Colorado Springs mayoral runoff: Wayne Williams and Yemi Mobolade talk vision for city, address voter doubts

Courtesy photos.
Colorado Springs mayoral candidates, from left, Yemi Mobolade and Wayne Williams will head to a runoff race on May 16 after neither secured more than 50 percent of the vote.
Colorado Springs mayoral runoff: Voter guide | Mayoral candidates talk vision for the city, address voter doubts | Yemi Mobolade interview | Wayne Williams interview

Colorado Springs voters will elect a new mayor on May 16 in a runoff election between the top two candidates from April's general election. 

Political newcomer and small-businessman Yemi Mobolade pulled in the most votes, besting former city councilman Wayne Williams by more than 11,000 votes. Neither candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote among a field of 12, thus forcing the runoff. 

The nonpartisan race is the fourth mayoral race since the city moved to a strong mayor form of government, where the mayor acts as the city's chief executive and is responsible for enforcing laws, preparing the city budget, and other duties. 

The winner in this race will succeed John Suthers who is term-limited.

Eligible voters who cast a ballot in April's general election must cast a new ballot in this runoff election. Those who did not vote in April can still vote in the runoff.

Ballots are already in the mail for the runoff election and must be returned to the city clerk's office or a drop-box by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.

Just over 35 percent of eligible voters returned their ballots in April's general election. That's low for spring municipal elections that have had an open seat for mayor. 

The new mayor will be sworn in on Tuesday, June 6.

In recent interviews, both candidates discussed their approach to issues at the top of voters’ minds, including public safety, growth and a controversial water ordinance. Check out those key takeaways below.

On their love for Colorado Springs

Yemi Mobolade

A political newcomer, Mobolade said public discontent and distrust of government are the reasons for his candidacy. 

"We're in division at an all time high," he said, adding that he wants to bring "fresh eyes" to the issues of public safety, growth and economic vitality of the community. "I've raised my hand in this community over the last 12-plus years to consistently say yes, I want to be a part of the solution."

For Mobolade, that solution doesn’t require previous political experience. 

"You need a leader with proven ability to bring the best people around the table to solve problems," which, Mobolade said, he's demonstrated in the roles he's had in the community.

Among Mobolade's endorsements is former mayoral candidate Sallie Clark, who came in a close third behind Williams in April's general election.

Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams said he wants to "continue the progress" that Colorado Springs has seen over the last eight years, including the last four years that he's been on city council. 

"I enjoy making a difference in the community that [my wife] Holly and I have called home for more than 30 years," Williams said. "I want this to be the kind of place that we want to continue to live in and the kind of place that will cause people to make the same decision we did… This is where we want to live, this is where we want to raise a family. This is where we want to recreate. This is where we want to be a part of the community."

Early on, Williams secured the endorsement of outgoing mayor Suthers and recently announced the endorsement of five of the current sitting city council members.

On public safety, police training and oversight

Wayne Williams

In a survey that KRCC sent to all mayoral candidates before April's general election, Williams cited public safety as the number-one challenge facing the next mayor of Colorado Springs. 

"There are some areas in which we're struggling," he said. "We've had a shift in the respect for law enforcement and the desirability of law enforcement as a career that has caused us to have some recruitment and retention issues." 

Williams said moving to a year-round police academy is part of the solution. He's also proud of his appointment to Governor Jared Polis' Peace Officer Standard Training Board

"It's not just at a local level, but also at a statewide level that I'm involved in trying to make sure that we use the tools that are available now — more of interactive training as opposed to just book learning," he said.

Additionally, he said the Law Enforcement Transparency and Advisory Commission, or LETAC, which was set up by city council to advise the police department and work on improving relations with the community, plays a "vital role" in creating dialogue as well as meaningful recommendations.

Yemi Mobolade

In the survey prior to the general election, Mobolade highlighted tools, training and crisis intervention as ways of improving law enforcement. Hiring is one part of the puzzle, but retention of officers is also important. Boosting morale, he said, is key to improving rates of attrition, as is better training and development opportunities.

 Mobolade said his experience as a Black man in Colorado gives him a unique perspective.. 

"The weight of the badge is heavy," he said. "I sit in the middle of my desire to humanize a badge and at the same time be a bridge to our communities that don't trust the badge." 

As for LETAC, Mobolade said he wants it to remain advisory in capacity but wants to be more involved.

