Imagine a Great Mayor

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

She steps into Lisa Marie's coffeehouse and notes approvingly the mix of overstuffed couches, pictures of Marilyn Monroe and antiques on the wall. "This is what builds community," she says, contrasting the lively scene with the dreary sameness of suburban shopping malls. "A friend of mine calls all the new malls we're building the candy-assing of America."

She would know. She's been one of Denver's leading historic preservationists since before it was fashionable. The 53-year-old has been around town long enough to remember when LoDo was viewed as a filthy nest for the drunk and deranged and the business community would have toasted its demolition. But as president of Historic Denver, she persevered, floating the idea of creating a historic district in LoDo.

"Some people said, 'You'll never work in this town again if you go for that,'" she recalls. "They just wanted to tear down LoDo."

Ari Zavaras has raised more than $1 million with the 
help of his supporters.
Brett Amole
Ari Zavaras has raised more than $1 million with the help of his supporters.

What a difference a decade makes.

"Historic preservation was radical and edgy at the time," Schlosser says, recalling her start in the 1970s. "We were suburban kids who wanted to live with more diversity. We were very idealistic. We thought we could cut down on mental illness by giving people more of a sense of community. It was a great time. It took in people who were young and didn't have a lot of money and were willing to live downtown."

Now many of her once-radical ideas have been embraced by all of the candidates. They all support preserving existing neighborhoods as well as steering high-density development toward mass transit lines. They've all endorsed building a metro light-rail network. They all tout the mix of housing, retail and offices found in many of Denver's oldest neighborhoods as a model for the way the city should develop new neighborhoods.

But Schlosser's involvement in the cause has led some to dismiss her as an upper-class do-gooder, hosting fundraisers with socialites.

"It's a little patronizing," she says. "My kids went to public schools. I don't polish my nails. I've worked every day of my life."


As sun glints off fast-melting April snow, Penfield Tate III is welcomed like a hero by the two dozen people gathered in Cheesman Park. He's here to deliver a message to the city's gay community, and there's no better venue, since the neighborhoods around the park have the highest concentrations of gays in Denver. He reminds his audience that he spent years in the legislature fighting unsuccessfully to get Colorado to adopt a "hate crimes" law that would boost penalties for violent crimes directed against gays. That his dad took up their cause in 1972 as the first African-American mayor of Boulder. That he'd listen to their voice now as the mayor of Denver.

He mentions a bill introduced in the legislature this year by Representative Don Lee that would allow paramedics and other medical providers to refuse to provide care to gay patients. The crowd hisses, and it's clear that Lee's Jefferson County district might as well be on the other side of the moon.

Tate was in high school when his father, Penfield II, won the mayor's seat in Boulder, and he vividly remembers the vicious political controversy that engulfed his father. Just after the election, the city council approved an ordinance banning job discrimination based on race, sex, religion and sexual orientation. And while Boulder would become the first town in Colorado to approve a gay-rights ordinance, it was too much in the 1970s for even this liberal hippie town. The ordinance was repealed in a special election, and Tate barely survived a recall attempt. He lost his bid for re-election in 1975, and his once-promising political career came to an end.

"It was kind of spooky," Tate III says. "The calls were always anonymous, and the letters were unsigned. When you answered the phone, they'd launch into vile rhetoric; they didn't care that kids were answering the phone."

Despite his star-crossed political career, the elder Tate encouraged his son to run for political office. Tate won a seat in the Statehouse in 1996 representing northeast Denver and was later elected to the Colorado Senate, where he served on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, winning the respect of Republican colleagues because of his easygoing manner and playful sense of humor. (He gave up the seat to run for mayor.)

One recent afternoon, Tate is on the phone raising money. (Like most of the candidates, when he isn't campaigning, Tate is dialing for dollars.) He works with a crew of staffers, one of whom is dialing up contributors, while another hands the candidate index cards listing how much the person he's talking to has given in the past and the issues he cares about. Another person keeps a ledger noting exactly how much money has been pledged that day and how many checks have arrived in the mail. The campaign's TV advertising is about to begin, so every dollar needs to be collected as soon as possible.

Tate is affable and charming on the telephone, asking one man how his wife is doing and then smoothly steering the conversation toward a request for a donation. He tells supporters that he's confident he can win the race but needs to buy more TV time.

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