The Message

The Mayor's Race

However, the tone of the articles differed substantially, in large part because of comments attributed to outside parties. The Rocky relied upon quotes from Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies, who talked about Hickenlooper's strength among many disparate groups, and maintained that Mares was the first Hispanic candidate in a Denver mayoral runoff to be seen as "the insider." The Post, in contrast, quizzed several folks with a variety of opinions but leaned most heavily upon the comments of Leslie Moody, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation, who campaigned for Mares. Moody certainly provided grabby remarks, declaring at one point that "we have seen over and over again people talking about wanting a white mayor.... It says that Denver is moving further away from being a world-class city, if that's the basis upon which people are casting their votes."

By giving Moody the first and last quotes in the article, Greene and Roberts could be seen as implicitly endorsing her views -- but in an e-mail signed by both, they deny imposing any slant. "We reported what the data showed -- precincts carried and actual votes won by each candidate -- and asked some political observers for their comments," they wrote. "If the data had shown a different pattern, or no pattern, we would have reported that, too."

In her column, Rodriguez chatted with two locals -- the University of Colorado at Denver's Estevan Flores and Regis University's Ramon Del Castillo -- who felt that whites had rallied around Hickenlooper for a couple of reasons. Flores guessed that newly imported yuppies wanted one of their own; Del Castillo declared that longtime Anglo residents were fed up with two decades of minority governance. "I don't agree," Rodriguez wrote, but she didn't quote anyone with a contradictory outlook, swooned over Mares's appearance (she called him a "papi chulo") and declared, "Truth is, if there were as many Latinos as whites in Denver, Mares would've won."

Floyd Ciruli has followed the changes in Denver's 
electorate.
Brett Amole
Floyd Ciruli has followed the changes in Denver's electorate.

Maybe not. Rodriguez notes that "in precincts where Mares carried at least 80 percent of the vote, not including early and absentee votes, turnout hit 27 percent -- three percentage points higher than the city average." Nonetheless, these turnout numbers hardly speak to a highly energized base of the sort that led to the elections of Peña and Webb. In "Black and Latino Voters in Denver: Responses to Each Other's Political Leadership," a just-published article in Political Science Quarterly, Karen M. Kaufmann, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, writes that Latino turnout in Peña's 1983 victory over white district attorney Dale Tooley was a staggering 73 percent. African-Americans didn't quite hit that height in 1995, when Webb ran against a white candidate, Mary DeGroot, but the 47 percent of black voters who cast ballots was higher than the percentages of whites and Latinos who did likewise.

For Mares to have been successful, says Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli Associates, a well-known Denver polling firm, he would have needed a far higher turnout among Latinos than he got. "If the overall vote was 30 percent, I would have expected it to, if not double, at least be 50 percent higher -- so 45 percent," he says. "That, to me, would have shown real intensity and enthusiasm. Instead it shows, if anything, that Latinos shared in the sort of malaise that was out there. They seemed to feel that he was a good candidate, but the other candidate wasn't that threatening, and it wasn't as if all the gains they'd made over the years would be lost. That wasn't it at all."

Ciruli confirms that race and ethnicity are factors in Denver mayoral elections, but often not determining ones. "We hadn't had any minority mayors before Peña, and he managed to really solidify and activate the Latino vote in the 1983 election and the 1987 re-election," he says. "Those were clearly critical elements for him; he had to have that unity. But you don't get elected in this city with minority votes. You must have Anglo votes, and a substantial number of them. And Peña got them."

So, too, did Webb, whose 1991 election also conflicts with simplistic bloc-voting theories; Denver's African-American population isn't nearly large enough to swing an election on its own, yet that year's runoff pitted Webb against another African-American, district attorney Norm Early. In Ciruli's mind, the Webb-Early contest and others since 1983 showed that whites based their votes on more than color.

"Some white voters certainly have residual prejudice," he says, "but many of them are motivated by partisanship and issues, or else we wouldn't have elected twenty years of minority mayors, sometimes with overwhelming support." Ciruli adds, "I'm a skeptic that this election showed a lot of racial polarization.... I could make an argument that we were less racially polarized than when Peña and Webb were elected."

That's certainly the spin Paul Lhevine, Hickenlooper's campaign manager, would like to put on things. He says he heard from numerous Hick supporters "of all races" who were upset about the Greene-Roberts analysis and the Rodriguez column because "they tried to paint this election as something that it wasn't. This election was about change, and about electing somebody who wasn't about the usual tired political traditions." Hickenlooper's subsequent announcement of a diverse group of transition-teamers, among them onetime mayoral candidate Penfield Tate (an African-American), wasn't a reaction to the Post articles, Lhevine stresses, but "a reflection of the way John ran his campaign, reaching out to every part of the city -- which is why we did as well as we did in every part of the city."

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