Independent candidate Yemi Mobolade triumphed in Colorado Springs’ mayor race against veteran Republican Wayne Williams during the May 16 runoff, winning a conservative stronghold that the GOP had held for 45 years.
Mobolade, a small business owner and former economic development executive for the city, managed to defeat City Council member Williams, a well-known face of Colorado Republican politics, becoming the city’s first elected Black mayor. Leon Young previously served as interim mayor for several months in 1997 but wasn’t elected to the role.
The race in Colorado Springs, an hour’s drive south of Denver, is officially the first big mayoral race of the year for the state. Colorado Springs is one of three major Colorado cities electing a mayor this year, together with Denver, which held the race on April 4 but went on to a runoff scheduled for June 6, and Aurora, which will hold the race on November 7.
The Nigerian-born politician, who moved to Colorado Springs in 2010 and co-founded two popular restaurants in the city, received 57 percent of the vote as of 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, whereas Williams trailed him with 43 percent. Fifteen minutes later, Williams conceded to his rival. The second batch of results has left the distance between the two candidates unchanged.
Mobolade will replace Republican John Suthers, who has been in office since 2015 after defeating Mary Lou Makepeace, who had been the Republican mayor of the city between 1997 and 2003 but ran as an independent candidate in 2015.
Since 1979, the city has seen a series of Republican mayors following each other in the role: Makepeace followed Republican mayor Bob Isaac, who covered five consecutive four-year terms between 1979 and 1997. Republican Lionel Rivera was the city’s mayor between 2003 and 2011, and after him came Steve Bach, who announced in 2014 that he won’t seek a second term.
The succession of Republican mayors in Colorado Springs makes Mobolade’s victory all the more significant. “Wow,” he said on Tuesday night, opening his victory speech. “Wow. Wow. I am speechless.”
Mobolade’s victory represents a political earthquake for the state, with Colorado’s second-largest city now going to an unaffiliated candidate. The newly elected mayor said his victory represented a “new day in our beloved city.”
“Do you believe that?” he said. “Colorado Springs will become an inclusive, culturally rich, economically prosperous, safe, and vibrant city.”
Williams congratulated Mobolade on his victory but denounced divisions within the GOP as partly responsible for his loss. “I knew after the runoff was set that he had a substantial lead,” he said on Tuesday. “We closed the gap, but not enough… You had a number of Republicans running against each other in the first round, beating up on each other. And that had an effect that went into the second round.”
Newsweek has contacted Mobolade and Williams for comment by email.
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