He’s a man on the move. You might find Mayor John Suthers in a baseball cap at a Cottonwood Trail ribbon-cutting or delivering a state-of-the-city address at Broadmoor Hall. One minute, he’s attending a fundraiser with his wife and BFF Janet, and the next, he’s fielding questions at a Southeast Colorado Springs community forum.
Friend and schoolmate, 4th Judicial District Judge Tom Kane recalls Suthers as a "moral, upright guy from first grade on." The two attended the same school, joined the Boy Scouts, and roomed together at CU Law School. "I’ve been asked to roast John at a couple of nonprofit fundraisers…trouble is, it’s tough to find anything funny to say about him. He has no skeletons," Kane says, adding that, even as a kid living in Cheyenne Canon and mowing lawns, he was a model citizen. To illustrate, Kane recalls a case John prosecuted as a DA. "A former neighbor—a nice older lady—was interviewed as a potential juror. She was dismissed, however, after telling the court, ‘I couldn’t do anything to hurt little Johnny Suthers.’ He still talks about that."
A lifelong Colorado Springs resident and peak achiever, Suthers’ post–law school career began as a prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District (El Paso–Teller County) before leaving to enter private practice with a local firm. But his passion for public service won out. By 1988, he was elected district attorney, and in 1999, Governor Bill Owens appointed him executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Other career highlights include serving as U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado and Colorado Attorney General (2005–2015). Oh and, along the way, Suthers also found time to author six books, including Becoming a Good Ancestor and a prosecutor’s guidebook titled No Higher Calling, No Greater Responsibility. So how did life experience influence his decision to lead a city into the future?
What was it like growing up in Colorado Springs?
Bill and Pat Suthers—my adoptive parents—moved here in 1946. It was beautiful. The population was about 40,000. Dad was a dentist who enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor and served in North Africa before reporting to Camp Carson. He later opened a downtown dental practice in the Burns building. My folks were very supportive of my sister and me. They made sure we got a good education. I began first grade at Pauline Memorial School, then St. Mary’s High School, and in 1973, a bachelor’s degree in government and international studies from Notre Dame before moving back to Colorado to go to law school in Boulder.
What have been your biggest career challenges?
Appointment as U.S. attorney for Colorado by President Bush one week before 9/11. The world changed dramatically overnight. There was a new focus on terrorist cells, including DIA sweeps and identifying 119 fake job applicant IDs. A second challenge was successfully prosecuting Qwest for corruption and white collar crime in 2004–2005.
Of your many posts, which best prepared you to become Colorado Springs’ Mayor?
Heading up the Colorado Department of Corrections. When I took over, we had a $550 million budget and a workforce of 6,000. Day-to-day operations encompassed everything from a meals program, medical services, and facilities to ranching, water systems, a furniture factory, and more. It provided a great education for running a city.
Why is understanding our community’s history so important?
It’s hard to be a good citizen of a nation, state, or city without knowing why we had a Civil War or the importance of the Allies’ victory in WWII. Today’s decisions become tomorrow’s history. Understanding the past helps create a better future. Take General Palmer’s founding of Fountain Colony—later Colorado Springs. He invested in trees and understood the importance of infrastructure and culture to match the city’s magnificent scenery. When Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard proposed opening a plant in Colorado Springs in the 1960s—but only if we had a university—we worked to get a CU branch. When faced with competition from Wisconsin to get the United States Air Force Academy, we made it happen. Cities that survive and thrive have learned and benefited from the past. Our job is to leave the world a better place.
Colorado Springs is one of U.S. news and world Report’S Top three 2019 "Best Places to Live in America." What key factors will keep us on top?
We’re surrounded by natural beauty, have a strong economy, low unemployment, a reasonable crime rate for a city of our size. We also offer a lower cost of living than cities like Denver.