On paper--certain pieces of it, anyway--David Shortridge looks like a clear favorite to win a seat on the board of the Regional Transportation District in November's election. Shortridge, a member of the town council in Nederland, has experience as an elected official, while his opponent, thirty-year-old businessman Jon Caldara, is a political neophyte. Shortridge already has two years under his belt as a director of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), an umbrella agency that mulls transit issues. And Shortridge has beaten out Caldara for the endorsement of the RTD drivers' union.

"He [Caldara] seems like a very nice young man," says the 58-year-old Shortridge. "I like him a great deal. However, when you come down to the nuts and bolts of it, he's not qualified [for the RTD], and I am."

But court documents, papers from a criminal case file and other records show that David Howard Shortridge has a troubled past--to put it mildly. Over the last fifteen years he's been sued at least six times by creditors seeking to collect debts ranging from bank loans to a stock purchase. And Shortridge has sued others with abandon. He brought a claim against the Colorado Department of Transportation after he fell off a pedestrian bridge in Nederland in 1984. Five years later he sued the local newspaper for libel. When the manager of the Palace Hotel in Cripple Creek contacted Shortridge's landlord to collect an allegedly unpaid bar tab, Shortridge sued the manager, the hotel, the city of Cripple Creek, the Cripple Creek police chief and his landlord, seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. This spring he tried to get a court injunction against Nederland mayor Bryan Brown when Brown moved to replace Shortridge as mayor protem of the town.

Shortridge's son, David Jr., was convicted of manslaughter in 1980 after he stabbed his roommate to death with a butcher knife. And Shortridge appears to have a criminal history of his own: Records show that a man with the same name and same date of birth was convicted of trying to get two women, one of them a Denver police officer, to work as prostitutes for him in 1975. Just last month the town of Nederland hired a special prosecutor after two of Shortridge's political enemies accused him of harassing them with late-night phone calls.

Shortridge makes no apologies for his problems. He says the string of lawsuits against him stem from financial setbacks he experienced after a congenital eye disease robbed him of most of his sight years ago. In suing others, he says, he is merely exercising a constitutional right. His son's criminal past, he says, is "totally irrelevant" to his campaign for the RTD board. And he denies that he's the same man who was convicted of arranging for prostitution in Denver nineteen years back. "I have no criminal record," he claims.

But John Lewis, a longtime Nederland resident and one of Shortridge's political foes, says Shortridge's history shows he isn't fit for office. "He promotes himself as being cleaner than Ivory soap," Lewis says. But "he has a very poor character. He has his own agenda--and that's David Shortridge."

The Regional Transportation District is one of Colorado's largest and most important government agencies, making decisions about mass transit that affect 2 million residents in the metropolitan area. The RTD can condemn land. It levies a sales tax. And it spends more than $300 million a year operating the area's bus service, running Denver's new light-rail system and funding other improvements to the regional transportation infrastructure.

Still, many people don't seem to know the agency exists. And for years the RTD has managed to attract a string of candidates known for personal problems and political gaffes.

Director Ben Klein is a convicted felon whose own attorneys in the past have described him as a "textbook example of a chronic paranoid schizophrenic" ("Life on the Edge," March 23). He's running for re-election unopposed. Kevin Sampson, a boardmember for the last seven years, was charged in April with three counts of sexual assault on a child. Sampson, who is stepping down next month, pleaded innocent at his arraignment in court last week. In August three incumbent directors were kicked off the RTD ballot by the secretary of state because they bungled their candidacy petitions. One unopposed candidate who did make the ballot, business consultant Brian Propp, has publicly mocked the very agency he now hopes to help run, joking at a recent political meeting that RTD stands for "Reason to Drive."

"Somehow, the democratic process doesn't seem to be working when it comes to RTD," says state representative Vi June of Westminster, whose husband served as an RTD director from 1986 to 1990. "We need bright, sharp, articulate people on that board. I think the [voters] are being shortchanged, but they're shortchanging themselves by not electing good people."

Until 1980, the governing board's fifteen members were appointed by county commissioners in the six metro-area counties encompassed by the RTD. With a ballot initiative that year, however, the electorate gave itself the power to choose boardmembers on its own.

The RTD's District O seat--which David Shortridge is running for--is geographically the agency's largest, comprising the city of Boulder and the entire western portion of Boulder County. For the last four years the seat has been held by the current RTD chairman, Ken Hotard, who has decided not to run again.

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