Ward 2 Election analysis

Of all the races in the 2009 Longmont election, Ward 2 was the most contentious and hardest fought.  People outside the city were making comments like “Longmont is Ground Zero” when describing how this election could be a bellwether for state and national elections next year.  I contend that Ward 2 was more specifically Ground Zero within Ground Zero.  It lived up to its reputation for a knock down, all out brawl.  The results in the end though were fairly lopsided.

Incumbent Karen Benker faced off against Katie Witt.  In previous elections Ms. Benker received funding, in non-partisan Longmont elections, by the Democratic Party, be it at the county or city level.  She regularly wore her party politics on her sleeve, something fairly new in Longmont politics.  Along with three other members of council, known as the “Bloc of 4” were members Sean McCoy, Brian Hansen, and Sarah Levison.  It was a regular occasion to have them tout their leaders from Congress to the Presidency after the 2008 Election, in one case Mr. McCoy stumbling through a partial recital of President Obama‘s inaugural speech.  Problem is, they didn’t ride into office in 2007 with any strong mandate – only one won by a majority and Ms. Benker actually lost that year in her bid for Mayor.  They over-interpreted the mandate they thought they got, and overplayed their hand, which was quite heavy handed at times.

In their undeserved hubris, especially on the part of Ms. Benker and Mr. McCoy, they made enemies on a regular basis and woke up those they’d probably rather kept asleep and uninterested in local politics.  Again, they thought they were riding some kind of wave of voter approval, but 2007 has proven to be a “one trick pony”, a hiccup in Longmont elections, and the past two elections (Special Election of 2008 and the recent 2009 Election) clearly prove that point.  There was no “blue wave” as was bragged about, there was yet a blue rock thrown into a puddle, with no ripples.

After a 2008 defeat to State Senator Brandon Shaffer, Katie Witt decided early in 2009 to run for Longmont City Council Ward 2, and announced in March, which was fairly early by Longmont standards.  The odds were fairly stacked against her running against a popular (to her supporters) incumbent who had won re-election 4 years earlier.  Ms. Benker conceivably would once again have the Party behind her, most of the same donors who had contributed in her ’05 and ’07 campaigns, and the campaign machine and network of volunteers ready to take on any challenger.  The impression out there was that Katie Witt wasn’t to be taken seriously, including a sniping comment by Sean McCoy calling her a “council wannabe“.

Ms. Benker didn’t announce until late July, and Katie Witt used that time to knock on hundreds (which was eventually thousands) of doors and have volunteers hit up the rest within the ward with fliers.  The area of highest priority was Clover Basin, the voters of highest priority were not Republicans, but voters that were not affiliated with any party.  Unaffiliated voters are the highest percentage of voters in Longmont, followed by Democrats and Republicans, in that order.  The message that went out had to appeal to both sides of the spectrum because there’s no way of knowing which way an unaffiliated voter tends to lean – and with Longmont supposed to be non-partisan in local elections, this was an ideal way to campaign anyway.

Ironically, the precinct with the highest amount of unaffiliated voters in Ward 2 is smack dab in the middle of Clover Basin.  As is #4, #5, and #9 out of the 21 precincts within the ward.  Ms. Benker was trying to use Clover Basin as a campaign issue, naming as one of her main accomplishments the ending of the Clover Basin Fire District Tax.  Of course, anyone who paid attention to that process would know Ms. Benker was stretching the truth (to put it mildly) in this claim as that was not what the council voted on.  This was covered extensively on this website and was later used against her in a mailer.

How did Clover Basin vote?  The results there mirror the overall results almost exactly, basically a 60-40 split for Katie Witt.  Ms. Benker was planning on riding Clover Basin to victory, but 60% of the voters didn’t buy her story.

On Ms. Benkers home turf, Prospect, which is a precinct that also includes neighboring Creekside, Katie Witt beat Karen Benker by a 61-39 margin.  On Katie Witt’s home turf just north of Prospect, Witt got nearly 70% of the vote.  Many precincts that surround Main Street that have more Democrats than any other affiliation also went for Katie Witt.  In total, 19 of the 21 precincts in Ward 2 were won by Katie Witt (there are also 2 other precincts with a total of around 18 voters).  The area around Twin Peaks Golf Course went strongest for Witt, averaging over 73% in 2 precincts.

Bottom line was that Karen Benker’s negatives were too high and Katie Witt ran a clean and positive campaign.  There were negative mailers and robo-calls done against Benker, but did not come from nor were coordinated with the Witt campaign.  Frankly, I’m not sure they were even necessary.  At every turn Ms. Benker would make one mistake after another.  She had a lousy record to go on, acted spiteful and vindictive to anyone who didn’t agree with her, and tried to use the Election Committee and the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act as her personal re-election tool and revenge machine.

She had volunteers who were witnessed placing Benker signs directly in front of Witt signs on private land where Witt had received permission but Benker had not.  Witt signs were repeatedly stolen, and these were not removed by Code Enforcement.  There were people directly connected with the Benker campaign who would personally attack Witt supporters on websites and letters to the Boulder Weekly and the Times-Call.  They gave the term “politics of personal destruction” a whole new meaning.  In defending her record, Benker stretched the truth about as far humanly possible, regardless of actual statements and votes.  

