Susan Casey, who's running for Mary DeGroot's soon-to-be-vacant city council District 6 seat, wants the public to know she's not the typical kind of money-and-politics candidate. She won't take donations from PACs, corporations, or "special interests." Her campaign slogan is "Soccer Mom for City Council," and her literature guarantees that "Susan Casey will only accept contributions from people like you." It's the kind of political rhetoric that makes it seem as though Casey is getting all her campaign funding from the individual folk inhabiting Bonnie Brae, Washington Park, Cory-Merrill, University Park, Observatory Park and all the other little pieces of Denver that make up District 6.
Not quite. In fact, not even close.
Most of the $23,965 Casey has raised so far hasn't even come from within Denver's borders, much less District 6. And fully 40 percent of Casey's campaign funds are derived not just from outside the city limits but from out of the state--from such far-flung places as Washington, D.C., Boston, and Albany, New York. In contrast, of the $24,840 Casey's opponent Tom Tayon has raised so far, only 4.8 percent is from out of state.
And if you think the people giving to Casey are "people just like you" (just living somewhere else), think again. Casey's contributor list looks like a who's who of the national (and international) power elite. It includes such people as Kathryn Bushkin, an editor at U.S. News and World Report; Diane Meyer Simon, heir to the Mall of America fortune; Chris Sautter, president of Sautter Communications, a high-powered D.C. political consulting firm; Ellen Malcolm, president of E.M.I.L.Y.'s List--the national women's political fundraising organization; and William Shore, founder of S.O.S. (Share Our Strength--the international hunger-relief organization). And some of these greats have done more than just contribute their own money. Shore, for example, sent out a national fundraising letter to a bunch of his contacts for Casey.
Not bad for a "soccer mom."
Actually, the fact that the 45-year-old Casey has so many famous and powerful friends should surprise no one. After all, she's been involved in national politics for more than two decades now. She was co-director of Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign, and she was Hart's assistant campaign manager in 1987. She's known in some political circles (and campaign exposes) as "the woman who scheduled Hart's trip to Bimini"--where he was spotted on the yacht Monkey Business with Donna Rice on his lap. Casey bristles at the mention of that fiasco, saying, "I scheduled his campaign activities, not his time off." But she acknowledges, "I did put X's on the calendar" in order to schedule around his yacht trip. She denies the reports that aides and friends had asked her not to accommodate Hart's vacation, in essence to book him solid so he couldn't play around. "A lot of books were written after the campaign," she says. "No one who wrote those books asked me. No, that's not true."
Casey was also U.S. Senate candidate Josie Heath's campaign manager in 1990 and Heath's senior advisor in 1992. Not a political neophyte by any stretch, Casey even published a book on insider politics entitled Hart and Soul in 1986 that national syndicated columnist Jack Germond called "a must for political junkies everywhere." In the "About the Author" section, Casey is described as "a nationally recognized political strategist... involved in government and politics throughout New England for the past 12 years."
It's a resume that makes her opponent, Tom Tayon, 41, look positively provincial. Tayon--an asbestos certification coordinator with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment--grew up in Denver. In fact, most of his life has been spent in District 6. In 1987, while Casey was knee-deep in Gary Hart's presidential campaign, Tayon was working to build a park between the Cory and Merrill schools. He's known for his neighborhood organizing and doesn't find raising money inside the city limits a difficulty. "This is where my family and friends are," he says. "This is home."
Casey says one reason she's raising money out of state is, "because if you're not taking PAC money or firm money in Denver, that automatically eliminates a lot of people."
But Tayon, who's raised around 16 percent (just over $4,000) of his money from PACs or companies (places such as Bonnie Brae Ice Cream and Young Environmental Inc.), says the council campaign contribution limits restrict the influence of any one group or person on the race. And, he says, it's important to talk to businesses, groups and industries--even if they don't endorse or contribute--"because these are the organizations that, as city councilman, I'd have to deal with. I can't form a consensus without talking to them."
Tayon's former opponents seem to agree. After the May 2 election, all three of the losing District 6 candidates threw their support behind Tayon for the June 6 runoff. That support may offset what was a dominating performance by Casey in the first election: She got 43 percent of the vote. Tayon was next with 20 percent, followed by Phillip Anderson with 16 percent, Dale Bugby with 13 percent and April Snook with 7 percent.
And Anderson, Bugby and Snook are not shy about why they're now backing Tayon, either.
"The people who have contacted me to encourage my support of Sue don't live in District 6..." says April Snook. "The people who contacted me about Tom Tayon live in District 6."
Phil Anderson thinks Casey's reliance on out-of-state contributions "just shows how limited her impact has been in the community...To have to go out of state to raise money for a city council race doesn't reflect deep roots in the community. I think I raised $32,000--maybe 5 percent came from out of state. My base is in Denver; hers is in Washington."
Casey's critics don't stop at the fundraising issue. They take umbrage at her portrayal of herself as a "soccer mom."
"It's just an inappropriate description," says Anderson. "I coach a Little League team, and I didn't make an issue of that. It's what moms and dads do. It has no bearing on a political campaign."
And they don't much like her campaign's primary emphasis on changing Denver Public Schools when schools are governed by the Denver Board of Education, not the city council.
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"Susan's campaign is misleading and opportunistic in suggesting that she can improve our state-run school system," Bugby wrote to Tayon after the May 2 vote. "The local school board has already been elected. Susan can no more improve Denver schools than she could balance the federal budget from City Council."
But Casey isn't fazed by the criticism.
"I used the `soccer mom' description because, I guess, more than anything, most of my relationships in the neighborhood revolve around the children--most people know me as Conor's mom or Jennie's mom," she says. "It was a way to communicate who I am in the community. It also says this is not just another typical politician."
And in terms of her choosing Denver Public Schools as her lead issue when the city council has little or no authority over the system, Casey says: "Those who want to criticize people for talking about the schools make a mistake thinking it's up to the school board and the superintendent to take all the responsibility. We have to get the entire city involved. We have to do what the city did when we wanted baseball...the downtown public/private partnership made the difference. Now we have baseball."
Finally, regarding those out-of-state contributions, she says, "These are real people, not high-powered names you see on TV." (Actually, Billy Shore has been on American Express commercials.) "By taking money from family and friends that don't have any interest in what will come before the council, they'll never try to use their relationship with me for their own good...and the people of this district will be better served.