Joy in Mudville

Bright spots in a down-and-dirty campaign season.

My next-door neighbor, a caring, creative and very patient man, ran for Denver City Council. On garbage day last week, his recycling bin held a tidy stack of now-obsolete campaign signs.

Years of hopes and dreams, going out with the trash.

But a political bid doesn't always end with such wince-inducing pain. Unlike so many others who found their lives in the dumpster last week -- Ari Zavaras, whose million-dollar campaign couldn't buy more than 13 percent of the vote; Alby Segall, who went to bed thinking he'd made the District 5 runoff, only to wake up and discover he was 51 votes behind -- some candidates took pleasure in the sheer act of running.

Jeremy Stefanek, for example, a thirty-year-old political novice who got bumped from the ballot for failing to follow the proper petition procedure. "I had a blast," he says of his brief bid for mayor. "I felt it was a great, great experience, and it won't be my last time running."

It was Barb Scott's first time, too. She got in the race late, propelled by motives that would do a civics class proud. She was president of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association when the group went before Denver City Council in January to submit its long-range plan developed under the city's Blueprint Denver project, and there she saw years of hard work buried beneath a developer's push to build two fourteen-story residential high-rises at Broadway and Fourth Avenue. She saw councilmembers wooed by lawyers and lobbyists working for Fentress Bradburn, who persuaded them to exclude the block from the Baker plan. "I saw them all out, wined and dined, the night the neighborhood got screwed," she remembers.

Scott was so amazed -- and appalled -- by what she'd seen that a month later she decided to run for council herself. "These people need to do their own research, not rely on the research of a paid lobbyist," she says. "What they did for development, for lobbyists, for attorneys! I thought I'd step in and do something for our neighborhood, or at least try."

And not just for her neighborhood, but for the entire city -- the city she's lived in for all of her fifty years. "I remember what Mayor McNichols was like," she says. "Talk about old-boy stuff. Federico Peña was such a miracle, really, after that. It felt so positive. He really reached out -- to the young, to newcomers, way beyond just Hispanics." (But Peña's heritage did inspire changes at Scott's business, a graphics company: She was the first typesetter in town to add a tilde so that Peña's name could be spelled correctly.)

Twenty years later, Scott sensed a similar change blowing through Denver, with Mayor Wellington Webb leaving office and term limits removing ten of the sitting councilmembers, leaving room for fresh faces and voices. "Peña was kind of innocent, like me," Scott says. "I think I can make a difference. He really did."

So with less than a month until petitions were due, Scott went down to the Denver Election Commission -- which may not be able to find its absentee ballots, but was very helpful for someone walking in off the street interested in becoming a council candidate -- and then set out to collect her signatures.

In the process, she rediscovered her love of Denver and the people who live here.

One day, Scott and her two children headed to Globeville (the 9th is one of the city's geographic oddities, stretching from northwest Denver to Globeville and down through LoDo to Baker). Scott knocked on one door and asked the woman who answered if she would sign a petition. That depended, the woman said, on how Scott felt about pet snakes. Scott knows all about snakes -- particularly the lobbying, lawyering kind -- but she admitted that she didn't know anything about pet ones. "How do you feel about pet snakes?" she asked. The woman responded by bringing out a box turtle that had been abandoned in her yard and unleashing a speech about the importance of protecting animals, including snakes. She wanted to make sure that city council would never pass anything against pet snakes.

While her daughter played with the turtle, Scott said she was pretty sure she could support pet snakes. "We were there fifteen minutes and got her signature, but we also made her a friend," she remembers. And then, as the Scott family continued knocking on doors, the woman ran down the street to catch them. "My son's eighteen," she told the budding politician. "He wants to sign your petition."

Scott's days on the campaign trail were filled with such small, personal pleasures, which balanced out the rumormongering, the backbiting. "I'm not interested in politics per se," she says. "I'm interested in this city. I'm interested in the people, the architecture. I'm interested in how people get from here to there."

And by May 7, here's where Scott had gotten: With the city's shortest campaign and about $3,000, she'd secured 697 votes -- 12 percent of her district. But she'd also found renewed faith in her city.

"It changed my life," she says. "I care even more deeply than I did before about what happens to Denver. There are a lot of good people running for office. A lot of good people who work for the city, for the media. A lot of great people who want to have a voice and make it heard any way they can. That's why representative government is important."

And why it can be heartbreaking. In the days leading up to the vote, Scott says, "I would wake up worrying about the other candidates, worrying about people who had invested so much time and effort and money into being able to serve their city. What happens to them after they lose?"

But no matter who wins the District 9 seat, the Baker neighborhood scored a victory. Even as Scott was campaigning, the Denver Landmark Commission did what council had refused to do -- its job -- and insisted that the developer replace its high-rise plan with something compatible with the historic neighborhood. Instead, the project was dropped altogether, right into the trash where it belonged.

Barb Scott's tossed her signs, too, but not the memories of her campaign. "Almost 700 people could see that I had something to give, and they voted to allow me the chance to give it," she wrote her supporters. "No matter what I choose to do now, I know I will have the courage to do it. That is the aftermath."

And her consolation prize.


Look Out Below!

The long-promised Luis Jimenez "Mustang" isn't the only piece of art that's missing in action at Denver International Airport ("Go Figure," May 8). Last year, artist Patty Ortiz was told she'd have to move half a dozen of the sculptural airplanes from "Experimental Aviation," her fleet that soars above the train's terminal exit up to the baggage-retrieval level. Why? Because the art interfered with that big, four-color photograph of Mayor Wellington Webb that now welcomes travelers to Denver.

"In 1991," according to DIA's Web site, www.flydenver.com, "Mayor Wellington E. Webb created an ordinance that would ensure continued funding and implementation of art for public spaces." Under the 1 Percent for Art program, DIA integrated 26 permanent works "into its unique architecture." Permanent, that is, until they get in the way of Webb's grinning mug. Then they're sent into dry dock.

The banished planes have been in storage, awaiting word from Ortiz on where -- and if -- they can be repositioned. "That kind of piece has to do with the space," Ortiz says. "It was so site-specific, and this really changes it....Maybe I can put them in front of Webb's face."

But she'll have to move fast. Webb will be out of office -- and presumably off DIA's walls -- in two months. And while mayoral frontrunner John Hickenlooper argues that the city needs to do a better job of marketing itself at DIA, flooding the facility with photographic displays of the city's attractions, he doesn't consider his own face one of those attractions, according to his spokeswoman.

While Ortiz's planes are in limbo, Concourse C is about to take off with its own aeronautic display: a Learjet donated by the late Bill Daniels. And what does a zillionaire's private plane have to do with "Interior Garden," Michael Singer's massive installation in the center of that concourse? Nothing -- except that the Learjet may distract travelers from the wreck that "Interior Garden" has unintentionally become. The piece, like Ortiz's, one of the 26 originally commissioned for the airport, was designed to look like an overgrown ruin -- but irrigation problems have killed off most of the foliage. In a reprise of the lesson learned when the terminal's "Mountain Mirage" fountain started dripping into the train area below, the city has discovered that it's not wise to put a water feature over electrical wires.

The airport plans to repair "Interior Garden" some day -- but not any day soon, according to Cara Roberts, director of the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture & Film. "Not until we get out of this budget crunch," she says. "Drought has hit everywhere."

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