All it boils down to is that Ms. Benker was a lackluster candidate and ran an equally lackluster campaign.  Re-election was never a real possibility, nor was it deserved.

In the end, Katie Witt beat Karen Benker by over 1,500 votes out of roughly 7,000 total votes.  It wasn’t even close.  Karen Benker was the de facto leader of the “Bloc of 4” and was also Mayor Pro-TemI always said that if Benker was defeated it would send a shockwave through the city and surrounding areas, as she wielded great power and influence, and not just within Longmont’s borders.  And not always positive power or influence.

Big money didn’t defeat her.  A dirty campaign didn’t defeat her.  It was a combination of a superior candidate and campaign running against her, and Benker beating herself.  Simple as that.

Benker’s support melting away

The last campaign reports before Election Day were turned in Wednesday, and it isn’t looking good for Karen Benker.  Her financial support, which says a lot about her overall support in the community, continues to dry up.  She only raised $325 between 10/18 – 10/25.  By comparison, her opponent Katie Witt raised $1,555 in the same time frame.
Ms. Benker’s funds on hand with a week left in the campaign was a meager $340.  Ms. Witt’s: $5,419.

Ms. Benker’s total fundraising as of 10/25 came to $7,930.  Ms. Witt: $17,290.

The extent of Ms. Benker’s expenditures was a fairly forgettable ad in the Times-Call on Oct 24th.  I follow such things fairly closely, and I had to go find it to remember what it said, and if we forgot, it probably didn’t even make it on the radar of voters who don’t pay a lot of attention to the campaign.  But this ad was full of the usual falsehoods:

  1. Only candidate that signed the laughable civil campaign pledge.  She’s kept this pledge by filing one complaint after another with the Election Committee and using it as her free campaign tool.  She’s only shown herself to be vindictive, spiteful, and a crybaby.
  2. You are a great member of council, city is better because of you” or some such nonsense.  Yes, it’s terrific, just look at all the failure and blight just in her ward alone.
  3. Brandon Shaffer’s worthless endorsement, big woop.
  4. “..woman of high integrity..hard work on Clover Basin”  This is from someone who sends out fawning Benker emails to her neighbors in Clover Basin.  Tip: they don’t all agree with you, well, the ones that know the facts of how Ms. Benker about drove a stake into this neighborhoods heart with her ill advised “put it on the ballot” idea.  Integrity?  Please, see #1 again.

Exploding hits” to a mediocre website is nothing to crow about.  I hope she’s not paying too much for that service, it’s pretty poorly designed, and is just a whine-fest of what all those nasty people have been saying about her – nevermind it’s all true.  And what’s with having weird characters (Ø’s and ü’s) for bullet points?  People know where to get the “real facts”, and where to read fairy tales.

I guess the phone banks for her are in action, a whole 2 or 3 people, and I’m sure we’ll see the expenditure somewhere for the list they surely had to buy – but haven’t yet.  Odd.  Or are they using an old list filled with all those thousands of ballots that have been returned as “undeliverable“.  Which is a fitting term for this candidate.

Why Karen Benker should lose

I’m sure the title “Why Karen Benker should lose” was instantly assumed to be some kind of political philosophy or opinionated piece, but that’s not really the intent.  This is all about the numbers.
Vote breakdown, by the numbers

First, a little history.  Karen Benker (pictured at left) was appointed (selected, not elected) to City Council in early 2005 due to a vacancy in the Ward 2 seat.  She ran for retention of that seat in November 2005 and won.  But the numbers are interesting:  She only got 2,355 votes (or 37.1% of the vote) and only beat Alex Sammoury by 278 votes.  In 2007 she ran for Mayor, and in Ward 2, her ward, she only got 2,942 votes and lost citywide to Roger Lange by 7%.  Some people chose to vote for someone who pulled out of the race (Doug Brown) instead of her.  Total votes over two elections in her home ward 5,297 – her reputation has only declined since that time.

For reference, her opponent Katie Witt (pictured at right) ran for Colorado State Senate in November 2008 and was clearly identified on the ballot as Republican.  Even in an admittedly terrible year for Republicans, she received 6,105 votes in Ward 2.  This was less than a year ago, Karen Benkers last race was 2 years ago.  The 6,105 people who voted for Katie Witt knew then and can assume now what her political affiliation is, and there’s little reason to believe they would change their vote for her in a larger statewide race now that she’s running for a municipal seat.  These people may have donated money, put up yard signs, and obviously marked their ballot for Katie Witt – I see no good reason why a large percentage of them wouldn’t do the same again this year.

The money, by the numbers

In any normal year, a city council candidate raising the kind of money Karen Benker raised in the first reporting period would be impressive.  That number was $6,885.37 in contributions and in-kind contributions spread over 69 people (70 counting her own $777.65 contribution).

But this isn’t a normal year.  Her opponent Katie Witt more than doubled Ms. Benkers fundraising by collecting a whopping $14,628.81 in contributions and in-kind contributions, which was by far the most raised by any of the ten candidates running for city council.  These contributions were made by 112 individuals (add to that those that had their spouses listed) and 7 organizations/companies, which are nothing more than groups of people pooling their resources together.

Of even greater importance is what’s left in their accounts for their campaigns to work with.  This shows the managerial and money management skills of the candidates.  After the first reporting period, Karen Benker had $1,879.59 of funds on hand.  Katie Witt had $7,187.77, which is more than the entire amount Karen Benker has raised to date ($6,885.37)!  In the election before the election – the money race – Katie Witt has doubled up on Karen Benker on contributions and tripled up on remaining funds on hand.  

Money doesn’t always equal votes come Election Day.  But the people who do contribute have a vested interest in their candidate, and are usually motivated to get the word out to have their investment pay off.  If the larger contribution amount was just due to a few big donors, that would be one thing.  But the vast majority of Katie Witt’s donors were small amounts, and the number of donors was at a rate of 1.6-to-1 of Karen Benkers.  

You’ll also notice on Karen Benker’s report a lot of the same names, or last names, spread around in the money and in-kind contribution sheets.  There is some creative math to keep some donors just barely under or at the contribution limit, with 94 cents here, 6 cents there.  Her report tells me that she just doesn’t have widespread, grass roots support – pretty much the same cast of characters you’d expect to see – and/or their family members.

Money has a way of creating momentum – everybody wants to back a winner and jump on the bandwagon.  Who wants to throw away good money after bad, or after a losing effort?  Money also has a way of compounding momentum with the ability to send out more mailers, more phone calls, more advertising and signs – and more volunteers who want to get in on the action.  This is politics at its best as these people are not likely to go away after the election and a fair percentage will remain engaged.  

Unless there’s cheating involved.  I’ll cover this and the amount of ballots that were mailed out in an upcoming piece.
(UPDATE) The 10/20/09 reports are out and the financial trends continue to go well for Ms. Witt, and poorly for Ms. Benker.  In a week, Ms. Benker raised $695 – $250 of which was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and the rest divided up amongst 6 individual donors.  Ms. Witt raised $1,107 – $80 were from 2 companies, the remaining $1,027 from 19 individual donors.  Total donors are roughly 76 for Benker, 138 for Witt, which improves the ratio to 1.8-1 for Witt.

Of greater importance was the available funds on hand for the last two weeks of the campaign.  Ms. Benker had $484 left.  Ms. Witt had $5,837 left.  Where before Ms. Witt had a 3-1 advantage in funds on hand, it is now 12-1.  If you get any mailers or robocalls from Ms. Benker, be suspicious.  These things cost money, usually more than $484.

Like I said in a Times-Call comment “No wonder Benker is lashing out in all directions, including wasting the Election Committee’s time and insulting citizens. She’s not quite the budgetary wizard she paints herself to be, as these numbers clearly show. It appears no one wants to give her any money, comparatively speaking. Why throw good money after bad? While contribution differences don’t always equal election results – who’s shoes would you rather be in right now?

