Four more years of Chazen? Tough call
Of all the contested City Council races, we think the one pitting incumbent Marty Chazen against Duke Wortmann is the most intriguing.
And it all has to do with Chazen’s political philosophy. This race is basically a referendum on Chazen’s self-appointed role as council scold and skeptic — or as he describes himself, “a very fiscally conservative voice.”
His challenger, Duke Wortmann, made no bones that his candidacy represents a stand to “not let the extreme right run us into the ground anymore.”
If you want your representative on council to scrutinize — some say to a regressive extreme — the fiscal implications of any and all proposals, Chazen is your man.
“To me, that’s part of my role — that dollars taken from taxpayers get allocated to their highest and best use,” he told the Sentinel’s editoral board. That’s my primary role.”
However, constantly questioning the information provided by city staff has a demoralizing and chilling effect, Wortmann said in a separate appearance before the board.
“I have trust in the people around me and I think it’s important to let them have their autonomy,” Wortmann said. “I won’t bully city staff.”
Chazen rejected the idea that he meddles with staff — adding that he always gets permission from the city manager to speak with city employees. And there’s a reason he has to go to the source.
“I don’t think the council has received the full measure of information we should have been given to make a decision,” he said. “My role is establish policy for the city. But unless I get good information from the city, I can’t execute that role.”
Chazen acknowledged he has a reputation for “asking the hard questions” — usually pertaining to the financial side of proposed expenses and capital outlays.
“If I see something that I think is an outright waste of money or gets off the path of what the city should be doing, I’m going to say something,” he said.
“At some point, you can kill anything with statistics and it drives me nuts,” Wortmann said.
That’s the race in a nutshell — Chazen re-committing to be a “voice in the wilderness” advocating on behalf of taxpayers and Wortmann willing to try “anything reasonable” based on a cost-benefit analysis — including voter-approved tax hikes for publicly funded projects that could punch up the economy.
Roughly speaking, Chazen is saying he’ll continue to be the skeptic and Wortmann is taking a more optimistic and expansive view of government. Chazen’s entrenched conservatism makes Wortmann, a lifelong Republican, appear to be a “lefty liberal” by contrast, Wortmann said. He’s not, he assured us, but the council needs more moderate voices.
Chazen’s priorities are public safety, maintaining infrastructure and promoting economic development. In his view, parks, trails and cultural amenities are secondary considerations. They should be funded when the city can afford them. That means jobs first.
In the same breath, he said he’s witnessed quality of life “sacrificed on the altar of economic development” and he doesn’t want to see unbridled economic development ruin western Colorado as it did southern California. That’s an ambiguous stance that allows for saying “no” to a host of proposals.
Chazen retired to the Grand Valley following a lengthy career in corporate accounting and financial analysis. Wortmann moved to Grand Junction in 1975 to play baseball at Mesa State College and has served on boards of numerous foundations, commissions and nonprofits since he started his professional career here.
“I’ve never said no when something needs to be done,” he said, adding that he was urged to run by prominent citizens. Like most challengers, his policy views are a little more amorphous than the incumbent’s, but he said enough to leave us feeling positive about his goals.
“We’ve been bound up by our own lack of imagination and perspective” he said. “It’s time for a change.”
We agree. Chazen is an honest politician. He’s exactly who he claims to be — a budget hawk. Moving the city forward, we feel, requires more vision than looking for financial hair in every proposal.