Pueblo Voters Elect Their First Mayor in Over A Century

Dan Boyce/CPR News
<p>Pueblo&#039;s mayor-elect Nick Gradisar celebrating his victory Tuesday night. He ran on a platform of economic development and making the city more business-friendly. </p>
Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar
Pueblo's mayor-elect Nick Gradisar celebrating his victory Tuesday night. He ran on a platform of economic development and making the city more business-friendly.

Pueblo attorney Nick Gradisar, a water board member and former leader of the local Democratic Party, will be Pueblo’s first elected Mayor since 1911.

Gradisar defeated former City Council President Steve Nawrocki in Tuesday’s runoff election, 58 to 42 percent in preliminary returns. Only about a third of registered voters turned in their ballots.

With this election, Pueblo moves to a ‘strong mayor’ model of municipal leadership, the city's sixth form of government since its founding in 1870. Pueblo is only the third city in the state to use the ‘strong mayor’ model, after Denver and Colorado Springs. Until now, the it had followed the city manager form of government, where a hired manager executes the political wishes of the city council.

Once Gradisar takes office, he’ll operate as a political executive leader more in the mold a governor.

“That sort of gives me a bully pulpit,” Gradisar said from his election night campaign event at Zaragoza Reception Hall. “To get everyone together and say ‘OK, this is where we’re at, this is where we want to go.’”

Gradisar’s said his top priority will be helping Pueblo’s lagging economy, in part through hiring an ombudsman.

“[The ombudsman] can help business people and community members navigate some of the labyrinth of rules and regulations that sometimes make it almost impossible to do business here.”

Interestingly, Gradisar has known his opponent in this race, Steve Nawrocki, for decades. The two men were the top vote-getters in November, out of a field of 16 candidates, setting them up for Tuesday’s run-off.

“Who would have known that it would be the two of us?” Nawrocki said.

There were hopes for a higher turnout in the race. After polls closed Tuesday night, election officials had only counted 20,556 ballots returned out of 62,180 sent to voters’ homes.

“I’m a little disheartened that there were not more people, because this is a new form of government,” Nawrocki said. “It can be a big thing.”

He hopes the new mayor will concentrate on forming a strong working relationship with Pueblo’s City Council right off the bat. That body stands to lose power under this new paradigm.

Mayor-elect Nick Gradisar will be sworn into office in February to begin his five-year term.