Benker outwitted by Witt in Chamber debate

Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum and Debate / September 30, 2009
Ward 2 candidate portion featuring Karen Benker & Katie Witt
Below are some observations of the recent debate you won’t find anywhere else.  While there were video cameras present, so far no videos of this debate has surfaced anywhere.  I have a full audio recording of this event and have made comments based on that recording, but also the feel of the debate since I attended it, and the general consensus and comments of people in the room.  This Ward 2 race in particular is one of the most watched races not just in the city, but has also been the subject of stories in Boulder and Denver publications.
This race pits incumbent council member and Mayor Pro Tem Karen Benker against candidate Katie Witt.  Much can be found online at their websites about each candidate.  The Times-Call story about this was slim on the events of this debate, I assume due to space limitations. It was much more interesting than the impression that story left, to me anyway.  Some of the quotes are paraphrased but gets the gist of the intent.
Opening Statements
Karen Benker: Her “Tell you about myself” segment went through her resume of a lifetime government bureaucrat.  Not much else.  Did not say why she was running or why she wanted to remain in office.
Katie Witt:  Introduced herself and said why she was running.  “Prosperity, Honesty, and Opportunity” was her theme.  Make tough budget decisions in a timely manner, based on what’s best for Longmont and not political expediency.  Need a council that doesn’t bully neighbors with lawsuits.  And doesn’t hold endless secret meetings or ignoring open records act.  Get mall going again.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt, for the reasons stated above.
Question: How do envision the relationship between City Council and local businesses and state one area that needs improvement.
Karen Benker:  First part was so quiet as to be unintelligible.  Once again read a laundry list of what council and staff has done.  I can only assume her point was that “here’s what we’ve done, and plan on continuing to do the same.” 
Katie Witt:  Council needs to stop being obstructionists.  Agreed with Councilmember Benker that mall is important, but so is the budget.  Thought it was a “gigantic fail” not moving forward with the first phase of development of the mall.  Said there was micromanaging going on and council wanted to dictate too much, which is not their job.  Should have listened more to our own Planning and Zoning Commission.  Need to rebuild trust with the community.
Question:  On the topic of economic vitality, there are several organizations in the city, such as the LAEC, the LDDA, Small Business Development Center and many more that are designed to promote economic vitality.  What is your plan to encourage the city and these organizations to work toward a common goal for economic vitality in Longmont?
Katie Witt:  The job of city council is to encourage all of these organizations to work in the same direction.  We’ve seen in the past turf wars into who’s doing what.  We need to bring businesses to Longmont, and keep them here.  Each of those organizations has a role.  Forming Economic Development Department was important.  She struggled on this one, a little too vague.
Karen Benker:  Mentioned Shop Local Longmont as a way the city has worked with different organizations.  Discussed her role on the LDDA in this area.  Mentioned LAVA.
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  People want to shop local but there aren’t a whole lot of options.  Mentioned the Mall again in this context.  Sams Club.  High end shopping opportunities.  “Mall is canary in a coalmine” as an indicator of the success of the city.  Until the mall is fixed it will discourage businesses from coming to Longmont.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Agreed the mall is the most important issue facing the city.  She asked people to put aside what they currently see at the mall as the city has a much larger vision for it.  (If I were the council member of the ward the mall resides in, I’d beg voters to overlook the current condition of the mall, too)  Mentioned FasTracks station at the mall.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt finished stronger after a sluggish start, but slight edge to Karen Benker.
QUESTION:  What is your specific solution to solve Longmont’s budget shortfall?
Karen Benker:  Whispers at beginning, unintelligible.  Cut 46 city positions.  Unintelligible about employee cuts and furloughs.  Increased fees, consolidated 8 departments down to 6.  Cut capital expenditures and one time expenditures to balance the budget.  Council is struggling to be fair to residents while at the same time providing city services.
Katie Witt:  Drop the lawsuit with Firestone.  City had an option but used litigation instead of intergovernmental agreements.  Spent $139k in court costs (actually much higher) plus $300k in Firestone’s court costs that we are on the hook for.  Said “grown ups” don’t go litigation route but instead work out our differences through communication.  Council keeps putting off the decisions necessary to work out the budget.  Some things need to be put on hiatus.  Need to be as transparent about how we spend our money.  City’s checkbook should be online.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Tried to put into perspective the lawsuit amount to the overall budget.  Got testy about getting out the red pen saying “we’ve already done that”.  Used the scare tactic of closing down the library and senior center, disagreed that those weren’t essential services (but Katie Witt didn’t mention the library or senior center as places to cut).
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  Doesn’t want city council to play “political hopscotch” with special interests and make decisions based on who they like and who they don’t like (Thistle, Panattoni).  City council needs to make decisions based on the most efficient use of our resources, which hasn’t been done.  Used recent example of indecision on council over fees.  Fee’s impact people. 
ADVANTAGEKatie Witt.  She got Karen Benker on the defensive and testy about the Firestone lawsuit and budget cutting.
QUESTION:  The current city council once stated that this is a council that gets things done, do you agree with this statement?
Katie Witt:  Does not agree with this statement.  It doesn’t take an expert in any sort of field to recognize our mall is stalled, and our downtown area has a lot of room for improvement.  Hallmarks of this council has been divisiveness, not decisiveness.  Micromanaging.  Studies, which are great if you’re willing to act on those studies, but council is wasting money on researching questions and not acting.  “Paralysis of analysis”.  Need fresh perspective, different face across the table.  Transparency.  Wants Longmont to live up to its potential.  Currently spinning its wheels.  Attitude in the city comes from the top down and people take their cues from what’s going on on city council.
