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Colorado Springs mayoral candidate Yemi Mobolade, center, poses for photos his supporters, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, during an election watch party at the COS City Hub in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)

Colorado Springs residents chose a new face to lead the city last week — the first Black elected mayor for the city and the first who isn’t a Republican for at least 40 years.

Businessman Yemi Mobolade’s victory is being heralded by Democrats after his Republican opponent, former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, branded him a liberal. Some Republicans worry that the election is a death knell in one of the state’s GOP strongholds.

The reality is that many Republicans — including Williams — saw Mobolade’s victory coming. 

“I knew after the runoff was set that he had a substantial lead,” Williams said. “We closed the gap, but not enough.”

Others say it’s too soon to know how Mobolade, who is unaffiliated, will govern the state’s second-largest city in a county that’s been a historic Republican stronghold. 

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Mobolade received 57.5% of the 124,000 votes cast in the runoff, compared with 42.5% for Williams. He’ll succeed Mayor John Suthers, a former federal prosecutor and Colorado attorney general.

And while Williams — and others — branded Mobolade as a progressive in the nonpartisan contest, it remains to be seen how the charismatic, pro-business Christian will govern. The Nigerian immigrant moved to Colorado Springs in 2010 to help start a church — his given first name is Blessing.

“There’s a new way politics can be done,” Mobolade said in his victory speech Tuesday evening. “And that starts today.”

Daniel Cole, a Colorado Springs political consultant who ran a super PAC supporting Williams during the April election, said Mobolade brought charisma and leadership to the run for mayor. No outside group supported Williams in the runoff — or Mobolade at any stage of the campaign.

“He has such a mass following and enthusiasm behind him,” Cole said. “He’s going to be able to leverage that to achieve things.

“I don’t think Yemi won because people are tired of partisan politics, but when partisan politics are removed from the equation, other qualities come to the fore.”

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Alvina Vasquez, a Democratic consultant, agreed that the nonpartisan election changes the focus for voters. But she also noted that the city is changing.

“There’s a lot of people moving to Colorado Springs, which is going to change the dynamics of the voting base,” she said. “There’s a lot of outside events that have happened, including the Club Q shootings, that are going to affect people’s views of who’s in leadership.”

Club Q, long a haven for LGBTQ people in the conservative city, is where a shooter armed with an AR-style rifle and wearing body armor killed five people and wounded more than a dozen others Nov. 19. Days later, a 25-foot rainbow-colored pride flag was unfurled outside the Colorado Springs City Hall in memory of the victims.

The city gained nearly 70,000 new residents between 2010 and 2022. The city’s Latino population increased to 18.4% from 16%.

As with the rest of the state, the number of active unaffiliated voters in El Paso County has increased to 48% this year from 31% at the end of April 2013. The percentage of active Republican voters declined to 31% from 46%, while Democrats saw a decline to 18% from 22%.

Some Republicans were sounding the alarms Wednesday. “The GOP is dead in CO,” tweeted Michael Brown, a Homeland Security appointee of President George W. Bush.

While a guest on George Brauchler’s radio talk show Wednesday Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dave Williams called the election “a wake-up call.”

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Wayne Williams noted that Republican divisions in the city likely contributed to his loss. The El Paso County Republican Party has been split in recent years to the extent that the state GOP stepped in to try to mediate. But the county party still reelected its chairwoman, who some complained didn’t do enough to support Republicans in the 2022 election.

But the division was also personal. Sallie Clark, a Republican who served on the El Paso County Commission with Williams, finished only about 1,500 votes behind him in the April 4 mayoral contest. She endorsed Mobolade.

Williams said the differences between him and Clark go back to 2003, when he endorsed Lionel Rivera for mayor. Rivera became the city’s first Latino mayor that year, while Clark finished third in that election as well.

“She told me a long time ago that she would not support me, because I had backed Lionel Rivera for mayor,” Williams said.

Williams painted Mobolade as a liberal in his campaign literature and cited the El Paso County Democratic Party’s endorsement of his opponent that called him a progressive.

And Democrats are lauding Mobolade’s victory. 

“We’re excited to see these changes,” said Shad Murib, the new Colorado Democratic Party chairman who campaigned on reaching out to voters in traditionally Republican areas. “We’re starting to launch some very specific El Paso County campaigns in the future.”

But Cole questioned the “progressive” label. And he cautioned that Tuesday’s results don’t mean El Paso County will totally abandon the GOP, especially at the legislative level.

“Obviously the Democrats are making inroads here seat by seat,” Cole said. “On the other hand, the Democrats aren’t going to have a majority of the El Paso County delegation anytime in the foreseeable future.”

Two of the state’s furthest-right Republican lawmakers — Reps. Scott Bottoms and Ken DeGraaf — represent Colorado Springs. But Democrats picked up two legislative seats in the county in 2022.

Unlike other Republicans in recent elections, including several who demanded recounts in last year’s El Paso County primary, Williams conceded the mayoral contest early. He even left his watch party to congratulate Mobolade in person.

“He has done some good things in the community, and hopefully they will be successful,” Williams told The Colorado Sun.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette