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Imagine a Great Campaign

It takes more than money to make a mayor. You have to know your way around Colfax, when to cry Republican and how to handle a drag queen.

Let's say you're the proprietor of a popular LoDo brewpub, or a onetime Cherry Creek gallery owner, or the former chief of police.

You decide the time has come to do something really big and really different with your life.

You dream of making the city you live in a better place. Of course, it would also be fun to be on TV every other night and garner invitations to White House dinners. Not to mention the free rent in a posh Hilltop mansion and your own box at Invesco Field (though you vowed only to call it Mile High Stadium -- but that's another story).

Imagine being mayor of Denver.

You think it over for a few months, pondering the advantages and drawbacks.

On the plus side:

1. Power

The mayor of Denver has more real power than even the governor of Colorado, thanks to a "strong mayor" form of government that gives hizzoner wide authority over city government and everything from hiring to budgets. While the governor is reduced to begging the state legislature for enough money to have the drapes cleaned at his mansion, the mayor can decide to do something really over the top.

Like build a new airport.

2. Prestige

In a celebrity-starved community like Denver, the mayor is a superstar. Everything from where you dined last night to the amusing story of how you almost short-circuited the City and County Building's holiday lights will be fodder for Denver's desperate gossip columnists.

3. Policy

Even in a time of cynicism about government, the mayor can craft policies that improve the lives of thousands of people.

On the minus side:

1. Power

Since you're the mayor, everything that goes wrong in Denver is your fault.

2. Prestige

You will have no privacy and won't see much of family or friends unless they go to work for you, which causes a whole new set of problems.

3. Policy

As noted above, everything that goes wrong in Denver is your fault.

In spite of the misgivings of many of your friends, you just can't give up the idea of being mayor. But since there are several others who also want the job, you must raise a lot of money and spend a lot of time convincing the people of Denver that you deserve to be their leader.

Luckily for you, there are people who make it their business to help you figure out what to do next. They have spent years poring over census reports, noting the demographic and ethnic makeup of every neighborhood in the city. They know how a retired cop who lives south of West Quincy Avenue (an area a true Denverite would assume is in Jefferson County) votes. They know who among the northeast Denver ministers can goad 500 of their flock to the polls. They know which neighborhood activist can introduce you to a dozen potential precinct workers on Capitol Hill, as well as the 17th Street lawyers who can help you tap into money on Park Avenue (the one in New York).

These political insiders -- usually dubbed "campaign consultants" -- will reveal that the harmless-looking suburban-style tract homes in southwest Denver are actually part of the city's redneck belt, where country music drifts out of pickup trucks and an occasional Confederate flag adorns a basement. You learn that whole sections of Five Points -- the historic heart of Denver's African-American community -- now speak Spanish, and that the once almost entirely white neighborhoods of southeast Denver are being changed by an influx of blacks and Asians.

Your handlers drive you to Green Valley Ranch, and you're astonished to see that thousands of homes have been built on the windy prairie south of the airport. It is one of Denver's fastest-growing neighborhoods, but you may have a hard time getting votes here, since many of the newest residents haven't registered and think they live in Aurora.

Your next surprise is finding out that some of the most savvy political people in the country take a keen interest in who is mayor of Denver. Meetings are scheduled with powerhouse political consulting firms on Washington's K Street, and the people who did television for Bill Clinton want to talk to you.

It's enough to make you want to grab a stool at your bar and order a pint of amber ale. But there's no time: You have to fly to California for a fundraiser.


Denverites like to picture their city as a friendly, outdoorsy place where residents enjoy year-round sunshine and periodic hits of purple mountains majesty in the vast playground to the west.

Denver's political insiders know better. The city is a hothouse of jostling interest groups where nothing happens unless liaisons -- temporary and long-term -- are arranged between potential rivals. There are really more than a dozen different Denvers, and a successful contender must stitch together a broad coalition to win.

Consider the geographic dissonance facing a candidate for citywide office.

In 1991, Wellington Webb was determined to carry southwest Denver, the most conservative area of the city and a place some politicos refer to as "Sweet Home Alabama."

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