Karen Benker:  “We brought GE and almost 200 jobs to Longmont”.  Supplier to Vestas, Western Digital, single stream recycling, balanced the budget, affordable senior housing, purchased open space, ended Clover Basin tax, Main St initiatives, revitalize Longmont Theater, summer concert series.  Increased downtown parking.
Rebuttal – Katie Witt:  “I would really like to know what the city council did to woo GE here” (audible clap from crowd).  To Karen Benker she asked what her part was.
Rebuttal – Karen Benker:  Hard to hear initial answer, something about $180k/year, but she restated she’s a member of LAEC (called it the Longmont Area Economic Development Council).  Said that city staff and resources support LAEC (funds were actually cut by this council), again said she was a board member of LAEC.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt.  Karen Benker once again read a laundry list of things the city has done, not what she has done.  Caught flat footed on the GE question and struggled.  Katie Witt went after the procrastination of this council.  Had there been a second rebuttal, Karen Benker left a wide opening with her LAEC comments.
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Ward 2 resident asked why Karen Benker keeps saying she ended the Clover Basin Fire District fee as nothing has been signed (technically true).  Karen Benker:  Council voted 7-0 to end this tax (false statement, they voted 7-0 for staff to draft a resolution), said “last night voted on minor details” (not minor, Clover Basin residents have to cover the $4k to $10k fee to dissolve the district).  Reiterated the tax will end January 1st.  (Not on agenda for Oct 6th meeting, this question/answer couldn’t have gone much worse for Karen Benker)
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  How much will shutting down this district contribute to the budget gap – directed at Karen Benker.
Karen Benker:  talked about the millions of dollars those residents have paid, gave history of tax.  City will be picking up small amount to extinguish the debt they owe the city.  (Did NOT answer question, around $275,000)
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Question about the boundaries of Ward 2.
AUDIENCE QUESTION:  There was an attack push poll ad poll conducted “in your name” (Katie Witt).  It’s not how we need to do politics in this town.  Asked if Katie Witt was going to report that on her campaign report.  (This speaker was later seen leaving the event with Ms. Benker, and obvious plant)
Katie Witt – She said in contentious races things get out of candidates control.  She apologized but did not know who did it, has no way of getting in touch with those individuals, or she would tell them to stop.  She asked whoever was doing it to not do it.  Mentioned another phone call that went out that she didn’t know about or approve of.  Said there are a lot of people concerned with what’s going on with city council right now and they’re trying to make people aware.  Unfortunately they are using tactics she would not personally use or approve of.
ADVANTAGE:  Katie Witt.  Karen Benker falsely answered one of the questions, and didn’t answer the other one at all.  Katie Witt answered a leading accusatory statement and question pretty thoroughly.
OVERALL DEBATE WINNERKatie Witt 5-1 on opening statement and answers. 
Karen Benker was stiff, rarely smiled, often spoke too softly to be heard or understood.  She was put on the defensive on the second question and her demeanor from that point on was one of irritation.  She mostly went down her list of “accomplishments” from her brochure and website, didn’t really talk to the audience, but mostly read to them.
Katie Witt had a strong opening statement, stood up to do it, read off some cards, but not overly so.  She stumbled during the second question on business development and was too general and vague, not a good thing in front of business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce function. 
After this point, Ms. Benker could have capitalized and cruised through the rest of the debate as she had Ms. Witt on the ropes.  The next question should have been an easy one for Ms. Benker involving the budget shortfall and how to handle it.  But she went into a shell, spoke too timidly, and starting going down a list of items in a fairly dull manner.  Ms. Witt immediately went on the attack and it pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the debate.
One of the rare quotes used in the rather lackluster Times-Call coverage of this debate was Ms. Benker saying the council had already got out the red pen to cut the budget.  What wasn’t mentioned was the context of that comment, what brought it on, and how Ms. Benker was put on the defensive starting with that question and from that point on.  Ms. Benker really never answered the question of what her solution to the budget problem was, just what council has done up to this point.  Not much future vision.
Ms. Witt was blunt in some of her answers about council not getting much done, and Ms. Benker response was another laundry list read off, not very inspiring, and got caught with her mentioning GE again and later on about taking credit for ending the Clover Basin tax.  Those were two major glaring errors for Ms. Benker.  The audience questions were 2-1 hostile towards Ms. Benker, and the hostile question to Ms. Witt was something she claimed she had nothing to do with.
I had heard about how supposedly smooth and experienced Ms. Benker is/was.  I saw her at the Longmont Area Democrat forum as well and did not see any kind of smoothness or better than average public speaking ability – and that was in front of a friendly crowd.  This Chamber crowd has some built in hostility towards the often anti-business, and nearly always anti-LAEC attitude of Ms. Benker (along with her fellow council members McCoy, Levison, and Hansen).  I still thought she would at least stay even or ahead of Ms. Witt in this debate.
After Ms. Witt stumbled on the second question I figured it was going to be a long 30-40 minutes for her and a major blow to her campaigns chances of unseating Ms. Benker.  But she turned it around and was much more poised and a better public speaker than Ms. Benker.  Ms. Benker was often morose and appeared moody, Ms. Witt by comparison was fired up and throwing everything just short of the kitchen sink at Ms. Benker.  While Ms. Witt did roll her eyes a couple of times, her attitude was not nasty.
Basically, Ms. Benker came across as a cold, detached, emotionless bureaucrat and politician.  Ms. Witt came across as the every-woman concerned citizen with the luxury of having Ms. Benkers record to take one shot after another at – and often scoring direct hits. 
This debate was really the only debate these candidates will have.  The Times-Call Candidate Forum will not be a debate, and should be much less stressful.  This Chamber debate had a very large crowd, bright lights, video cameras, and many of the movers, shakers, and decision makers in the community.  This venue was larger and more of a pressure cooker than I expected.

