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DARK HORSE

A VETERAN OF NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNS MAKES A RUN AT CITY HALL.

At one point Kramer's troops pointed out that a Wirth ad featured a professional actress--hardly the first time that's happened in a campaign. "It doesn't matter diddly-squat that people are paid," Frew told reporters. "Ken Kramer's press secretary is paid. What the ads say about Kramer is true."

And what the voters said was that they were sick of the whole mess. "For that level of office," one Coloradan told the Washington Post, "I think they ought to pay a little more attention to the issues instead of distorting each other's voting records."

A pained Frew explained to the Post, "If we win this race, people will say, `It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done.'"

They got the job done, and Frew went to D.C. as Senator Wirth's chief of staff. Within the year, though, he returned to Denver to work for Printon, Kane, an investment banking firm. (Frew says he left Wirth's staff under his own power.) In 1988 Printon, Kane loaned him to the pro-airport forces who were seeking to jump-start the local economy--and perhaps their own fortunes--by building a massive replacement for Stapleton Airport.

Frew faced a sticky problem: How to convince Adams County voters to let Denver annex fifty square miles of land for the new airport. But Frew had plenty of power behind him: Governor Roy Romer, Denver Mayor Federico Pena, chamber head Dick Fleming, the business community (including the S&L spendthrifts at Silverado), much of the media and a million dollars for ammunition.

Fleming and Pena were the driving forces of Partners in Progress, as the campaign was called. The chamber set up an economic-development arm, the Greater Denver Corporation, which funneled $404,000 into the fight. One consultant still marvels that the campaign Frew ran was "military in its precision." More than 1,500 volunteers went door-to-door in Adams County; Romer, Frew and other boosters made countless public appearances at civic clubs and other venues to pitch the project. "If you respect professionalism," says the consultant, "it would bring tears to your eyes."

Several of Frew's opponents back then are still seeing red. "You give me $34 a vote, and I'll deliver," says Jim Nelms, a prominent political figure in Adams County at the time of the vote. "It was the most expensive campaign in U.S. history, per vote! Jesus Christ, that's not winning a campaign. That's buying an election."

Nelms and Frew clashed publicly during the campaign. At an airport forum, one of Frew's allies accused Nelms of having a personal profit motive and breaking state law by signing a lease for an acre of land at Front Range Airport. Frew echoed the criticism in a quote to a reporter. At the time, Nelms was chairman of the Front Range Airport Authority, and it turned out he had signed the lease on behalf of the authority.

Two weeks later Frew sent Nelms a letter: "Now that I've had a chance to look into it, it appears no law was broken. I'm sorry for my prior statement, but I wish you had explained the lease instead of denying its existence."

The short-tempered Nelms still refers to Frew as a "sleazy bastard." Of his bid for mayor, Nelms says, "I hope he wins. Denver deserves him."

Ex-lawmaker Bill Chenoweth, who led one of Denver's campaigns against the airport, recalls Frew as "a stooge of the chamber" but adds that he "did a heck of a job."

"He might be capable, I don't know," Chenoweth adds. "He reminds me of a fast-talking Easterner come here to show us bohunks how to do it."

The pro-airport group's take-no-prisoners approach also steamrolled over a little newspaper called the Commerce City Beacon. When the weekly's first issue carried an anti-airport editorial, "we were accused of being a vehicle for the anti-airport people," says the paper's publisher, Norm Union. "But it was a coincidence." The fledgling paper became grist for Frew's publicity mill, which photocopied the offending page, printed a big, red "Baloney" on it and blanketed Adams County with thousands of copies.

Frew's forces spent nearly $1.2 million and got 56 percent of the vote; their foes had spent $103,000.

Shortly afterward, Frew showed he no longer was that poor boy from Iowa: He garnered a mention in the Denver Post for trolling up and down 17th Street on behalf of Printon, Kane, looking for some municipal-bond action--the new airport was expected to produce $1 billion in revenue bonds.

The next year, Frew was again recruited by business and its allies, this time to sell Denver voters on a new airport.

The Let's Vote Yes Committee wound up spending about $1 million--more than half of it from the chamber's Greater Denver Corporation. The opponents, organized chiefly as Save Our Stapleton, spent one-third that amount. It wasn't close.

Union, whose little paper survived Frew's early attack, recalls the pro-airport campaigns as sophisticated operations. "They did their homework," Union says. "They determined what the hot buttons would be: jobs, and that it wouldn't cost taxpayers anything."

Political consultant Steve Welchert, a friend of Frew's since Iowa, says that's Frew's strong point: "understanding the message and how to deliver it."

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