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a man in a suit and tie lifts his hands up in celebration
Colorado Springs mayoral candidate Yemi Mobolade cheers as he runs onto the stage to give a speech, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, during an election watch party at the COS City Hub in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)

Yemi Mobolade, a Nigerian immigrant and businessman with no political experience, will be the first elected Black mayor of Colorado Springs after he defeated Wayne Williams on Tuesday night in the city’s runoff contest.

Mobolade had received 57% of the vote to Williams’ 43% as of 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. Williams conceded at about 7:30 p.m. When the second batch of results was released shortly before 9 p.m., the percentages hadn’t shifted.

Mobolade will succeed Mayor John Suthers, a former federal prosecutor and Colorado attorney general who was term-limited, to become the city’s 42nd mayor.

Mobolade’s decisive victory represents a political earthquake in Colorado Springs, long known as a conservative stronghold. Williams is a Republican while Mobolade is unaffiliated.  

Just a few years ago it would be hard to imagine someone other than a Republican leading the city. But cracks in Colorado Springs’ GOP streak have shown in recent years. In the November election, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis came within 4 percentage points of his GOP challenger, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, in El Paso County. Several Democrats won state legislative seats in and around the city.   

“Wow,” an incredulous Mobolade said to kick off his victory speech. “Wow. Wow. I am speechless.”

Mobolade, a married father of three, moved to Colorado Springs in 2010 and quickly became a leader in the business community. He cofounded two popular restaurants — The Wild Goose Meeting House and Good Neighbors Meeting House — in Colorado’s second-largest city and served as its small business development administrator. He was also the vice president of business retention and expansion for the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation.

“This is our win,” Mobolade said. “We are Colorado Springs. It’s a new day in our beloved city. Do you believe that? Colorado Springs will be become an inclusive, culturally rich, economically prosperous, safe and vibrant city.”

Downtown Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Friday, April 30, 2021. (Mark Reis, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, congratulated Mobolade.

“Congratulations to mayor-elect Yemi Mobolade on his victory,” Polis said. “I look forward to working with the mayor elect.”

Williams is currently a Colorado Springs city councilman. He served as Colorado’s secretary of state until early 2019 and before that was an El Paso County commissioner and the county’s clerk and recorder.  

He said he wished Mobolade the best as mayor, noting that Republicans were split among candidates in the April 4 contest.

“I knew after the runoff was set that he had a substantial lead,” Williams said. “We closed the gap, but not enough… You had a number of Republicans running against each other in the first round, beating up on each other. And that had an effect that went into the second round.”

Williams outraised and outspent Mobolade in both the general election and Tuesday’s runoff. 

Colorado Springs Forward PAC accounted for nearly half the $957,000 Williams raised for his campaign. It’s unclear where the group’s money comes from. A state PAC by that name hasn’t filed reports since December. 

Mobolade received $80,000 from Accelerating Potential, a Colorado Springs business, in late April. But he relied much more on individual donors than giving from groups. 

Mobolade’s average contribution was about $440, compared with nearly $3,160 for Williams.

Mobolade criticized Williams’ dependence on Colorado Springs Forward PAC for the bulk of his fundraising. Williams sent mailers saying “Protect your city, vote conservative Republican” and calling Mobolade a liberal.

An outside group, Citizens for Protecting Our Water, spent $240,000 to support Williams in the April 4 election. That organization received its money from Defend Colorado, a conservative political nonprofit that doesn’t reveal its donors and is what The Colorado Sun refers to as a dark-money group.

Another group, Colorado Springs for Ethical Government, spent nearly $400,000 against Williams in the April election. All of that group’s money came from a Denver limited liability company called Stand Against Monopolies.

But no groups reported independent spending for or against either mayoral candidate in Tuesday’s runoff.

Williams received the endorsement of The Gazette, the local newspaper, as well as Suthers and the unions representing Colorado Springs police officers and firefighters.

Wayne Williams, a Colorado Springs city councilman makes remarks during an event marking the last day of burning coal at the Martin Drake Power Station on Aug. 27, 2021. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Turnout in the April 4 election this year was 35%, with 110,244 voters participating. Turnout for the May 2015 mayoral runoff, when Suthers, the outgoing mayor, was first elected, was 44%. 

Mobolade received nearly 30% of the vote in the April 4 contest, while Williams received 19%. Third-place finisher Sallie Clark, a former El Paso County commissioner, received nearly 18%. Clark endorsed Mobolade. Former El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and others also endorsed him.

Leon Young was Colorado Springs’ first Black mayor, though he wasn’t elected to the position. Young was elevated to interim mayor in 1997 after the resignation of Mayor Bob Isaac.

Mobolade closed out his victory speech by announcing that his father passed his U.S. citizenship test just last week.

“Greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city,” he said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to correct the spelling of Yemi Mobolade’s name.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....