Yemi Mobolade, a West African immigrant and independent, elected 1st Black mayor of Colorado Springs: 'What an incredible opportunity'

Mobolade will now lead nearly 500,000 residents in Colorado's second largest city, many of whom are registered as independent and, he says, hungry for unity.

Yemi Mobolade.
Colorado Springs mayor-elect Yemi Mobolade cheers as he runs onto the stage to give a speech during an election watch party Tuesday. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)

Political newcomer Yemi Mobolade, an independent, will become the next mayor of Colorado Springs, Colo., and the first Black mayor in the city’s history, after easily defeating longtime Republican politician Wayne Williams by 14 points in a Tuesday runoff.

“This win is for Colorado Springs. It's for the residents of our city,” Mobolade, a business and church leader with no previous political experience, told Yahoo News the morning after his win. “It's local, but it also has national implications for a new way politics can be done and our cities across the U.S.”

Mobolade, a West African immigrant, will succeed Republican Mayor John Suthers, who had been in office since 2015. Suthers, the state’s former attorney general, had endorsed Williams. The win in the nonpartisan race is seen by many as an upset for a city that’s long been considered a GOP stronghold; Colorado Springs has never before elected a non-Republican mayor, according to the Gazette.

“I represent this massive middle in our nation,” Mobolade said, adding that he chooses to embrace the ‘and’ instead of feeling compelled to choose ‘or’ on hot-button issues that spur division.

“I'm told that you have to pick one. I don't think that's leadership. I think we pursue the work of healing on both sides as we work to bring the community together.”

How did he win?

Yemi Mobolade.
Mobolade speaks to supporters at the watch party. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)

Home to nearly 500,000 people, Colorado Springs is the state’s second-largest city, where 48% of voters are unaffiliated with a major party. Because of this, Mobolade ran an aggressive campaign, which included more than 100 meet-and-greet events and saw campaign volunteers knock on nearly 40,000 doors, according to the campaign. City campaign finance records show Mobolade raised about $770,000 from 1,200 donors, each with an average donation of $395.

His opponent, meanwhile, ran a different campaign that focused on person-to-person calls, reaching 80,000 phones, according to a Williams’ spokesperson. Williams raised more than a million dollars from just over 300 donors with an average donation of $2,784 — about seven times larger than the average donation to Mobolade's campaign.

Experts say Mobolade’s presence in the community and optimistic campaign messaging played a key role in his victory.

“I think some people took those attack ads [against Mobolade] personally because they felt like he was someone they related to,” Mike Williams (no relation to Wayne Williams), executive director of Citizens Project, a local nonprofit that focuses on civic engagement told the Gazette.

‘This outsider is also looking in’

Yemi Mobolade stands on stage with his wife and two of his children.
Mobolade stands on stage with his wife and two of his children. (Mandy Penn Photography)

Born in Nigeria, Mobolade immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 to follow in his brother’s footsteps of attending college. He later began his career in quality control manufacturing before moving to Colorado Springs in 2010, eventually founding a church, creating several restaurants and starting a consulting company. He sees each of these investments as ways to build community, which he was able to translate into support for his campaign.

Mobolade believes his immigrant story, in particular escaping what he called “tribalism” back home to instead choose democracy in the U.S., is the biggest reason he has been able to band together an electoral coalition that includes both law enforcement and NAACP community leaders.

“I think there’s a uniqueness of what I bring to the table and why I've been so successful at bringing communities and groups together to solve problems,” he said. “I get to channel the empathy of being an outsider and bring that to the mayor's office and what it means to be inclusive of other ideas, which is also what it means to have democracy — the competition of ideas. This outsider is also looking in and sees nothing but opportunities.”

As the first Black mayor-elect of a city that is more than 67% white, it’s also not lost on Mobolade the historic nature of his win.

“What an incredible opportunity to be a Black leader in a predominantly white city and for this city to still say, ‘We see you,’ ‘We choose you,’ not just because of your skin color, but because of this vision that you have for our city, your love for our city, because of what you've done,” he said. “And, by the way, you happen to be Black, which is for some, is a huge plus.”

Mobolade will be sworn into office on June 6 and plans to get to work immediately. He has already vowed to fully staff the police department, end homelessness in the city, add more affordable housing and open new businesses in the community.

Cover thumbnail: Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP