Late last month, the Denver Post published a piece about Colorado Springs having to cut some basic city services -- including turning off a third of its street lights on one day -- due to its horrific revenue situation. Since then, the left-wing blogosphere has piled on, with sites like the Daily Kos asserting that the Springs's tax-cutting mania had reduced the community to a third-world dump.
Still, it was a February 6 Post op-ed by AM 760 host and syndicated columnist David Sirota that pushed Colorado Springs councilman Sean Paige over the edge. Writing for the Huffington Post, Paige portrayed Sirota's piece as a slur against the entire town.
Sirota's response? "I'm not dissing Colorado Springs" -- but neither is he surprised by Paige's response, which he describes as "fake outrage."
In Sirota's view, "trying to equate criticism of political decisions to criticisms of the city itself is one of the oldest, cheapest tricks in the book -- a standard right-wing trick." For example, "when Democrats criticized the Bush administration for its Iraq war policy, the Bush administration responded by saying, 'You're un-American.' And that's the same kind of thing Sean Paige and a lot of the municipal leadership there who've pushed these policies and are desperate to defend them are doing now."
In Paige's case, he listed a slew of positive rankings Colorado Springs has earned in recent years to dispute the notion that the town is in bad shape:
• Colorado Springs ranked 10th on the 2009 Forbes Best Places for Business and Careers list. The rankings are based on income and growth, cost of doing business, available labor, crime rates, housing costs and net migration. 200 large metropolitan areas were ranked.
• Colorado Springs ranked 10th "Best City to be a Woman" according to Women's Health magazine.
• Colorado Springs ranked 9th in America's Best Midsize Metropolitan Areas according to MSNBC. The scores went to well-rounded places with healthy economies, light traffic, moderate costs of living, impressive housing stocks and strong educational systems.
• Colorado Springs ranked 9th in "America's Best Bang-For-The-Buck Cities" by Forbes.com. The study was based on solid housing markets, relatively stable employment, enviable cost of living and quick commutes.
• Colorado Springs ranked 24th Metro Least Touched by Recession by BusinessWeek. The report was based on a combination of stable home prices and sizable sectors in health care, energy, government, and education.
• Colorado Springs ranked 7th "Best City to Raise an Outdoor Kid" by Backpacker Magazine.
• Colorado Springs ranked 3rd in "Best Cities for a Housing Recovery" by Forbes.com
• Colorado Springs ranked Best Place to Live by Outside.online. Factors like cost of living, unemployment, nightlife, commute time, access to green spaces and multisport factor including quality and proximity to biking, running, paddling, hiking, and skiing.
• Colorado Springs ranked 3rd Midsize Magnet city by Next CitiesTM. The study looked at the 60 U.S. Hotspots for Young, Talent Workers. The indexes used for the study included cost of lifestyle, city's future job growth potential, the health of the city, places to go and things to do, education opportunities, commute times and diversity.
• Colorado Springs ranked 8th best city to find a fresh start according to BusinessWeek.com.
• Colorado Springs ranked 2nd fittest city in the country as ranked by Men's Fitness magazine. The survey was based on 14 categories ranging from the number of fitness centers to air quality to commute times.
Sirota, who published a HuffPo reaction to Paige's offering under the headline "The Eternal Delusions of the Right-Wing Mind," sees this roundup as another attempt at distraction.
"First, those rankings were done before the city had to move forward with these draconian cuts," he says. "But secondly, they aren't really germane to a discussion of whether what the city is doing is good for its citizens. It's an attempt to change the subject.
"The real question is, will those rankings remain the same or get better in the next two, three, four, five years. That would be germane -- if Forbes said, 'Even with these cuts, you haven't lost any ground.' But to simply say, 'We've been great in the past' doesn't tell us anything."
For Sirota, "the point I was trying to make is that the ideology of all-tax-cuts-are-good-and-all-tax-increases-are-bad has very real world ramifications, and Colorado Springs shows us what those ramifications are. We tend to have these debates at this abstract level and we don't tend to have real-world, easy-to-understand, in-your-face examples of what that means. But shutting the street lights off and major cuts to police and firefighters and not paving roads anymore are examples people can really understand."
Another one of Paige's assertions with which Sirota takes issue -- that Colorado Springs demonstrates "you can have a great American city without the need for a great big government running things; that you can keep taxes in check and still deliver an outstanding quality of life; that people here will step up to do for themselves, the things government can't or shouldn't be doing for them."
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Sirota's reaction? "I thought it was funny for him to make that argument about limited government fueling the economy when Colorado Springs has one of the biggest defense industries in the entire country. I don't know how cognizant he is of how ridiculous that statement is or not, but the idea that its economy is some pure form of the free market with no government in it is verifiably absurd."
Once this brouhaha blew up, Sirota expected to be inundated with hate mail from Colorado Springs residents accusing him of belittling their hometown -- and he's gotten some. But he says he's also received notes "from people in Colorado Springs unhappy with what's going on down there.
"It's not a slur to point out what Colorado Springs has done, and the downside of what it's done," he continues. "I'm not slurring Colorado Springs as a place, or making any kind of value judgment. I'm just saying what they've done."