CHECK, PLEASE

MEET THE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO KICK THE NEW MAYOR AROUND.WHO'S WATCHING THE WATCHDOGS NUMBERS AREN'T THE ONLY THINGS GETTING CRUNCHED IN THE RACE FOR DENVER AUDITOR.

City Hall insiders claim it was no accident that Mares won the work over the hundreds of other competent lawyers in Denver. One city staffer who signed the contract, Assistant City Attorney Vicky Ortega, is both a friend of Mares and a strong political supporter of Webb.

Mares has other ties to Webb. Two years ago the mayor appointed Mares's mother, Priscilla, to the board of Denver's Career Service Authority. And after Webb passed over Mares for the safety manager job, one source says, the mayor tried to make amends by offering him the chance to head the city's Community Development Agency. By then, however, Mares had decided to run for auditor, and he turned the job down. Mares declines comment on the CDA job.

The repeated overtures from the mayor may have been an effort by Webb to settle lingering bad blood with Mares's family. Schley has been a fervent foe of the Webb administration ever since her unsuccessful attempt to unseat Webb ally Bill Scheitler from his northwest Denver city council seat in 1991. Schley, who was Scheitler's aide before splitting with the councilman, lost that bare-knuckled campaign by fewer than 300 votes.

And unlike Doering, McCroskey and Adams, all of whom say the auditor's office has become overly politicized in recent years, Mares says it's all right for the auditor to demonstrate "appropriate aggression" toward the city's chief executive.

"It is almost, by nature, an office that's watching over the mayor," Mares says. "You're going to be accused of being political, when maybe what you're doing is your job."

Mares says he's taken "great pains" to stay out of the current mayoral race, in which three challengers are trying to unseat Webb. "Politics is a take-it-a-race-at-a-time kind of thing," Mares says. "You never know who's going to be your friend the next day."

Whenever Jack McCroskey gets up in front of a crowd of voters these days, he makes one thing perfectly clear: He'll never run for the mayor's job. That promise, he says, gets a consistently positive reaction--laughs, nods of approval and a smattering of applause.

"People like that," he says. "That is a winner with the public."
McCroskey, who at 69 is the oldest candidate in the race, says the auditor's post has lost credibility with Denver residents because so many who have held the job in the past have used it as a platform to attack the mayoral incumbent. Current auditor Bob Crider, for instance, has been a thorn in Webb's side ever since Crider decided he wanted to run for mayor himself. Webb, who preceded Crider as auditor, likewise used the office to attack Pena.

McCroskey acknowledges that the auditor should be "a watchdog rather than a lapdog," but he says the public won't pay attention to the auditor if everything he or she says appears tainted by political motives.

With the possible exception of Doering, McCroskey may have the best name recognition of the five candidates for auditor. A former economist at the University of Denver, McCroskey served for eight years in the Colorado House of Representatives before being elected to the RTD board in 1982. More than any other person in Denver, McCroskey was responsible for turning the city's light-rail system from a vision into a reality.

"The difference between making promises and actually doing something," McCroskey says, "is the difference between night and day."

McCroskey, however, left behind a trail of enemies, many of them affiliated with the RTD.

"Jack was pleasant up until the point he saw defeat," says Ken Hotard, who succeeded McCroskey as chairman of the agency. "Then it was vicious, then it was manipulative, then it was Machiavellian. That's the way he played the game."

In 1992, McCroskey was soundly defeated in his attempt to be re-elected to the RTD board. Instead of accepting the loss graciously, Hotard says, he took the loss as a personal insult. Having worked steadfastly to bring light rail to Denver, McCroskey allegedly embarked on a crusade to prevent its expansion beyond the 5.3-mile downtown link that opened last October.

To make matters worse, says Hotard, McCroskey began harassing members of the RTD staff with abusive and profane phone calls. "It was clearly disrupting our staff and affecting their ability to do their jobs," Hotard says. On several occasions, says Hotard, top officials from the agency considered going to court to get a restraining order instructing McCroskey to stop calling the agency. Eventually, Hotard says, the RTD decided against the idea, concluding that it was "not in the interest of the agency to make this public."

RTD boardmember Loren Sloane confirms the story about the restraining order. Sloane (whose day job is as an analyst in the city auditor's office) says McCroskey appeared to be so wrapped up in the idea of himself as the city's light-rail guru that he went through a kind of identity crisis when he lost the 1992 election. "It sort of unbalanced him a little bit," Sloane says.

McCroskey scoffs at such claims. He says he criticized the expansion of the light-rail system because he and other RTD directors had promised voters that the downtown link would be a "demonstration line" and that it would not be extended until the agency and the public had a chance to see how it worked. In the spring of 1994, however, the RTD voted to forge ahead with a new light-rail line to Littleton--six months before the downtown link even opened. "That made a liar out of me," McCroskey says.

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