Love and RTD: Board member Claudia Folska on transit and romance

Back in September 2012, we brought you the story of Claudia Folska, a then-candidate for the Regional Transportation District board of directors. Blind since childhood, Folska is a regular rider of the city's public buses and light rail. She's also an engaging and outspoken advocate -- and Westword isn't the only publication that took notice. In December 2012, the month that Folska was set to graduate from the University of Colorado with her PhD, she was featured in a story on the CU Denver website that caught the eye of political science professor Michael Cummings.

Cummings thought Folska, who won a seat on the RTD board in November of that year, would make a great guest lecturer for his freshman honors seminar. So he called to ask whether she'd be willing to speak to his students the following spring. A founding professor of CU Denver's political science program who's been teaching for more than forty years, Cummings was used to extending invitations to guest speakers -- a task that usually took all of five minutes over the phone. But his conversation with Folska lasted more than an hour.

"Sparks were flying," he says now.

He soon asked her out to dinner -- and the two are now engaged and planning an August wedding in Golden. "He's a magnificent individual," Folska says of Cummings. "I feel incredibly fortunate. I don't get too mushy, but he's great."

In fact, Folska is so un-mushy that she balked a bit when a CU Denver spokesperson suggested we write a Valentine's Day follow-up story about her love connection. In true Folska fashion, she insisted that the story be more than "boy meets girl." So she invited Westword to a 7:30 a.m. (!!!) panel discussion that she and Cummings were attending at CU Denver titled, "Colorado's Transportation Future."

For an hour and a half, four panelists spoke to a packed house about the $780 million gap in Colorado transportation funding, why a gas tax won't be the solution that fills it and how to get voters on board with paying to sustain and improve the state's transit system. Folska and Cummings sat at a round table in the very front of the room, listening intently. As the event wrapped up, Folska leaned in toward Cummings.

"They're talking to the wrong people," she said. "The future lies with our children.... None of these people will talk about children's voices -- except Michael."

In fact, Cummings is working on a book that's tentatively titled Children's Voices in Politics. The premise, he says, is that adults become apathetic about politics because they're repeatedly told during their formative childhood years that their opinions don't matter. If we want civilly engaged adults, he argues, we must engage our children.

Folska, meanwhile, has long believed that the key to RTD's success lies in cultivating today's youth to be tomorrow's riders. She'd like to give every high-school freshman in Colorado a free RTD pass and she's currently working on hosting an art contest where the winning child's art will be enlarged and wrapped on city buses.

"One thing we agree upon," Cummings says of himself and Folska, "is that if you think you don't want to do politics, politics is going to do you."

They have other things in common, as well. For starters, they've both been married before and have young-adult children: Cummings has a twenty-year-old son and an eighteen-year-old daughter, and Folska has a daughter who's seventeen. One of their early dates was a family outing to the Denver Art Museum to see the "Becoming Van Gogh" exhibit. (After Folska decided she disliked the recorded audio narration that accompanied the exhibit, Cummings says he did his best to describe the paintings to her himself.)

"Everybody got along so well," Cummings says. After he dropped Folska and her daughter at home, Cummings says his own daughter said, "Dad, you've got to marry her."

Cummings thought so, too -- and so one day, he got down on one knee in Folska's living room and proposed. They've reserved an inn in the foothills for their August nuptials.

Looking back, Cummings says their romance began with their very first conversation. Call it love at first sound. "In retrospect," he says, "we fell in love over the telephone."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Claudia Folska, Westword cover girl, wins seat on RTD board of directors."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar