"It's very difficult to get good government when you're dealing with corrupt individuals," says Mark Gruber. "And it's incumbent upon good people to do something about it."
A New York native who moved to Denver seven years ago, Gruber describes himself as a rabbi, a minister and a gay activist. He's run for office twice in the past, targeting the state senate seat subsequently won by Pat Steadman and the governor's office last year. In both cases, he failed to make the ballot due to what he describes as technicalities. This time around, he hopes to encounter no such problems. Today is the deadline by which candidates must submit at least 300 valid signatures in order to make the mayoral ballot. Gruber says he's got just over 300 now and will be spending much of the afternoon collecting extras just in case.
For Gruber, the framework on which his campaign is built involves "a change of mentality. When I talk to people, I try to get them to understand that love by nature is the greatest feeling -- that if people had enough love for themselves, for others and for society, they wouldn't do self-destructive things, including unsustainable consumerism that's destroying the world. "We need to make sure we hold onto the love we're all born with. We do this by ensuring freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That's especially important in schools, where children are bullied. If they're not free to express themselves, they become very, very de-socialized and even sociopathic, like what happened at Columbine.
"Some people have said to me, that doesn't seem to mesh -- love and politics together doesn't seem like it's going to fly. But I say to them in response, love by nature is the greatest feeling, and shouldn't a good leader want what is greatest for the citizenry? And every time I've said that, the person has said, 'You're right.'"
When it comes to the specific challenges presented by Denver's strained budget, Gruber advises "dealing with waste and overlap and programs that are unnecessary."
In addition, he has an idea about how to save cash by altering the city's hiring practices. He envisions "a four-tier system, where the first layer would be vocational hirings -- students and what not, where there wouldn't be any money to pay them, but they would get school credit and vocational training. Another level would be volunteers: There's a great base of older people who are still very capable and would love to be doing something to help. The next level would be those who are civic-oriented -- who would be willing to work and do good things for the city so long as their basic necessities are provided for, like housing and food and transportation. That would be a great savings over having to pay salaries. And finally, for any specialized jobs the city needed, we would obviously have to pay for that.
"This may seem like a drastic change, but it can be accomplished peacefully if it's only done with new hiring. Those who currently have jobs can keep them, but any new hires would be switched over to this system, and depending on how much money could be saved, we could take a certain number of years to get people ready for the shift."
Gruber is also passionate about questions involving the Denver Police Department and excessive force, motivated in part by his arrest at the state capitol building around a year and a half ago; he says a civil suit over this issue is likely to go to trial later this year.
"If people abuse their power, it reflects poorly on everyone," he maintains. "There seems to be a good-old-boy network going on right now, and when they do things like not releasing the video of that poor guy [Marvin Booker] dying in jail, people don't understand -- and it makes them start to hate all cops. And that makes it more likely that good cops are going to be killed, and their children are going to grow up without fathers.
"The greatest, most effective, most lasting change we can make is if the police department can be changed from the inside," he goes on. "We see things like corruption task forces in other cities, but those are changes from the outside. To do it from the inside, we could simply explain to police officers during their training that their lives are in more danger if they don't do things the right way."
He's also an advocate of "equity in resource division, which is in everyone's best interest -- the rich as well as the poor. Those who control finances don't seem to understand that there's always the possibility the underclass is going to revolt, like what happened in Egypt, and what's going on in Wisconsin. I'm not talking about Communism; just a minimum of equity for everyone."
At this point, Gruber isn't on the same footing with many of his fellow candidates from a fundraising perspective. But he sees a way to turn this apparent deficit into a positive.
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"One has to make the best of what one has," he allows, "and if I can manage a campaign with very few resources and be effective, it's a sign that I can make a city function with very few resources, and make it function well. So this is a test. It's one thing to win a campaign when one has a ton of money. It's another thing to win a campaign when one is dealing with the quality of his policies and not much money. That itself can say something."
Look below to see Gruber's pitch to voters courtesy of 9News.
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