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With a little help from friends like these, even bigger things may be in the offing. Although Polis says that the work related to his foundation is done "for social good," pure and simple, there's no denying how nice it might look on a political resumé. Yet Polis remains a largely unproven commodity on a statewide scale; he spent a sum in the high six figures running for the State Board of Education's at-large seat in 2000, as opposed to under $11,000 expended by the incumbent, former Republican state senator Ben Alexander, but he won by just ninety votes out of over a million cast. Since then, he's collected no shortage of enemies. Critics like Republican state senator John Andrews feel that Polis has a dark side that even his greenbacks can't paper over.
"Polis is a gravitational pull on the Democratic Party of Colorado that's a whole lot like the gravitational pull of Saudia Arabia on the world oil industry, and not much more healthy," Andrews says. "You combine huge dollars with a passion for secrecy, and honorable Democrats like Mark Udall or Ken Salazar are probably somewhat embarrassed by him, even if they won't admit it."
To that, Polis offers the verbal equivalent of a shrug. "I don't particularly care what people think of me," he says, "as long as I know what I'm doing is right."
Does that mean Polis isn't concerned with his image? Not quite.
At one juncture, I ask him for the names of anyone he thinks would have interesting things to say about him, good or bad. At first he demurs, telling me that I should feel free to speak with anyone I please -- but when word filters back to him that I've been reaching out to a lot of political colleagues and observers, he e-mails a batch of suggestions for extra contacts, all of whom are employed by him or collaborate with him on non-profit projects.
Not surprisingly, each of these individuals speaks of Polis in glowing terms. "I've worked with Jared for four years, and I'm continually amazed with all he does in this community," says Lisa Finkelstein, executive director of the Jared Polis Foundation.
"He's great and really innovative," chimes in Wayne Jin, director of the C3 program, who predicts that he and his associates will give away 3,000 computers to deserving individuals during 2004. "He's always got great ideas."
Polly Baca, chief executive officer of the Latin American Research and Service Academy (LARASA), agrees. A New America School boardmember and partner with Polis on assorted LARASA undertakings, she finds him to be "very proactive -- a very thoughtful person with a big heart."
"He has a passion to give kids who normally don't get opportunities the chance to be successful in school," adds Richard Garcia, founder of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition and president of the New America School's board. "At the New America School, he's focusing on immigrants who are in the sixteen-to-twenty age group -- kids who are on the verge of dropping out, have dropped out, or haven't even registered. Society often discards these youths, but he's reaching out to them. In that way, what he's doing is really visionary."
Susan Polis Schutz, Polis's mom, couldn't have said it better herself -- but when it comes to this profile, she keeps her lips zipped. She's released a new book through the Schutzes' Blue Mountain Arts publishing company titled Blue Mountain: Turning Dreams Into Reality, which tells the tale of her various personal and business travails and triumphs. Many of these adventures directly involved Jared, but she didn't respond to multiple interview requests -- even those passed along by her son. "My mother doesn't do many interviews," Polis says.
Schutz takes as offbeat an approach to autobiography as she does to book publicity. In Blue Mountain, she juxtaposes her softer qualities, epitomized by the extremely dewy, sentimental verse that turned her greeting-card company into a left-field success, with the steel it took to file lawsuits against two corporate behemoths, Hallmark and Microsoft. (Blue Mountain Arts got the best of Hallmark in a trial over alleged copyright infringement during the '80s; the Microsoft matter fell by the wayside after the Schutzes sold Bluemountain.com in 1999.) Along the way, she enthuses about her family, but the only one of her three children she specifically names in the text is Jared. She did so, she writes, because Polis has "chosen to go into a career of public service, and his name is well known," whereas his siblings "are people with the right to have a private life, and I don't want to invade that."
Susan is certainly important to Polis. In the late '90s, he changed his name from Jared Polis Schutz to Jared Schutz Polis "to honor my mother's maiden name, and because I like it better," he maintains. The swap wasn't intended as a slight to his father, because "Schutz is still in my name," and, as a bonus, it served as an excuse to stage a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that netted $40,000 in contributions.
Switching a moniker for charity makes perfect sense in Polis's world, where attending posh private institutions like San Diego's La Jolla County Day School, as he did, doesn't prevent someone from becoming a champion of public education. In Blue Mountain, Susan traces his do-gooder streak to his eleventh year, when "he attended a city council meeting and gave a spontaneous, passionate speech about saving a canyon. Because of his speech, the members voted to save the canyon and Jared realized that one person can influence decisions that affect the lives of people. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to be a public servant when he grew up." After expressing her confidence that Jared's Board of Education gig "will not be his last elected position," she prints a poem she wrote in his honor: