. Now, everyone’s for balance, with environmentalists correctly proclaiming the need for a healthy economy and pro-development candidates promising to preserve our local environment. That’s because most local voters understand both the economy and the environment matter.

But scratch a little below the surface, and the fault lines become clear. For example, take the district two race between Matt Fries and Lisa Poppaw, in the area east of College between Harmony and Drake. (Full disclosure: I’ve walked a few neighborhoods for Lisa.) Fries won the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce. Does that make Poppaw – an at-home mom and volunteer with her local school and City government – anti-business? Hardly. The Chamber admits it endorsed Fries without even bothering to interview Poppaw. Indeed, it endorsed Fries even before the deadline for candidates to file for office! What if, say, Jesus Christ Himself filed to run just before the deadline? Okay, bad example, since Jesus isn’t registered to vote here, and would be considered anti-business anyway for throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. But you get my point: the Chamber had its man in Fries.

One of Poppaw’s selling points is that she is the only woman running and there ought to be at least one woman on council. I don’t vote solely because of gender – I would never vote for Marilyn Musgrave, and if Hillary is the Democratic Presidential nominee I’m proudly voting for Nader again – but Poppaw makes a good point. Fries counters by saying he’s the only small businessman running and there ought to be at least one business representative on council. Pardon me, but between the Mayor, banker/warrior Diggs Brown and the ever-present corporate suits, the business class is hardly under-represented at City Hall. Fries would do better pointing out that if he loses, there will be no professional document shredders on council, which might come in handy in a pinch.

Check the campaign finance reports, both for the conservative candidates and independent committees, and you’ll see a Who’s Who Among Local Automobile Dealers, Developers and Realtors. We’re never going to out-Loveland Loveland, where the McWhinneys are now hell-bent on building a brand new “Old Town” next to I-25. (No word on when they’ll build a faux CSU.) True, they declared open fields as urban blight and got their city to pony up millions in corporate welfare, but we shouldn’t copy them. Our strengths are our real Old Town, our university, the Poudre River, our arts scene, our involved citizens. In other words, our quality of life is the driver of our prosperity, the magnet that draws people here and made us #1 in Money Magazine’s eyes. And that’s what really at stake in the upcoming election. Business counts – but the broader community must rule.

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