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Off Limits

On the razor's edge

Mayor Wellington Webb traveled to London in mid-March to meet with government and business officials and to formally open Denver's new British trade office there. He also took time to observe London's current mayoral race and to offer personal grooming advice to Frank Dobson, a Labor Party candidate who is running an underdog campaign. In a short article headlined, "Yank to Frank: Keep your hair on," which appeared in the March 16 issue of London's Evening Standard, "America's leading mayor" -- as the paper called Webb -- advised Dobson to keep his beard if he wants to win the May election.

"Wellington E. Webb, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, sports a thick moustache -- and has been elected three times as mayor of Denver, Colorado," the article by Ben Leapman reads. "Visiting London, he said the former health secretary should ignore image gurus who have reportedly told him to shave. Mr. Webb said: 'When I was running, I went to see one of those image people and they told me I needed to shave my moustache, I needed to speak differently and I needed to cut my hair. I said, I'm not going to do that. People see it as not being real. They want you to be who you are. They want to know if you will fight for them and if you will lead, not if you have hair or no hair.'"

But hair-raising political situations are a different matter, and the bristles on Webb's moustache must be standing on end right now as one police scandal after another nicks away at his own reputation -- why else would he finally think image consultants have something worthwhile to say?

The Webb administration has enlisted consultants Mike Dino of the law firm of Patton Boggs and Jim Monaghan of Monaghan and Associates to ask the public questions about Webb's mayoral image and the image of the police department, and to advise the mayor on hiring a new police chief. But the two men already know plenty about Webb's image -- both helped run his first campaign in 1991 and have continued to support him over the years; until 1997, Dino even served as a top aid to the mayor, advising him on major issues like the construction of DIA, the redevelopment of Lowry Air Force Base and the Summit of the Eight.

Dino and Monaghan have already set up a well-used hotline that police officers can call to give their opinions about the force, and have met with local community, business and union leaders. (they'll eventually work with a national recruiting firm to help find qualified candidates). The two have also held six focus groups in different areas of the city, paying average citizens for their opinions on how the mayor and police department are presenting themselves. Monaghan says the focus groups included people living in affluent areas in the southern part of the city as well as people living in poorer neighborhoods, and the participants ranged from old to young, from white to black to Latino. "There are basically two worlds -- the world of the young, minority person is very different from that of the young Anglo person living in south Denver," he says.

For this, we're coughing up $68,000, or roughly 17 percent of the $400,000 that the city agreed to pay to avoid a wrongful-death lawsuit from the family of Ismael Mena, who was killed by police during a September no-knock raid on the wrong house.

Monaghan says he asked participants what's good and bad about Denver, about growth, how they see the police force in general, what attributes the new chief should have, what they expect from city government and what they expect the mayor's role to be in selecting a chief and overseeing the police department. "This stuff goes well beyond who the next chief should be," he says. "It goes to what the strengths and the weaknesses [of the police department] are. We start with the perception of the city because you have to put things in context -- if somebody thought this was a rotten city, they would probably have a bad view of the police department, too." The mayor gets regular updates on their progress.

"It's part of the entire process of looking for a new police chief and testing the public's opinion of it," says Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson, adding that the city has done similar surveys on the issues of gun control, Y2K and the city's golf program. "I don't think it's too out of the ordinary to do something like this on such an important issue."

Questions about Webb's moustache, however, weren't included on the survey.

If you have a tip, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail jonathan_shikes@westword.com. To read related stories, visit www.westword.com.

 
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