October 8, 2009

elephantjournal.com’s endorsements for Boulder City Council.

The below is now updated, at bottom, with elephantjournal.com’s and my personal endorsements.

The informational guide and commentary to all the official Boulder City Council candidates immediately below is intended to help you, the reader, to be able to decide for yourself. It offers a sense of my experience with the various candidates. You can also watch the Daily Camera’s great two-minute videos and click over to the candidates’ sites.

I moderated one debate/conversation a few weekends back:

Hill Flea Council Forum from Jeannine Erlhoff on Vimeo.

Last Monday, Columbus Day, I was honored to co-host the by-far biggest debate of the City Council election on behalf of elephantjournal.com—this one in partnership with our longtime friend Steve Fenberg and friends at New Era Colorado.

My biases, as reflected in below endorsements, are:

Generally, I lean, and lean hard, toward a fully, truly sustainable economy. Socially, I’m a liberal—neither of which make me unique in a town like Boulder, Colorado (which is why I love it).

But there’s one more reason why I love Boulder—we’re not sit-in-the-cold-dark liberal greenies. We know that local, independent businesses specifically and a strong business community generally, along with progressive involvement in social issues are just as important as our vaunted eco-responsibility—our sales tax pays for our Open Space which keeps our real estate market strong…and round and round.

Were I to run, I’d push for more bike lanes, whatever civil liberties we could extend to our GLBTQ community, LEED-certification as a baseline for all new construction, a reduction of light pollution, mandatory recycle and compost wherever trash is collected, a xeriscaping of all public lands (buffalo grass, etc., and only watering at night), more mixed-use developments, more condos affordable for the young, lower and middle class citizens, and intense marketing efforts dedicated to pumping up our local business community’s residual strength. I’d look to other cities’ successful programs to see what we can borrow…well, here’s what I wrote when I announced that I was pulling out of the race, before it had begun:

I would have looked forward to trying to bring our business, development and green communities together, more. I would have looked forward to trying to find ways to keep Boulder affordable for middle class and younger citizens, many of whom are moving out of town or to Denver. I would most of all perhaps have looked forward to studying what other cities our size are doing right, and how, and bringing such green-minded, money-saving innovation to Boulder. Concurrently, I would have looked for ways to share what we’re doing nationally, so that other municipalities could benefit from our experience with Open Space, carbon tax, Climate Smart…the many amazing, innovative works in progress our staff and Council have already come up with…

For a different take on the candidates below, and a more informed one, check out Dave Thielen’s comprehensive blog, with many individual interviews and his own clear, not-shy endorsements.

A Guide to the Official Candidates

(Click names or images below for web sites)


Fenno Hoffman. Have met with him twice, now. He’s an affable, capable gent. He seems to have strong support in business community—one of the candidates who’s both “green” and “practical.” He’s the go-to guy among the candidates on urban design. Don’t know where he gets the energy—he’s a dad, a busy architect—and now he’s volunteering another 20 hours a week in public service, were he to win. Admirable.


Barry Siff. Barry submitted an article about his race to elephantjournal.com here. (All candidates are encouraged to do so). Barry is high-energy, outgoing, verrrry confident, frank, and has strong support from well-off types, outdoor enthusiasts, the green community, business community, realtors. He’s vocal about his dissatisfaction with current Boulder governance. Typically, I wouldn’t endorse someone like Barry—I’m a knee jerk greenie—he’s definitely business friendly. But Barry has an ability to bring folks with different povs together, has great business experience (almost alone among the other candidates), he’s lived a life full of adventure and team-builting…and, frankly, he’s right on just about everything I’ve heard him talk about.

While not a typical Boulder candidate (he used to work for Con-Agra, though he’s shown a results-based passion for eco-responsibility), I’m leaning toward endorsing him. Met with him today. In the run up to (not) running for City Council, I attended Council meetings for months. Only one other candidate did so—starting a month or two after I had started attending, Barry has been there for every meeting over the last six months—and, unlike myself, he stayed not only for more than an hour but for the entire meeting, every time. And those meetings are looong.

