Political newcomer Yemi Mobolade wins Colorado Springs mayor’s race

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Andrea Chalfin/KRCC News
Colorado Springs mayoral candidate Yemi Mobolade takes the stage with his family after initial results show him leading by a large margin against contender and current councilman, Wayne Williams, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Updated 10:40 p.m. on May 16, 2023.

In what can only be described as a stunning turn of events, political veteran and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams conceded the Colorado Springs mayoral runoff to political newcomer and businessman Yemi Mobolade not long after the polls closed Tuesday night.

The concession came shortly after the first results were posted. That stood in stark contrast to the spring general election, where it took days to discern the top two vote-getters.

“Wow,” said Mobolade as he took the stage with his family at the COS City Hub community center where his watch party was held. “This is our win. We are Colorado Springs. It’s a new day in our beloved city.”

As of 9:40 p.m., when the final vote count of the evening was released, unofficial results showed Mobolade leading in the race for Colorado Springs mayor with 57.5 percent of the vote to Williams' 42.5 percent. Counting is expected to resume Wednesday morning.

"I think folks were, as indicated by their vote, were looking for something new as opposed to the tried and proven track record and that's certainly their right to make that decision," Williams told KRCC at The Pinery event venue where his watch party was held. "Being the top two out of 12 sounds better than being second."

The Williams campaign noted that while 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl won El Paso County, she lost Colorado Springs.

"It's clear Colorado Springs is less conservative than it used to be. When I was chairman here (of the El Paso County GOP) we had no Democratic state reps. Now we have three," Williams said. "So there are significant changes that have taken place and I congratulate Yemi on an excellent campaign."

Yemi Mobolade supporters during a watch party at the COS City Hub community center on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

When asked if Tuesday night's results signal a larger change in the political alignment in Colorado Springs, Mobolade said, “I don't know, I can't speak to that. But what I can't speak to is the hunger in our city at this moment in time. The hunger is not one that is partisan, as clearly evident in this room. We have Democrats, Republicans and Independents all gathered. The hunger is for vision that transcends political party lines and the tiredness and the frustration in our city and in our nation is around (the) partisan divide and the fighting that happens and people are just ready for a new type of leadership that puts our quality of life ahead of party politics.”

He also noted the city charter calls for the mayor to be non-partisan, “I'm glad that I could restore the spirit of the law that we should be abiding by.”

Mobolade, who is a naturalized citizen and identifies as a political independent, is the co-founder of two local coffee shops and has also founded a church.

In the public sector, Mobolade has been an advocate for small businesses with the city. He has worked with the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corp. Mobolade said he sees his new role as an opportunity to "restore public trust in local government." 

Mobolade called his preparation for the runoff his “longest job interview” to prove to the community that he is the leader for the job. 

In a survey sent out by KRCC, Mobolade said he would prioritize safety, growth, and the economy.

While Williams gained the endorsement of John Suthers, the outgoing mayor, as well as more than half the current council, Mobolade was able to secure the endorsement of third-place finisher Sallie Clark. 

In the general election last month, Mobolade garnered the most votes among the dozen candidates, separating himself from Williams by more than 11,000 votes.

Williams' campaign said he started the runoff down 25 points.

Williams said all of the GOP attacks and infighting also didn't help.

"So you had a number of Republican candidates beating up on each other in the initial round," Williams noted. "I think that carried through."

Though some Republicans disagreed with Williams in the past, the GOP did coalesce around him during the runoff. State Party Chair Dave Williams showed his support as well as El Paso County GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins.

Williams is a familiar name in El Paso County’s Republican circles and Colorado politics. He was elected Secretary of State in 2014, after serving as a county commissioner and then the county clerk. He’s currently an at-large city councilman for Colorado Springs.

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Colorado Springs Councilman Wayne Williams poses for a photo during a watch party at The Pinery event venue for his mayoral run.

Republican and former state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Williams ally, was not thrilled with the result.

"I just hope people don't fall for the running the city on love," Landgraf said. "Because it takes a lot more than that to be able to negotiate with two sides, both sides of issues."

Don Kidd, a businessman and long-time resident who spent 27 years in the Air Force, is worried to see the less conservative candidate win.

"I see nice commercials, but I don't see a whole lot more," Kidd said. "I'm concerned about progressive policies if (Mobolade) brings those to the city. I'm concerned what they might do to Colorado Springs. We've got a large, large military presence. And I think we are right now very favored and have been for many, many years in the defense department.  I'm afraid that that might turn just like the rest of Colorado."

At his Tuesday night watch party, Williams said his early concession was not what he'd hoped for, but that it was necessary for the city to move forward.

"I believe that the future of Colorado Springs is still strong, and I've been honored to serve this city and state for the last 28 years," Williams told the crowd. "I appreciate all the opportunities I've had to make this city and state and county a better place."

Voters dropping off their ballots earlier in the day said population growth and higher property taxes were issues of concern for them. 

Gary Turner, who voted for Williams, said he hopes the new mayor will address growth in the city. 

“It’s ridiculous,” Turner said. “It’s gone way too far out of sight. My property taxes went up 60 percent. Yeah and I’m a senior citizen living on social security. How in the hell do they expect me to… what am I supposed to do without? Heat or food?” 

Mike Clouse didn’t participate in the April municipal election but cast his ballot for Mobolade on Tuesday.

“It’s just kinda making up for not voting last time,” Clouse said. “I would’ve voted for Yemi before and I want to do it now to do my part too. Hopefully he’ll get in.”

Back at his watch party Tuesday night, Mobolade had a message for the skeptics: “To anyone who doubts that politics can be disrupted… tonight is for you.”