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.

Padilla sometimes wishes the Catholic Church were more political. "The Catholic Church doesn't have forums and invite candidates," she says. "In black churches, I've seen candidates on the pulpit. That's a real plus for the community."

At key moments, both black and Latino voters have rallied behind minority candidates in Denver. Together they've been influential enough to keep either a black or Hispanic in the mayor's office for the past twenty years, despite Denver's still mostly white electorate.

"It was black voters that got Peña across the finish line," Sondermann says. "The margins in northeast Denver were the critical piece of that runoff. It was ditto in 1995. Webb did overwhelming numbers in the black community, and he got comparable numbers in the Latino community.

Matt Collins
The insider: When politicians need to know Denver -- 
from the "pierced precincts" to "Sweet Home 
Alabama" -- they call consultant Greg Kolomitz.
Mark Manger
The insider: When politicians need to know Denver -- from the "pierced precincts" to "Sweet Home Alabama" -- they call consultant Greg Kolomitz.

"It's now been two decades since Denver had a non-minority mayor. Even though Denver is not a majority-minority city, when minorities vote for their candidate in the 80- or 90-percent range, it makes it tough for a non-minority to win. That's a subtext to this election."

Denver has another active minority: Republicans. While they don't exactly have a history of oppression, sometimes it can feel that way in the Mile High City, where only 23 percent of the city's voters are counted among their ranks (versus 46 percent Democratic and 32 percent unaffiliated).

Don Bain was the last Republican to come close to being elected -- sixteen years ago. "The only Republican mayors of large Democratic cities were elected because the voters were so angry with the Democrats and blew up," Bain says. "That's how I almost got elected."

Despite their minority status, if Republicans vote as a bloc, they play a crucial role in propelling a candidate into the runoff. But since mayoral elections are non-partisan, there is no party-line vote, and the Republican vote often ends up split. Both Peña and Webb were able to win at least some Republican support, and Bain says most of the candidates will aim some of their messages at conservative voters.

That's part of the Zavaras campaign's strategy. Like the other leading candidates, Zavaras is a Democrat, but he is using his tacit endorsement by Governor Bill Owens to appeal to Republicans, since several of the Greek-American businessmen bankrolling his campaign also contributed to Owens. Letters and e-mails to Republicans highlight Zavaras's service in Owens's cabinet, where he managed the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

But it's a risky strategy, and Bain warns that it's probably not in Zavaras's interest to highlight the Republican support, as doing so could turn off a lot of voters.

"The one most likely to appeal to Republicans might be Hickenlooper, because he has a business background," Bain says.

A lot of money flows from this community, and wealthy Republicans who donate to statewide candidates might contribute to a mayoral candidate if they think it would be to their advantage. "They'd be people whose businesses have a relationship with the city. They'd have more access, and their proposals for contracts would receive the benefit of the doubt," Bain says.

In a field with as many as fourteen candidates -- about six of them serious -- there's a scramble to raise money and make it into the runoff. The current prediction is that it will take more than $1 million to win, and there's a $3,000 limit on contributions in Denver campaigns.

"The question is, how much money is out there to be raised, and how much can they raise?" Kolomitz asks. "If you have two or three candidates who raise $1.5 million, that's precedent-setting."

To do that, candidates need to seek money outside of Denver, which Zavaras has; he now leads the fundraising pack with nearly $800,000. Several others also have connections to national fundraising sources: Former city councilwoman Sue Casey is tied to Emily's List, which funds female candidates; Penfield Tate has many links to Washington law firms; and Hickenlooper has friends around the country.

"When you're raising serious money, you go to California, Chicago or New York," Kolomitz says. "You go to other cities you have experience with."

Locally, candidates go to the Country Club area, which was once the most dependable source of cash. But LoDo, with just a couple thousand residents, recently has become a superstar in the world of political fundraising. The zip code that includes LoDo is near the top of the Colorado list for political donations to national campaigns (along with Greenwood Village, Aspen and Vail). And most of that money is going to Democrats, since the area is emerging as a kind of upscale, liberal neighborhood more typically found in cities such as San Francisco or Boston.

That may help Hickenlooper, who is one of LoDo's best-known figures. "I think a neighborhood's reputation can be made by an election," Sondermann says. "If the mayor of LoDo becomes the mayor of Denver, there's a story in terms of the influence and clout of a neighborhood."

With big money being pulled in, several of the candidates have hired ad firms with national reputations. Hickenlooper signed on with Minneapolis-based North Woods Advertising, which developed the humorous ad campaign that helped make Jesse Ventura governor of Minnesota. Mares hired Strother Duffy & Strother, which worked for Bill Clinton and most recently helped Shirley Franklin become mayor of Atlanta.

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