He’s ready.


KC Becker. Didn’t know anything about her before meeting with her for lunch at The Kitchen, the “greenest restaurant in the West” (Sunset Magazine) today. Has widespread support with families, business and real estate community. Has run into difficulty with green community, though she herself has an incredibly strong green background (Sierra Club lawyer). By far the youngest if elected–she’s 39. Open. One of few if only candidates to really listen, ask advice—a rare quality. I’m a big fan.


Tim Plass. This gent’s got my endorsement, almost certainly. He’s got extensive experience in preservation (to the frustration of one business type, who said “Tim’s never met a house he didn’t want to preserve”), is pro-business (I’m getting criticism for saying so, but he does seem practically-minded, and to see “green” in a healthy business and social community context) and actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to eco-responsibility and innovation—going beyond the platitudes of many of the other candidates (like, “I’ll protect our environmentally-progressive tradition in Boulder”).


Jyotsna Raj. Don’t know much about her, yet. A professor at CU, strong on Hill issues, affable, not necessarily hugely experienced, her answers in my debate last Saturday were right on but not succinct or sharp, particularly.


Rob Smoke. Doesn’t have a chance, no support, no money. That said, he’s nice, has a few issues he knows lots about, and isn’t “rich,” unlike most of the other candidates. A great guy, and I’m glad he’s running.


Seth Brigham. Doesn’t have a chance, no support, no money. That said, he knows and ton and can be surprisingly well spoken, though he has a history of somewhat aggressive trouble-making (which he thoroughly enjoys). Like Rob, he isn’t “rich,” unlike most of the other candidates. A great guy, and I’m glad he’s running.


George Karakehian. Couldn’t get his site to load, so check out George’s interview on Dave’s site (which has link to George’s site). Didn’t attend either of our debates, so didn’t get to know him. He’s a registered Republican, according to a solid source—tantamount to heresy in a Boulder City Council election! A pillar of the Boulder business community, he has good support and I look forward to meeting him.


Kevin Hotaling. Kevin’s article and fun videos are on elephantjournal.com, here. A friend of mine, I give Kevin huge props for running, though it’s tough to win when you don’t have much $$$upport. Some good ideas. And he’s young, so has a long future in politics if he wants it (though maybe not in Boulder, where his Libertarian views are just sliiiightly to the right of, well, everyone).


Valerie Mitchell. Didn’t know anything about her a few days ago. Love her now. Young, fun, articulate, a renter (50% of Boulder is made up of renters), with charming homemade signs and some good endorsements. She might just have a chance.


Macon Cowles (incumbent). This guy’s raised the ire of much of Boulder’s business and real estate community. While less than tactful, sometimes (few politicians would go on the record and say blunt things like, if you want to live in a big house, there’s other places than Boulder to live), you gotta respect the man for doing his homework (councilors recieve hundreds of pages of reading a week), and protecting Boulder’s tradition of eco innovation. Macon’s got my vote.


Suzy Ageton (incumbent). Love Suzy. She’s one of few with strong green and business support. She’s experienced, and wants to continue to serve, so I say let her.


Mayor Matt Appelbaum (incumbent). His web site is down, or was when I wrote this, so I linked to his interview with Dave Thielen. He’ll win, without even trying. He’s great, and has given me lots of good advice. He’s made some enemies, but considering that he’s been in and out of Boulder public service for three decades, now, that’s no surprise.

If you’re green-minded, progressive, and/or young-ish, my vote and endorsement is likely relevant to yours. If no, my votes will tell you how not to vote. My five endorsements, from a field of 13 candidates, are:

Barry Siff. While more business-y than I generally like, he’s also personally passionate about sustainability—his races are models of “green” responsibility. He’s got enough energy to power Boulder himself, which is important, given the City Council’s social role as elders in our community. He’s outgoing, tireless, cheerful, and can represent our outdoor/adventure community’s needs and concerns. He’s a straight shooter. My concern is that he won’t push hard enough for Boulder to continue to be an eco innovative city—but that concern has been allayed to the point where, with a watchful eye, he now stands out as one of my favorite candidates. I look forward to seeing him serve and protect Boulder’s interests. He’s a force of nature.