On growth and infrastructure

Colorado Springs continues to grow at a high rate, prompting conversations over controversial developments, revisions to zoning codes, planning for water needs, and keeping up with infrastructure needs.

Yemi Mobolade

"Growth is inevitable," Mobolade said prior to the April election. "The question is not whether Colorado Springs will grow… The opportunity in front of us is to decide how Colorado Springs should grow."

Mobolade said he wants to see denser housing developments, but that it's important to keep the character and needs of neighborhoods set for development in mind. 

"As we talk about neighborhoods, the vibrancy of each neighborhood is paramount and residents will have voice in the decision-making power," he said.

When it comes to the city's roads, Mobolade said there simply isn't enough money to keep up with those needs. 

"There are opportunities as mayor for me to take a second look to see where we can reduce waste…maybe lean into some of the core functions of government," he said. "Maybe we can free up some excess money to care for our public infrastructure."

Wayne Williams

Williams also sees a need to increase investment in roads and road maintenance.

"The state is no longer funding transportation the way it used to do.” he said. “And many of our major thoroughfares… are state highways and there has been a lack of funding for them. So we have to advocate at the state level to make [sure] that transportation's being funded and that our roads are part of that process."

For Williams, growth in Colorado Springs should fund other civic needs. He cited examples of development fees for public safety and water, as well as requiring developments to build roads ahead of time.

"The most important thing to do as we balance growth with those challenges is to make sure growth pays its own way," he said.  

Securing water in a drought

Water is another key component to growth. The city recently passed a controversial water ordinance that specifies how and when the city utility can extend water service, potentially affecting new annexations for development. 

Yemi Mobolade

"It's a great starting point for the conversation that should have started 20 years ago," Mobolade said. 

He said he wants "to separate the water issue from some of the development challenges" facing the city. He's also looking forward to revisiting a plan from 2006, which he called "a framework that helps us identify the policies around decisions of annexation."

Wayne Williams

As a member of city council who supported the ordinance when it was passed, Williams said it was a necessary step to define a standard. 

"What we had before was 'as long as there's enough water for the foreseeable future'," he said, pointing to the lack of a standard in place prior to the establishment of the ordinance. 

"By moving to a specifically defined buffer, we have provided more certainty and fairness in the process with respect to who benefits, who doesn't," he said.

Hot water: Controversies and allegations

Wayne Williams

But playing a role in passing that ordinance has brought allegations against Williams and his campaign. Some have accused Williams of helping to create a monopoly for development in the city, specifically for Norwood Development Group.

"It is true that Norwood owns a significant portion of the land," Williams said. It's land already inside the city limits, prompting the concern that creating stricter rules around annexation could potentially favor one developer over myriad others.

It's unclear just how much Norwood has contributed to Williams' campaign, but reports have surfaced alleging the company is behind a significant amount of contributions.

"I supported this ordinance because it was the right thing to do for our community," he said. "It is true that I have support from a number of people across our community whose economic well being is tied to a successful economy." 

He cited the group known as Colorado Springs Forward, which he called "a group of a couple hundred folks focused on trying to make sure we have economic progress in our community."

When asked directly if he would be influenced by developers or Colorado Springs Forward, Williams vehemently denied the allegations. 

"It's absolutely not true," he said, pointing to the fees that he's supported for development that would fund other civic needs. "If that allegation had any truth at all, I would never have done that."

"I look at what is the best answer at that particular time,” he said. “And I don't do it with respect to whether someone's donated, or not donated. And that is the absolute truth."

Yemi Mobolade

Although he's a newcomer to politics, Mobolade doesn't come without questions. In voter outreach conducted by KRCC prior to the general election and the runoff election, residents raised concerns about some of his business practices and associations.

Several years ago, the Colorado Department of Labor ruled against a business owned by Mobolade and then-business partner Russ Ware regarding a wage dispute. Then, last year, a restaurant opened by Ware, Epiphany, closed under allegations of financial mismanagement. 

Mobolade was not involved in Epiphany, but was still at the time Ware's business partner. He has since cut ties with Ware.

"I'm actually proud – not of what happened," Mobolade said, adding that he confronted Ware and involved the police. "I'm proud of how I handled every single challenge that has come my way. That's the everyday job of a mayor. It's moving from one crisis to another." 

"Most of the things I've done in this city, I have [had] immense success in just getting it done," Mobolade said. "And these moments in my business crisis, that's where strong leadership has emerged from."

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