While Ms. Witt greatly helped her chances, I can’t imagine even the most die-hard Benker supporter being thrilled with their candidates overall performance at this event.

(Picture source: Times-Call)

Benker decries, then engages in dirty politics

You would think Longmont Council member Karen Benker was the Saint of All Things Clean when it comes to campaigning, that is if you were living under a rock.  In a Denver Post story (which apparently it’s left arm the Boulder Daily Camera re-posted) Ms. Benker, presumably with a straight face, said “It’s unfortunate that a few people are just so angry that they play dirty politics.”  She would know better than anyone.

Most of you probably missed the Longmont Chamber of Commerce debate that was held last week.  In a surprise twist at the end of the Ward 2 debate between Karen Benker and Katie Witt, the moderator opened up the questions to people in the crowd.  An obvious Benker plant asked a question right along the same lines as the Denver Post article about a push-poll.  In his misleading question that was more an accusation than anything else he yammered on about this push-poll.  Katie Witt made it pretty clear in her answer that she had nothing to do with it and since she had no coordination with the people doing it, she couldn’t stop it.

Why would I say this person (with a pushed pole planted) was a Benker plant?  They virtually walked out of this event hand in hand, I was almost expecting Ms. Benker to give him a pat on the back, along with a “heckuva job” thrown in.  It didn’t surprise me one bit to then see this story in the Denver Post.  A comment I found interesting (and no, I didn’t post it or any of the others) about Ms. Benker and the large assortment of people who have come to loathe her over the years up and down the Front Range went like this:

“Katie Witt doesn’t need to attack Karen Benker (and has stated publicly that she is not conducting this push poll). Karen Benker is under attack for her own record of failures from multiple sources. LifeBridge is the one that just pushed people too far, for this large church is a well respected one that a lot of her own constituents and members in the community attend.

This article is a fine example of why local news should be covered by local news. It’s not just about LifeBridge. Karen Benker has upset a lot of people, and not just locally. Which is why I’m not surprised that it’s a possibility that someone outside Longmont is not pleased with her.

Ask Karen Benker about the other issues people are upset with her about and she skirts around them. Google Karen Benker + any of these and you’ll see why she needs to go: LAEC, LEN, HOPE, Thistle, RTD, DRCOG + Doves, Jon Caldara, Clover Basin Fire DistrictGE, Longmont Airport prairie dogs, FAA, Innovate Energy, Richard Juday, Longmont Civility Campaign Committee, “Dying” Twin Peaks Mall, FacetheState, City Events, etc.

She’s also not the only tool in the shed…funny how media outside Longmont is latching onto this story. She knows the people who live here know the real truth about her, luckily they are the ones who will be voting.” (emphasis added, removed references to myself as you are obviously reading my blog and know who I am)

I couldn’t have put it much better myself, so I didn’t bother trying.

This whole push-poll thing and this feigned outrage is starting to sound manufactured.  Sort of like Ms. Benker’s brochure and website listing any accomplishment from City Council, city staff, or dumb luck as if she did it all single-handedly.  How did we ever get along without her?  (Note: Longmont was once in the top places to live and All America City, was).

It appears The Benker Bungler’s, er, campaign team’s newest campaign tactic is to continue the mudslinging Ms. Benker started, and throwing out this accusation they know to be false, but do it anyway.  I thought Ms. Benker was touting her signing that civility pledge?  At least now we know what her version of civility is.

Maybe she can join this civility committee as a (former councilmember) citizen starting November 4th.

Dueling in the Times-Call Open Forum

For my non-Longmont readers, or those Longmont residents that don’t get the Times-Call (and if not, why not?), there was an interesting exchange today between myself and sitting Longmont City Council member Karen Benker.  There is so much behind the scenes buried within our statements that it would help if I do a little running commentary through this exchange.  Enjoy.
E-mail should have been in public folder
While perusing some emails on the city’s server (and a special thanks goes to the City Clerks Office), I noticed an interesting exchange between Councilmember Karen Benker and Greg Burt.  Ms. Benker said in one of the emails that she has “emails from folks that substantiate” that Mr. Burt is being paid to “investigate” her.  You may also recall in an Aug. 5 Times-Call op-ed, Ms. Benker quoted an email from Mr. Burt. 

One problem: those emails don’t exist on the city servers.

So either Ms. Benker is lying in that statement, or she has once again ignored the rules about forwarding all correspondence to the city servers (that would be the Colorado Open Records Act).  There has been enough warning to the council members to send these emails.  There is no excuse for Ms. Benker to flout this rule.

In the email she also slings mud at her opponent Katie Witt saying it was too bad she was “going negative in this upcoming campaign”.  But later in the same email, she asks Mr. Burt “So what individual or group has hired you?  What are the terms of your contract?  and How much are you getting paid to investigate me?”  In other words she’s guessing, or else why would she ask?  (the “and How” was her lousy grammar, not mine, just copying and pasting there)

But in her blind sleuth work, she doesn’t mind throwing out a baseless accusation at Katie Witt.

Also in Ms. Benkers op-ed she said “please by wary of what you read in this newspaper” (this newspaper being the Times-Call) and “Don’t always believe what you read.”  Ironic advice from someone with an honesty problem, or is hiding emails.  It’s one or the other, or maybe both. 

This is the kind of dirty campaigning we can expect from Karen Benker – unsubstantiated claims without a clue.  Maybe the civil campaign committee should look into this.
Chris Rodriguez

EDITORS NOTE:  Councilwoman Karen Benker received an advance copy of the above letter through the Longmont Civil Campaign Committee.  She responds to it in the following letter.
MY NOTE:  The Longmont Civil Campaign Committee (LCCC) got a copy of it because I CC’d it to them.  This was to be interpreted as a complaint against Ms. Benker.  I haven’t heard that they “denounced” her for her dirty campaigning, instead they gave her this letter so as to have a heads up and a chance to respond.  Her only response should have been an apology, to both Katie Witt and the citizens of Longmont.  Of course, what she did is quite different, and quite telling.  Until I hear differently from the LCCC, this verifies what plenty of people have said about them, they are nothing but a group formed to support and run cover for their selected candidates.  In other words, it’s a sham.  I’d love to be surprised or proven wrong about this.

By the way, Ms. Benker demanded the Times-Call not run my letter.  Nevermind a longer version of it has already run on my various websites with hundreds of viewings.  This demand of hers, along with some of her statements below shows she really has a problem with freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment.