Tim Plass. Probably my favorite new candidate, he’s genuinely curious about people and the workings of Boulder. Strong on preservation yet cognizant of business needs (though some business types have pigeon-holed him as all green and anti-business), he’s the most informed and personally passionate environmentalist among the new candidates—the only one who consistently gets beyond generalizations and can talk specifics about how to green our operations. He’ll protect what’s best about Boulder, while keeping an eye on the future, making sure we stay ahead of the innovation curve.

Macon Cowles…has pissed off half the city. But love him or hate him, everyone can agree on one thing: they can trust where he’s coming from, and how he’s going to vote. I like that. I know he’s going to be (sometimes the only one) to read all 500 pages each week and really prepare, ask annoying questions about height limits on the third floor, and tell it like it is. His oft-reported gaffes are, to my mind, sincerity in action: he says what he thinks. While he didn’t clearly answer my questions during our second debate about how he’d do better to work with, rather than against, those he disagrees with—his service has inspired half the City to oppose what he supports, which isn’t great for the green cause—I like a man I can trust. Macon is such a man.

{Incumbent Mayor} Matt Appelbaum. Though he didn’t bother to show at either debate I hosted, and I don’t know much about what’s on his mind, and his web site isn’t even live…Matt has served since the 1940s, and is destined to serve another 60 or 70 years. Though he can frustrate business types sometimes, he has a remarkable, idiosyncratic ability to bring business and green constituencies together. He knows Boulder, because, in his unkempt, deeply educated and passionate, gruff manner, he is Boulder.

KC Becker. She’s 39—by far the youngest on Council, were she to win and serve. She’s got widespread community support, particularly among families. She’s got incredible eco credentials, but as evidenced by the recent house size controversy, she’s not afraid to vote against imperfect legislation and incur the wrath of we greenies. She’s personable, and genuinely curious about what others think—a too-rare quality among politicians anywhere, who generally focus on how wonderful they are, and convincing you of said wonderfulness.

Honorable mentions. {Meaning they have elephant’s endorsement, if not my personal vote).

Suzy Ageton. She is brilliant at bringing together business and environmental concerns toward a mutually-beneficial outcome. With Matt Appelbaum, she offers a depth and experience that’s un-dulled by time—she’s still inspired and ready and willing to serve. Though she missed the second debate I moderated, out with a flu, at least, unlike Matt, she bothered to RSVP that we weren’t going to get a chance to hear her views. She is, like Matt, already well-known, and we know where she’s coming from, and I like where she’ll take us. Her experience is important in balancing a new Council. Vote for her, you can’t go wrong.

Valerie Mitchell. Victor at our Fox Theatre debate, she’s charming, sincere, smart, outgoing, young, energetic, and right-minded. If her campaign were better-funded and supported, I’d have endorsed her. Because I don’t think she’ll be competitive (while I’ll be happy to be proven wrong), I chose to endorse candidates who I think have a chance in the hopes that my endorsement will offer some small help in getting them the additional votes they need. Other than that, Valerie’s a winner, and if she runs again, she’ll win.

Fenno Hoffman. This guy’s brilliant. He’s the only one on Council who reallllly gets that sustainability can’t be defined within the Boulder Bubble, but must extend to more density (eek!), and more density, and more density—so that the thousands upon thousands of commuters who spew carbon every day, in and out of our City, could afford to live in our City. He’s Mr. Tough Love, and he delievers it well. If I’d got to know him sooner and better (he missed our first debate), I likely would have voted for him. By the time I met with him privately, I’d already met with most of the other candidates. But vote for him, and though you’ll be voting to change “Boulder’s consciousness”—that is, support increased density, and less mountain views—you’ll be supporting an innovative, brave, intelligent man. If he runs again, he’ll win.

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