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July 28, 2011 08:40 PM UTC

Why Bob Murphy is Unbeatable

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  • by: Colorado Pols

Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy’s 2011 campaign is a far cry from where he stood in 2007. At the time, the then-City Councilman was expected to inherit the top title from Steve Burkholder. Murphy didn’t have to challenge anyone he served with on council for the Mayorship in part because Burkholder made it painfully clear that a Bob Murphy administration was to be a nuanced continuation of all the work Steve had done as Mayor and on Council.

Together with Murphy and other likeminded councilors, Burkholder had amassed a sizable list of accomplishments, crowned by the re-invention of the decrepit Villa Italia shopping mall into what is now known as Belmar. As bulldozers razed what was once an icon of 60s consumerism, Burkholder and Murphy with him ushered in a new, modern Lakewood no longer defined by the rotting capitalistic fusion of classical Italian architecture and art-deco.

It was Burkholder’s same keen eye for development which earned him many enemies in Lakewood. He clashed with citizens from across the city over development projects. There were those that thought Belmar would be a disaster, that Villa Italia was a Lakewood icon that deserved to stay. With the development of Solterra and the controversy surrounding Hayden Park Ravine, opposition to Burkholder and his policies began to grow. In libertarian-leaning parts of Lakewood, this was perhaps the precursor to the national Tea Party trend. The icon of this movement? The 20-something activist and filmmaker who was perhaps most vocal in her opposition to any development in Lakewood, Rita Bertolli.

It came as no surprise, then, that when Bob Murphy announced that he was running to replace Steve Burkholder, Rita Bertolli was quick to jump in the race as well. In those first few months of the campaign, Bertolli fancied herself as the leader of a grassroots movement, one that made it clear that the people of Lakewood were opposed to any new development; they were opposed to anything which changed the Lakewood they grew up in. With no political experience, little fundraising, and nothing more than a half dozen hard-core activists shouting and sign-waving, Bertolli gave Murphy a run for his money…and it shouldn’t have happened.

Bertolli’s campaign certainly gave the illusion of a deep-rooted grassroots uprising, with shouts of “Rita, Rita!” at every parade and oft-directed jeers at Murphy and those he was supporting for City Council. It was a close election. Bob Murphy won, of course, but the margin was narrower than it should’ve been in a race like that. Murphy, and by extension all which he and Mayor Burkholder had worked on previously, won just over 13,000 votes. Bertolli won just over 12,000. It was a tight race, but the voters decided that Bob Murphy was to be Mayor.

Four years later, by most accounts, Murphy has done a wonderful job as Mayor. Belmar shines as an economic and social slam-dunk for Murphy and company; its store spaces are nearly all occupied, and they’ve brought business to central Lakewood which was once a commute away. Where Villa Italia died in part because of the opening of Cherry Creek and Southwest Plaza, Belmar has been incredibly powerful in keeping Lakewood dollars in Lakewood.

With Belmar a huge success and Lakewood’s Light Rail Corridor soon to bring more business in, we weren’t surprised when Lakewood was crowned an All America City finalist earlier this summer. The prestigious award from the National Civic League gilds the direction Lakewood has been moving in over the past few years.

So, equipped with popular support of his policies and national recognition for the direction he and Burkholder have moved Lakewood in, we think Bob Murphy might have the easiest re-election campaign of any area mayoral candidate in recent memory. After all, it’s tough to take on a Mayor when everything in a city is going right, even despite a national economic downturn. Murphy was also smart in replacing City Manager Mike Rock, a source of constant controversy during the 2007 election, with Kathy Hodgson. Hodgson has kept a low profile, and that low profile has kept the spotlight on Murphy.

Murphy has nominal opposition in the race thus far, though we’ve heard it’s not uncommon for candidates to wait to jump into this race until the very last minute. Linda Delay, a perennial candidate who earned just over 1,200 votes last cycle, is officially in the race. She’s no threat to Murphy. As for Rita Bertolli? She all but disappeared after the 2007 race; nobody’s heard from her since. Ward 4 City Councilman Dave Weichman has been entertaining a run for Mayor from what we’ve heard, but Murphy would have little trouble dispatching Weichman. Weichman is perceived by many as a self-serving opportunist and it was something of a shock that he was even elected in 2009 to the City Council; Mayor is too big for Weichman, whether he knows it or not. Tea Party activist Natalie Menten is mentioned as a candidate for everything in Lakewood, but she’s never a real threat, either.

It’s certainly novel that after such a competitive race in 2007, Murphy is so likely to win in 2011. In part, Murphy will cruise to re-election because his policies as Mayor have been popular, or at the very least, uncontroversial.  In part, it’s because the bench of likely candidates to take on Murphy is small and dwindling. That latter point is due to the fact that Murphy counts nearly every councilmember as an ally, even gadflies like Vicki Stack and to some degree, Dave Weichman. The real reason, though, that we think Murphy is safe is because there’s no cogent argument as to why Lakewood needs a new mayor right now. This will be an off year election with an incumbent; it’s not exactly the kind of race where voters will be excited enough to come out and vote for someone like Rita Bertolli. In fact, we expect turnout will be pretty low, and because Lakewood citizens are pretty satisfied with their local government, low turnout numbers will always help the incumbent. We don’t think Murphy has the most amazing name ID, but its more than enough for the type of voters who actually vote in off-year, suburban, nonpartisan municipal elections to remember it.

In short, we think Bob Murphy is unbeatable. He has a lock to win a second term as Mayor of Lakewood, and he probably deserves it.  

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