Paul Noel Fiorino: A Denver mayor's race profile

With John Hickenlooper now Colorado's governor, we know Denver will soon have a new mayor, and the race promises to be wide open. To introduce you to the players, we're offering profiles of official candidates. Next up: Paul Noel Fiorino.

"We're trying to become a creative capitol for the Rocky Mountain region," says Paul Noel Fiorino, "and I think we have a really great opportunity to step out and do that."

Fiorino is a familiar face in local creative and political circles. We spoke to him back in 2005, when he was acting as a producer and liaison to the Board of Directors at Denver Community Television, then the public-access television service for the city. Then, in 2006, he ran for governor -- and shared his frustration about a lack of media coverage for his grassroots effort. But that didn't stop him from running for governor again in 2010.

Still, Fiorino is probably best known as a vocal advocate for the art of dance. "I came here in 1955," he notes, "and I started my dance career with the Denver Civic Ballet -- and I was also a part of the Denver Civic Theater back when I was a commissioner for [Denver Mayor Federico} Peña. I did my first performance in 'The Nutcracker' with the Denver Symphony -- and later, I worked with Cleo Parker Robinson.

"And, of course, I was a business owner: Ballet Arts, which had a good fifteen years. People wonder, 'What does being a dance teacher have to do with running a city?' But I've always been involved with nonprofits, arts advocacy -- I'm president emeritus of the Golden Triangle Museum District -- and neighborhood groups. And now that I've raised my kids, my time is freed up, and I'm able to give service to the community. I think that's one thing in my favor at this juncture in my life."

Hence, his current quest to become Denver's mayor. But he won't break the bank to accomplish his goal. He dislikes "this whole thing of raising money and getting people in your pocket" so much that he's decided against most standard PR efforts, including launching a campaign website. He feels there's enough information about him out there already for surfers to learn about his background if they wish.

Most of Fiorino's opponents in the race cite the difficult economic circumstances the city is facing as Issue No. 1. But he refuses to be downcast about the future.

"I'm pretty optimistic," he says. "I'm much more of an optimist than a pessimist, which is why I believe Denver needs to identify itself as a tourist-friendly cultural creative center and destination -- and what a wonderful destination it is. My ideas are much more about building up revenue than cutting budget."

Not that he's averse to trimming costs if necessary: "As an unaffiliated candidate, I have the ability to look for entitlements to find savings that may be partisan expenses. But I also feel we have an opportunity to have an open office for the people to bring solutions and deal with some of the problems we have. And I don't think we're doing enough in philanthropy and enough with nonprofits. We really need to engage that whole sector, and I feel I'm probably the best person to do that. In a way, the city is also a nonprofit, and we need to establish strategic partnerships to address things like homelessness and making our buildings more energy efficient."

In regard to law-enforcement issues, and especially excessive-force complaints, Fiorino says, "I do hope Bill Vidal" -- Denver's interim mayor -- "handles it soon and quickly. I do not think we need to become a police state. I feel we need police for our safety; we need their presence. But at the same time, we don't need to be overly brutal to anyone. Denver should be a safe and accessible city, and people should feel okay to walk in certain neighborhoods and cross boundaries."

When it comes to transportation, he believes "we need to be more accessible, not only to get people from the Convention Center, but also to different hotels and different parts of the city. One thing we could do is connect First Fridays, and have a shuttle service that could go between districts on a regular basis -- and not only on Fridays. And we need to keep FasTracks moving forward, and to make the city a bicycle-friendly place. I think the red bikes" -- the B-cycles -- "are great, but it could be a year-round program. With all of our sunshine, I don't know why we can't do that."

Health care issues are important to Fiorino, who credits Denver Health with preventing him from becoming a quadriplegic due to an illness that struck him in the early '90s -- and unsurprisingly, he thinks dance could become the centerpiece of a citywide wellness initiative.

Because of his stance about fundraising, Fiorino hopes to get his message across in community forums and one-to-one conversations with voters. He's confident his upbeat demeanor will differentiate him from other members of the crowded field of candidates.

"We aren't a cowtown anymore -- and yet we just had a great Stock Show," he says. "The Democratic Convention [of 2008] was our dress rehearsal, and I really think Denver is ready for center stage."

More from our Politics archive: "James Mejia: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Doug Linkhart: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Forrester: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Michael Hancock: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Danny Lopez: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Chris Romer: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Carol Boigon: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Thomas Andrew Wolf: A Denver mayor's race profile," "Eric Zinn, mayoral hopeful, wants Denver to lose a million pounds," and "Gerald Styron, Denver mayor candidate, once threatened to bring a gun to Westword."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts