Longform

Ryan Frazier puts his job on the line with Amendment 47

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Ryan patiently explained his reasoning to his family, just as he does to everyone who wonders why he's among a mere 10 percent of African-Americans who cast their lot with the GOP. "I chose the Republican Party because of the principles the party was founded on," he says. "This was the party of freedom. This was the party that sought the abolition of slavery. The principles of the party are relatively simple: Keep government to the lowest practical level, fiscal responsibility, strength in the free enterprise system, and protection of the rights of every individual. Man, I identify with those."

In the late 1990s, Frazier, then in his early twenties, started attending Arapahoe County Republican Party meetings. He was, as he puts it, "a young black guy walking into, let's be honest, an entirely white gathering" — but he was warmly embraced. "I was pretty fired up about him," recalls Bo Cottrell, former chairman of the Arapahoe County Republicans. "I was hoping someday he would run for office. He had the right mindset: 'What can I do to make things better?' I don't think it was, 'What can I do for me?'"

Cottrell wasn't the only Republican who saw election potential in their exciting new member. While some fans began pushing him to run for the state legislature, Frazier's mentor, Dick Poole, area representative for Senator Allard's office, suggested a different route. "I told him that running for the state legislature would effectively bury him. The state legislature deals with, in my opinion, very mundane issues that don't impact the daily lives of the constituency," he says now. "And that if he wanted to keep up his profile, he needed to be within the City of Aurora. That's where the real decisions are made, at the county and municipal level."

Both Cottrell and Poole got their wishes. At age 25, Frazier, then working for defense contractor Raytheon, announced his candidacy for the Aurora City Council.

His brother Fred, who was staying with Frazier and attended that press conference, remembers pondering what his sibling was getting himself into. "This is going to be a very interesting choice," he thought. "You are putting yourself into one of the fiercest public arenas ever. That's what the political arena is like right now. They are going to dig into you and find the dirt if there is dirt. Fighting dirty is the way to win."


In 2003, Aurora residents saw Frazier's face on VH1, CNN and ESPN. It was the first time an Aurora City Council candidate used television advertising, and it worked. That November, he won an at-large seat on the ten-member council with 14,672 votes — nearly 3,000 more than his closest challenger.

He became one of the youngest elected officials in Colorado, at the helm of a city with 311,000 residents, the third largest in the state — and one that, with a prominent new medical campus, an innovative water supply system and major transportation projects in the works, is no longer just a bedraggled Denver suburb.

It's a place Frazier's well suited for, whether he's shmoozing with executives at a commercial groundbreaking across the street from the new Anschutz Medical Campus or chatting through translators with Spanish-speaking mothers at a school traffic-safety meeting. When one of those mothers asks him, point-blank, whether next year's budget will have enough money for more traffic signals and signs, he breaks the tension by joking, "If I say no, do I still get to eat the food you brought?"

Frazier keeps a list tabulating his city council victories, such as helping to guide decisions on Aurora's ambitious Prairie Waters Project water-reuse program and implementing COPLINK, a data-sharing software program for law-enforcement agencies that's now being used around the state. He also catalogues disappointments, such as his inability to bring a NASCAR track to town and his failure to tweak the city's retirement plans to shift more of the financial burden onto employees — though this list is much shorter.

Along the way, he's earned admirers of all kinds. "He's always been an honest person," says Gaurdie Banister Sr., a longtime Aurora activist. "We are politically different — he's a Republican, I'm a Democrat. But I have great respect for Ryan."

Frazier earned a shout-out on www.hiphoprepublican.blogspot.com, and bigwigs within the state GOP began to notice. "I think very highly of Ryan," says Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams. "He's gotten elected to the Aurora City Council twice. Getting elected like that — that's a high-profile position in the metropolitan area. I believe he has great potential to do other things in public life if he chooses to seek those opportunities. I think he is truly one of our rising stars."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner