Off Limits

Tears were still glistening on Democratic cheeks when Cody Wertz, the Colorado Democratic Party's communications director, was on to a new job -- the same position, but in Don Mares's campaign, a switch Wertz announced by e-mail the day after the November 5 election.

What? No rest for the weary? Wertz did take a week off, but he was eager to keep moving. "I felt like I was just hitting stride," he says. "And Don's just a great guy." Another Democratic buddy made the move with him: Mike Melanson, the state party's executive director, is now Mares's campaign manager. And while Mares, currently Denver's city auditor, has yet to officially kick off his campaign for mayor, there's no doubt he's running.

As are a half-dozen others (thus far) -- making this the most crowded field since 1983's mayoral race, when incumbent Bill McNichols was challenged (again) by then-Denver district attorney Dale Tooley, as well as by Monte Paulson, head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, environmental gadfly Steve Schweitzberger (a recent write-in candidate for Jefferson County sheriff) and the head of Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies, Wellington Webb. And -- oh, yeah -- state lawmaker Federico Peña, a dark horse who won the runoff. (Webb's first consolation prize was a slot as Denver's city auditor, a position from which he launched his victorious mayoral campaign in 1991.)

In addition to Mares, the unofficial mayoral lineup includes former Denver Manager of Safety Ari Zavaras, former city councilmember Sue Casey, former head of Historic Denver Elizabeth Schlosser, former Democratic party chair Phil Perington, current state lawmaker Penfield Tate and current beer baron John Hickenlooper, who just scored a $3,000 donation from HOST PAC, the political arm of the 4,000-member Colorado Restaurant Association, which represents Colorado's $7 billion restaurant industry. (That's a lot of suds.)

The Zavaras for Mayor campaign added a press secretary, too, after interviewing a half-dozen notable PR types around town (and, hey, better give them a call and let them know they didn't get the job). Sandra Dillard, who left the Denver Post last year after a long career that included a stint covering City Hall before she settled in as theater critic (she took a buyout deal the Post offered editorial staffers over fifty), will start working full-time on the Zavaras campaign on January 1. (Apparently, ink flows in the Dillard family veins: Sandra is the mother of Alton Dillard, state press secretary for U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.) But in the meantime, the Zavaras campaign already has a director of communications -- longtime political operative Arnie Grossman (and father of state senator Dan Grossman) -- as well as assorted staffers, including campaign director Ann Bormolini.

Bormolini remembers that crowded 1983 campaign all too well. She worked for Tooley and ran his field operation against Peña. The day after the Tooley-Peña runoff (McNichols had been ousted early, thanks to an election-day snowstorm), Peña called and asked her to serve on the transition committee. She accepted (with Tooley's blessing) and wound up serving as Peña's chief of staff during his second term as mayor -- after his tough re-election race against Don Bain. The Republican attorney is one of the few people whose names haven't been mentioned in connection with the May 2003 election.

With the field this crowded, are politicos anticipating that the 2003 election season will get as down-and-dirty as the November 5 races? "The elections we just went through will probably be uglier," Wertz says. "Don's not going to run a negative campaign against anyone."

Hmmm...where's Dick Wadhams when you need him?

Not back in Governor Bill Owens's office, where Wadhams served as press secretary after engineering Owens's 1998 win. Affable Dan Hopkins, the voice of the Colorado Department of Transportation who moved into that spot when Wadhams left to run Wayne Allard's campaign, says he'll be staying put.

Meanwhile, Allard's longtime press secretary, Sean Conway, was named the re-elected senator's chief of staff -- which should give him a chance to see how the other half lives. And that would be the half that doesn't have to answer nosy inquiries from reporters.

"I've done this for Wayne since his House days, since 1991, and I actually enjoy it," Conway says of his press-secretary duties. "There are good days and bad days. Don't get too down when there are bad days, and don't get too excited about the good days."

Since early November -- when the pundits were predicting that Allard would lose, and lose badly -- the days have all been good. Allard won big (the MSNBC pollster who missed by fifteen points is still hanging his head in shame), as did Conway in Vegas last week: $500 on the slots. "I've just been through a roller-coaster experience, which is healthy," he says. "It's educational. Most reporters I deal with are very fair. They're equal-opportunity offenders."

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