E-mail was private, addressed campaign
Thank you for the opportunity to rebut the negative letter sent by Chris Rodriguez.  Keep in mind Mr. Rodriguez writes a blog called “Wrongmont”, so that should give you some indications of his beliefs.  (Really, what beliefs are those?  That I point out what’s wrong with Longmont that need fixing?  Like, for example, council members like Karen Benker?  But thanks for the free and unrequested publicity.)

He has accused me of not reporting to my city account an e-mail I received from a friend warning me about Greg Burt (You may now add to that submitting to the Boulder County Assistant District Attorney how Ms. Benker has violated Colorado Revised Statute 24.72.201 Colorado Open Records Act, with 11 attachments, but now probably 12 including this latest outburst).  Here’s what Burt’s e-mail said:  “I’m doing some consulting work for a client in Longmont who is upset with Karen Benker…My client has asked me to catalog the frustrations that Longmont developers have with Karen Benker…He hopes to use this information to persuade voters to vote against her.”  (As you can see this is clearly city business.  It talks about developers and Ms. Benker, not some private matter like “how’s the family, Happy Birthday, etc” that Ms. Benker tries to portrayAlso, names could have been redacted – as stated in the State Statute – if that was an issue, but it wasn’t done.)

Personal e-mails do not have to be forwarded to my city account.  Only e-mails having to do with city business are required to be made public.  This e-mail did not relate to city business.  (This is where she and possibly other council members are flat out wrong.  In the April 29, 2008 Longmont City Council Study Session, Ms. Benker asked then City Attorney Clay Douglas about this very issue.  He told them fairly clearly that it was up to the sender to claim confidentiality – and an administrative regulation and recent verification from the City Clerk backs this up.  The word CONFIDENTIAL must be in the “salutation“, in other words the Subject Line, not within the body of the email.  It is not up to the receiver, in this case a city council member, to determine confidentiality.  But again, this email does refer to city business anyway, so the point is moot.)

Under the city’s new Campaign Finance Act, all independent expenditures made on behalf of a council candidate must be reported to the city clerk within 72 hours.  This was adopted so Longmont voters could know who was funding local campaigns.  Mr. Burt concedes he is being paid by a client from Longmont, but no report has been filed (This makes no sense.  A consultant being paid by a client is not a reportable item unless a candidate is paying them, then it would be a reportable expense.  As Ms. Benker must know, the first reporting period for candidates isn’t for a couple of weeks, so of course it wouldn’t be reported yet.  But her point is the “independent expenditure” provision; to report an independent expenditure one would have to actually expend some money.  Where does it say in these emails or in this op-ed that Mr. Burt expended any money?  Talk about a stretch of logic.).  Later this week, I will file a grievance with the city’s Election Committee reporting our city law is being violated.  (Based on what?  Can she point to something that money was independently expended on by Mr. Burt?  Tip to the Election Committee – just ask that simple question)

Please remember Mr. Rodriguez is suing the city (with the Longmont realtors) (oh, you forgot about a couple former Longmont mayors and other groups) stating our campaign finance law needs to be overturned. (Flat out lie.  This lawsuit is narrow in its scope, it does not call for abolishing the entire Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act, only very small fraction of itWhy?  (Why?  Did you not read the lawsuit, well obviously not based on your previous comment.  Or how about the story in the Times-Call about it?  No?  How about my and other websites discussing it?  No?  Ms. Benker isn’t very informed for a council member.)  One clause in the new ordinance limits the amount of money that can be donated to a campaign.  Previously, there was no contribution limit (in the last election, the Longmont Realtors donated $5,000 to one candidate who won.)  (The LFCPA lawsuit does not address contribution limits nor is trying to raise them or eliminate them, but nice attempt in trying to deflect the readers attention.  And also nice job mentioning negatively the Longmont Association of Realtors – and next time try to get their name right – not once, but twice)

I have signed the Civil Campaign pledge to refrain from negative campaigning.  My opponent has not.  Ask yourself, why?  (Notice all the “why“‘s?  Ms. Benker has a lot of questions but no answers.  Good for her, she signed a meaningless pledge by an equally meaningless committee that is protecting her, and formed by one of her supporters.  Of course, by the very nature of her emails and op-eds she has engaged in negative and uncivil campaign tactics, do you think the LCCC will “de-list” her?  Yeah, I don’t think so either)

Karen Benker
Mayor Pro Tem
City Council Candidate
Whether or not the District Attorneys office takes up this Colorado Open Records Act violation or not, the evidence makes a pretty open and shut case.  Ms. Benker has shown a history of wanton disregard for Colorado’s Sunshine Laws dating back to her days on the RTD board.  In those cases it was Open Meetings complaints (did you know people tried to recall her from that seat?), and now she’s part of a Longmont council who also is having Open Meetings problems to the point of a lawsuit filed by the Times-Call.

In this case it’s an Open Records problem, and regardless of her personal interpretation of what is private and what isn’t, she should know better.  If the maximum penalty for this violation wasn’t written for repeat and intentional offenders like Ms. Benker, than I don’t know who or what would qualify for it.  And like I told the ADA, if this law is not going to be enforced, why even bother having it?

