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GETTING A READ ON THE MAYOR

A WEBB SPEECHWRITER PENS A VANITY BOOK IN HONOR OF HIS HONOR.

When a book about Wellington Webb's 1991 campaign for mayor of Denver hit local bookstores in April, a number of Webb's political foes were certain something fishy was going on.

After all, the author of To Make a Mayor is Deborah Tucker, who handled public relations for Webb when he was city auditor and now holds down a $45,000-a-year job writing speeches and brochures for the mayor. Her book was printed and distributed by a quasi-vanity press in Maryland only after a local bookstore owner and Webb supporter promised to buy the first 500 copies. It offers an extremely flattering depiction of Webb, describing him at one point as a "big, gentle Teddy bear that [children] felt compelled to hug and climb on." And it happened to come out just days before the May 2 general election, in which Webb faced three challengers trying to derail his campaign for a second term.

Skepticism was running especially high over at the mayoral campaign of Denver City Councilwoman Mary DeGroot, then mounting the most serious challenge to Webb. Her supporters suspected that the tome, in which Tucker devotes 172 pages to Webb's performance in the '91 campaign without ever actually interviewing the candidate, was a piece of campaign puffery masquerading as serious literature. "We didn't think that the timing [of the book's arrival] was coincidental," DeGroot says now.

But Tucker insists the release date of To Make a Mayor was pure happenstance. "It was a coincidence," she says. "I'm not smart enough to be able to have pulled that off."

Though Webb took time out from the 1995 race to autograph copies of the book at the Tattered Cover Book Store (his preferred inscription: "Best of Life"), Tucker says the mayor didn't participate at all in the preparation of the manuscript. Tucker says she wrote the book during a year's sabbatical from City Hall and that she was a "stickler" about not devoting city time to the project. The volume, she adds, is meant not as a piece of pro-Webb propaganda but as an "absolutely" objective work of political history.

"I honestly tried with all my heart to not be biased," Tucker says. "I just said it like it was."

The book, Tucker's first, opens on November 28, 1990--the day former Denver mayor Federico Pena announced he would not seek a third term--and closes with Webb's inaugural on July 1 the following year. In between, it recounts Webb's come-from-behind victory over former Denver district attorney Norm Early and Republican attorney Don Bain, the two early favorites in the race.

"What I wanted to do more than anything was document how any person who wants to lead a city does not necessarily need to go the route of conventional politics [and concentrate on raising money from special interests]," Tucker says. "Democracy in its raw form still can work. That's the overall point."

As an underfunded underdog, Tucker argues in the book, Webb used a populist, issues-oriented campaign to best his opponents. The linchpin of Webb's victory, she writes, was his highly publicized, three-week walk through Denver city neighborhoods before the May general election, which gave him free media exposure and brought him into contact with the city's average citizens.

"That was decisive," Tucker says. "It was the key to his win, without question."

(Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli disagrees, crediting Webb's victory more to problems in the Bain and Early camps. Early got tagged with the label of "Pena surrogate," Ciruli says, and Bain lost popularity after he advocated halting construction of Denver International Airport. "He [Webb] could have walked the entire city forty times, and if those other two things hadn't happened, it wouldn't have mattered," Ciruli says.)

Tucker's account is based almost entirely on articles about the campaign from Denver's two daily newspapers. Indeed, the book contains no interviews with any of the candidates--including Webb. Tucker says she asked Webb "a thousand times" if he would give her the inside story of the race, but he turned her down. "He didn't tell me anything," Tucker says.

Webb spokesman Briggs Gamblin says the mayor is "very pleased about the book." Gamblin says he isn't sure why Webb didn't grant Tucker an interview. "He never shared that with me," he says.

Tucker, 42, served as Webb's public-information officer while he was executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies under former governor Richard Lamm and in a similar post during Webb's stint as city auditor between 1987 and 1991. After Webb's election, she joined his administration as his scheduler before quitting to write the book in December 1991. She returned as a Webb speechwriter a year later.

"He's my mentor," Tucker says.
In the book, Tucker portrays Webb as far more qualified to run the city than either Early or Bain. Webb, she writes, was the "most knowledgeable about the city and its issues" and had a "penchant for hard work." He "sincerely held no prejudices," "loved and studied people" and was "as comfortable with the president of the United States as with a poor, sharecropper farm hand."

The book isn't a nonstop lovefest, however. Tucker writes that Webb could be "Machiavellian" and "unmerciful" in the heat of political battle (though she offers no specific examples of ruthless behavior). And she acknowledges that Early, whom Webb faced in the runoff after edging Bain in the general election, had Webb beaten hands down in the looks department.

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