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But what did he deliver?
While many people wonder whether the foul taste of DIA will ever fade, Frew, the master chef who served up that dish to voters, describes it as a "defining" event in Denver's history.
"It was the right thing to do," says Frew. "But I think they turned a dream into a nightmare. And I say, not even facetiously, that I based my support of the airport in part on the jobs it would create. I never dreamed that it would include so many jobs for federal investigators and securities investigators and criminal investigators."
Some of the airport's early backers--and beneficiaries--have already jumped on Frew's wagon. His campaign treasurer is Linda Alvarado, whose Alvarado Construction Company is general contractor for DIA's main terminal. Alvarado and her husband, Bob, have screamed themselves hoarse at Webb during public meetings over just how much money the city owes her company.
Another leader in the Frew camp is Bob Albin, a management consultant who chaired the chamber's airport task force back in 1987 and, later, the chamber itself. Albin, who supported Early in his bid for mayor, also headed Pena's DIA oversight panel.
"When Wellington came in," Albin recalls, "one of the first things he did was disband the panel. He thought it was redundant."
Albin, who attended Frew's campaign kickoff last week, describes the candidate as "an extraordinarily talented political strategist--people see him as being talented."
But, Albin adds, "never underestimate the power of incumbency."
Incumbent mayors are usually tough to beat, and that's particularly true in Denver, one of the few remaining large cities that has a strong-mayor form of government. The mayor is the undisputed leader, with his own cabinet and direct authority over many city services. Of course, that means Denver's mayor had a choice of how to build the airport.
And while DIA critics blame Frew for helping foist the airport on Denver, Frew will try to make a case that Webb screwed up the project.
"Frew's objective was the process of building an airport," says aviation consultant Mike Boyd. "It's a strong mayor/puppet system. Pena was their vehicle. If you had a city manager and an airport authority, when you do it that way, you can't get your snout in the trough."
Frew would agree with part of that analysis. "I believe that the city had no business building this airport through the Department of Public Works," he says. "And that was the fundamental mistake. That wasn't my decision. That was the city's decision. Fundamental mistake...the city should not have put itself in there. It was as though some of these people thought it was a big cookie jar and they were entitled to help themselves anytime they wanted to. The city should not have done that. Well, they did it. And here we are a few years and a few billion dollars later."
But Frew still thinks the airport was a great idea. "I think in the future, we'll look back and say there were defining moments in Denver's history," he says. "When the business community built the spur lines to Cheyenne, when the business community invested in the farm-to-market system in the San Luis Valley and built railways to invigorate the rural economy, that benefited Denver. The Denver business and political community built Stapleton Airport. They built Moffat Tunnel."
And they will make or break Frew's campaign. Unlike his three announced opponents, Frew has no obvious constituency. As Welchert dryly notes, "There's no power base of 38-year-old white guys."
But Frew has some powerful business friends. His client list at Fairfield & Woods, the law firm he's been with for the past few years, includes several entities trying to squeeze good deals from Denver and its taxpayers. He represented the baseball stadium district when it was seeking zoning and infrastructure decisions from the city. He represented Central Parking Systems Inc. when it was angling for airport parking contracts. He represented the Greater Denver Corporation and United Power Inc. when they were pushing for economic development at DIA. He represented Jetway Systems, which makes the passenger-boarding walkways for airports. He represented the Paradies Shops, the DIA concessionaire booted out of the new airport last year after its top official was convicted in an Atlanta airport bribery scandal. Last year Frew excused himself from lobbying the city on behalf of the Denver Nuggets when it became apparent that his name was circulating as a potential candidate for mayor. Frew's name is also listed as having represented MarkAir, the formerly bankrupt Alaska airline that almost got a multimillion-dollar handout from the city.
Although Frew says he didn't wind up doing any lobbying for MarkAir, he adds that the city should have gone ahead with a subsidy for the airline.
These business connections may ultimately pay off, but Frew has yet to reveal his financial backers--and his first campaign report isn't due until the end of the month. "I got into this discussion with Jerd Smith of the Denver Business Journal last year, and it just ended up making people uncomfortable, so I'm not going to give names," says Frew. "I'm on the board of the Greater Denver Corporation, I've done a lot of work with the business community. Some very substantial members of the business community are supportive."