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Millennials, retirees and city politics: challengers demand apology from Suthers over remarks

Posted at 6:29 PM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 20:54:38-05

COLORADO SPRINGS – Comments from City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler last week attributed to Mayor John Suthers have his opponents demanding an apology for insulting retirees. Gaebler was defending the city’s bike lane projects at a public meeting when she quoted the mayor about the need to attract younger workers.

“As the mayor has said many times now, and I will speak his words, it is important to this city to add 3,000 to 4,000 35-year-olds every year for the next however many years because we need them to be our workforce; to take our tech jobs, to take those software designer jobs,” she said. “The mayor will actually go further and say I don’t care if one more 65 or older person moves to the city.”

The second part of that quote was met with a chorus of boos from the audience.  In an interview with News 5, Gaebler explained that she was trying to make a point that young people need incentives to move here and many millennials want multimodal forms of transportation.

“We already draw many retirees, especially military retirees, to our city. They come here naturally, the love the City of Colorado Springs,” she explained. “But as a City we need to incentivize those young folks to move here.  So, that’s was what I was trying to say but said very poorly and subsequently apologized for.”

Gaebler’s apology was followed by a written statement from Mayor Suthers.

“As she’s clarified, Councilor Gaebler has heard me say that the current workforce development needs of our high tech companies in Colorado Springs require us to attract about 4,000 young professionals a year to fill software engineering, cybersecurity and other high tech positions,” Suthers wrote. “We’re competing for that talent with other best-in-class cities like San Francisco, Boston, Austin, etc. Four years ago we weren’t attracting young professionals. Today we are. The retirees moving here, while welcome and valued by our community, will not fill those specific workforce needs.

Two of the candidates who are challenging Suthers in his bid for re-election told News 5 they think the mayor owes retirees an apology.

John Pitchford and Juliette Parker sent a joint letter to Suthers on Monday calling out his statements to the Gazette and Independent in response to the controversy saying that Gaebler’s choice of words was unfortunate.

“John Suthers is a lawyer, a former attorney general, a former US prosecutor and he didn’t say that her comments were untrue,” Pitchford said. “He said that they were unfortunate.”

“Which kind of made it sound like he wasn’t saying that she was wrong, that he didn’t say that. It’s just like, it kind of sucks that she told everybody that I said that,” Parker added.

Pitchford said he is planning a rally over the issue for an unspecified date later this week.