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Imagine a Great Mayor

The candidates are spit-shining their images, trying to prove that, really, they're not all the same person.

Mares is proud of his commitment to those who are struggling to make ends meet. On a recent campaign swing, he stopped by a modest home in Montbello to drop off yard signs and meet his supporters, a family of African immigrants. He knows that finding a job that offers health insurance is often difficult for people like these.

But to those outside of his political coalition -- labor, Latinos, immigrants and liberal activists -- he often comes across sounding too scripted, too polished, too much of a politician. It sometimes seems that every hair on his head is in the proper place and that his wardrobe never varies from the crisply corporate. That there is little of his mother's feistiness. But at a recent forum in Green Valley Ranch, a question from the audience brought out a rare flash of anger.

Mares had just described himself as the chief financial officer for the city. Why, someone asked, should illegal aliens be allowed access to education and health care, costing the taxpayers money?

Suddenly, the smooth Ivy League demeanor was gone, leaving an angry man fighting against the people who would exclude Latinos from the American mainstream.

"I have a hard time using the term 'illegal alien,'" Mares snapped. "These are people who work hard and pay taxes. I think the mayor of Denver needs to help get our country to rethink this issue."


Phil Perington's office is only a block away from the headquarters of the Colorado Democratic Party, but the chill between the two is numbing.

Perington was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1997 to 1999, during which time he managed to alienate officeholders and rank-and-file Democrats alike with his public criticism of former governor Roy Romer and his call for former president Bill Clinton to resign. To hear the Democrats tell it, Perington is a nasty piece of work with no loyalty to anyone. His successor as state party chair, Tim Knaus, publicly described him as the most hostile and divisive person he had ever met.

For Perington's part, he makes it clear the divorce was not friendly. "The Democratic Party has lost its way and lost its message," he says. "It's been taken over by organized labor and the trial lawyers. The powers that be decided they didn't want me. They're driving moderates out of the party."

Now that's he's out of party politics, city government is one of the few non-partisan political venues where he can still find an audience. He has some experience, having run Jerry Brown's successful presidential primary campaign in Colorado in 1992 and his own unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996. A native who grew up in south Denver, he now works as a real estate broker and volunteers for several local nonprofits.

Perington says he's running for mayor because Denver's city government has run off the track. What Denver needs is a straight shooter like him, someone who isn't afraid to pull the trigger. A registered independent. Someone way outside of party politics.

"I got tired of seeing how political the office has become. The decisions are based on what's good for the mayor and not what's good for the city," he says, speaking specifically about the Webb administration's contracts for lobbying in Washington. He thinks money could be saved there and better spent on Denver's kids.

"Last week, Denver Public Schools cut a summer program for preschoolers that concentrated on the poorest of the poor," he says. "The city should have had a reserve to help them out. I'm a champion for early childhood education. It's easier to build a child than repair an adult."

But Perington doesn't just spout off about an outgoing mayor. He's happy to criticize his rivals, as well, saying that some of the leading candidates haven't been scrutinized the way they should be. Particularly John Hickenlooper, who he claims adopted a lot of his ideas, including a call for zero-based budgeting. "I'm getting tired of his walk-on-water stories," Perington says. "He's had some incredible business failures. He's used low-interest loans from the city. Denver has been really good to John Hickenlooper."

As for Ari Zavaras, Perington wants to know what the former chief of police was doing when the department was assembling its now infamous spy files, since Zavaras has maintained he was unaware it was happening while he was chief. "I think you had a rogue element in the police department," Perington says. "I think Zavaras dropped the ball and didn't take care of business."

He thinks the position of manager of public safety -- which Zavaras also held -- should be eliminated. "The manager of safety has become a firewall to deflect criticism from the mayor."

When Perington looks in the mirror, he sees one of few honest men left in politics. He quotes one of his favorite presidents, Harry Truman:

"It's a cliche, but the buck stops here," he says. "There's no more Harry Trumans in the Democratic Party. That's why I left."


The diversity of Denver is on display at 44th and Tennyson. More than two dozen businesses include a store that makes and sells enormous piñatas, a gallery that specializes in Vietnamese art, the Yankee Trader antique store, a hot dog stand, and an Italian restaurant under construction. Elizabeth Schlosser is campaigning here because it's exactly the kind of neighborhood she loves: a historic commercial district that is being revitalized.

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