You've just spent most of the past four decades in one of the most thankless jobs ever: newspaper reporter. So what's next? You attempt to land an even more thankless job: elected government official.
That's Charley Able's mission, anyhow. The longtime scribe for the Rocky Mountain News is running for a seat on Lakewood's city council, hoping to represent the community's first ward.
Able, 58, got his start in the newspaper business in 1967, and he spent the last 26 years as a reporter at the Rocky. Earlier this year, he was among a group of veteran employees who accepted a voluntary separation offer (read: buyout) from the tabloid, in part because the timing was right for him. "I had been thinking of retiring for a couple of years, anyway," he says. "And it was a very generous offer." However, he didn't walk away with a desire to enter politics. In his view, "It's easy to write about these things. But to make the decisions is something I never wanted to do."
His opinion soon changed. "A couple of friends of mine who are on the council tried to convince me to run, and I wasn't even lukewarm about it," he insists. "But I was driving home from Texas, where I'd been for a family reunion, and one of those sitting council people called and told me that the city wouldn't give the council person a document that was clearly an open record. I was asked for advice about how to get it, so I did what I could -- open records are second nature to me after all these years -- and kept driving. But the more I drove, the more irritated I got that they weren't open enough to share records with their own elected officials. And by the time I got to Amarillo, I was a candidate." He chuckles as he adds, "I think there's a country song in there somewhere."
For Able, this move represented an enormous change. While at the Rocky, he avoided any political involvement because he didn't want to give the impression of bias regarding stories he covered. (He remains politically unaffiliated, and "I intend to stay that way," he says.) Nevertheless, he feels that his journalistic career gave him a unique perspective on public service. As he puts it, "I've seen government done well, and I've seen it done poorly in the years I spent in the newspaper business, and I know the difference."
The experience of being the interviewee rather than the interviewer has been strange, Able concedes. "Of course, I get nit-picky if I see a couple of mistakes in an interview," he acknowledges. "But turnabout's fair play."
At this point, it's mainly a waiting game: Although the deadline for mail-in ballots has passed, Able won't know until election day, November 6, if he earned support from a majority of Lakewood voters. (He failed to win over the editorial board at the Denver Post, the Rocky's traditional rival. The folks at the paper endorsed his opponent, Karen Kellen.) No matter who's elected, though, he's enjoyed "being able to present my points of view."
As opposed to telling readers about someone else's. -- Michael Roberts