After Mayor Michael Hancock was forced into a runoff against former RiNo Art District president Jamie Giellis, neither candidate talked about race being an issue — but everyone knew the topic would come up sooner or later.
After all, as Donald Glover has pointed out, this is America.
Still, few could have predicted how the subject would push its way to the forefront of the contest to lead the Mile High City for the next four years — by Giellis clumsily botching a question about the words represented by the acronym NAACP and then scrubbing her Instagram accounts yesterday, May 15, after the surfacing of a post promoting an event at a Mexican restaurant said to include a taco bar and lowriders, as well as a decade-old tweet wondering why "so many cities feel it necessary to have a 'Chinatown.'"
Insert tremendously dated Jack Nicholson movie reference here.
The controversy wouldn't have blown up so quickly if it had occurred in a vacuum. But such matters bubbled up throughout the mayoral campaign, as third-place finisher Lisa Calderón acknowledged during a May 14 press event at Denver's City and County Building at which she and fellow competitor Penfield Tate formally threw their support behind Giellis.
After a series of speeches from the trio that emphasized unity, the floor was opened to questions. Shortly thereafter, a reporter asked Calderón about some of her previous criticism of Giellis — including a comment that the latter had learned about the racist practice of redlining from a museum exhibit.
After paraphrasing the question for attendees by way of referencing past reservations about Giellis's "cultural competence," Calderón said, "When Jamie, Penfield and I sat down, that was on the table. And what I was appreciative of was, Jamie acknowledged her blind spots, but more importantly, her willingness to learn. And when I talk about what makes great politicians, it's admitting where your deficits are and where you can strengthen."
Cut to Giellis's May 14 Facebook Live interview with entertainment host Shay J on the page created by Brother Jeff Fard, a local activist and supporter of Giellis's.
Twenty minutes or so into the conversation, Shay J said she'd been asked several times if Giellis knew what NAACP stood for. Rather than casually rattling off "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People," Giellis stalled before correctly guessing the correct word for "N" but then suggesting that the first "A" represented "African."
Here's the complete interview:
The only surprise about the kerfuffle over Giellis's mistake is that it took a day before exploding on social media. But by yesterday, May 15, the jabs and jibes had escalated to a point where she had to post the following statement:
Yesterday as a guest on the Brother Jeff Fard show with guest host Shay J, I was asked if I knew what the NAACP was, to which I replied with my acknowledgment of its mission and work. Then, when asked what the acronym stood for, I momentarily struggled to recall. Moments after the show, while collecting my thoughts, it came to me – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I told the hosts what it stood for and apologized for my momentary lapse.
This campaign has expanded my knowledge of other cultures, their wants, struggles and successes. I am learning more every day. I am familiar with the NAACP, in fact they co-hosted a mayoral forum along with the Colorado Black Women for Political Action (CBWPA) and The Urban League Young Professionals at New Hope Baptist church earlier in the campaign. This weekend, I will participate in the Colorado Black Round Table Candidate Forum. As Mayor I look forward to working with this historic organization. In fact, I intend to take out a membership.
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These comments hardly put out the fire. With lightning speed, Giellis opponents began combing through her social media output looking for other examples of alleged racial cluelessness, with the aforementioned post for the tacos-and-lowriders event, scheduled for today, May 16, at La Cocinita, and the Chinatown tweet, sent out in 2009 under the account for Jamie Licko, her name before she got married last year, circulating far and wide.
By day's end, Giellis's Instagram accounts were history.
Whether any of the bad press over these occurrences will stick to Giellis is unclear. But due to the compressed nature of the campaign's second round (the runoff election is set for June 4, less than three weeks from now), it can't easily be dismissed as sound and fury signifying nothing, even if that's ultimately what it proves to be.
In the meantime, Tay Anderson, an at-large candidate for the Denver School Board, jokingly suggested on Fard's page that Giellis had unwittingly provided a public service. Anderson wrote: "How many of my white friends knew what the NAACP stood for before yesterday?"