Let’s take a look at that penalty again:  24-72-206. Violation – penalty.
Any person who willfully and knowingly violates the provisions of this part 2 is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than ninety days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Soon you will see the 11 attachments that were sent to the District Attorneys office.  Either here, in the Times-Call, or in a court document.  In them you will see Ms. Benker has absolutely no excuse for ignorance of the law or continued intentional violation of it, in my ever so humble opinion.

But Ms. Benker, you just keep on going after citizens if it makes you feel better about yourself.  Obviously, the citizens of Longmont deserve much better.

Campaign sign warfare: Day 1

I had heard that all of a sudden, a slew of Karen Benker campaign signs were popping up in strange places.  I called the City Clerk to verify what I heard about sign placement.  During the candidate orientation (which Karen Benker skipped), it was made pretty clear where you can and can’t place campaign signs.  She or her volunteers have decided to ignore that advice.

Signs are being placed in the right-of-way in front of businesses, clear violation.  But in a more despicable act of campaign incivility, Ms. Benker (or her volunteers) must assume because her opponent was able to put a sign in a vacant lot that a Benker sign should also be there, in front of or blocking her opponents sign.

Here’s a tip: signs placed on commercial property, even a vacant lot for sale, is still private property where permission is required before placing a sign.  A Benker volunteer was witnessed placing just such a sign, and I find it hard to believe that a landowner who approved Katie Witt‘s sign placement would also allow a Karen Benker campaign sign.  In another example a Benker sign was placed 1 foot from the shoulder in an area that the right-of-way is at least 10 feet from the shoulder.

From what witnesses saw, the “Benker Brigade” wasn’t exactly like fairies sprinkling pixie dust – more like junkyard seagulls dropping, well, you know.  Many of these misplaced signs sounds as if they ended up being dropped into a pile at the City’s garage courtesy of Code Enforcement.  Like they have nothing better to do.  I guess if I had more time on my hands I could go around and place signs hither and yon without regard to silly city codes, but I have a job, family, this hobby – basically a life.

This reminds of a similar situation during the January ’08 special election between Richard Juday and Gabe Santos.  I even wrote something about it called “(Illegal) signs of desperation“.  While you might hear from some sources that all parties are equally guilty in this first big day of sign warfare, I’m hearing from sources closer to the situation that this just isn’t the case.  Could it be history repeating?  Is someone getting worried or desperate?  I think someone may need to pool their campaign funds for a possible legal defense.  And this has nothing to do with signs.

Press Release: FasTracks: Lipstick On A Pig

Anyone who’s read my stuff over the years knows I’m no great fan of State Senator Brandon Shaffer. I’ve disagreed with him on his voting record, specifically the games he tried to play with the Electoral College, and how he basically became Ken Gordon‘s extra vote. We need someone to represent Longmont and District 17, not a puppet who pretty much tows the party line, right down the line.

The following press release was sent directly to me from candidate Katie Witt who is challenging Brandon Shaffer for this seat. – Chris

Lipstick on a Pig: Fastracks in Boulder County in Peril

August 18, 2008: Longmont, CO – Katie Witt, Republican candidate for State Senate District 17, today announced her position regarding the growing controversy surrounding the RTD FasTracks project.

“The prospect of FasTracks getting to Longmont and eastern Boulder County, on budget and on schedule, now appears to be absolutely zero,” Witt stated. “What makes the situation outrageous is that Longmont citizens have been paying for this project—one that my opponent Brandon Shaffer campaigned for in 2004— with little to show for it to date. Where has Brandon been the last four years while RTD heads straight toward fiscal implosion: the answer I fear is, “he’s been asleep at the wheel.”

“While my support of the FasTracks concept remains strong, it’s clear that this is one public works project that has spun out of control. Elected leaders and administrators need to revisit and seriously re-think the viability of the original plan.

“I fear that the worst news is yet to come. When FasTracks reaches full build-out, the operational losses from this poorly conceived project will implode the fiscal foundations of RTD, with taxpayers left holding the bag. It is time to stop the denial about the extra-ordinary fiscal risks involved with “staying the course” through keeping with the current plan. It’s time to stop trying to put lipstick on a pig.

“Fastracks to Longmont, an extension of the North Metro line tied into the Highway 287 corridor, is essential. Because of the growth along the I-25 corridor and number of people working in Denver Metro area, a line to eastern Boulder County would have the greatest impact on our transportation problems.

“If we subtract the politicians from the equation, this is the plan that makes sense for Boulder County. It will do what it was designed to do: reduce cars on the road.

“Obviously, the FasTracks proposal was driven by political considerations, not good mass transit policy. That’s why the FasTracks project is in such deep trouble financially.

“I praise RTD board member Lee Kemp and Longmont’s mayor Roger Lange, who’ve been on top of this worsening situation. What we need now is a task force led by RTD to re-examine alternatives, and legislative hearings at the Capitol to ensure far greater accountability going forward. Our current state senator is asleep at the switch on this crucial project.

“We need strong leadership and clear thinking on this crucial economic development project. Eastern Boulder County needs a FasTracks designed to support job growth and a vibrant east-county economic development effort. We need to see if we can get FasTracks to Longmont and eastern Boulder County.”