Young Blood

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Given the size of his wallet, it's no wonder Polis is regularly an honored guest and participant in strategy parleys and powwows with local and national officials at places like the recent Democratic convention in Boston, which he attended in its entirety. "I don't want to put Jared in the category of future leader, because I think he's a leader now," says Chris Gates, head of Colorado's Democratic Party. "He came into the political process as a young man who was fairly new to this world, and we've all seen him grow and mature and, frankly, become a real player in the last few years. He's absolutely one of the leaders of our party right now."

With a little help from friends like these, even bigger things may be in the offing. Although Polis says that the work related to his foundation is done "for social good," pure and simple, there's no denying how nice it might look on a political resumé. Yet Polis remains a largely unproven commodity on a statewide scale; he spent a sum in the high six figures running for the State Board of Education's at-large seat in 2000, as opposed to under $11,000 expended by the incumbent, former Republican state senator Ben Alexander, but he won by just ninety votes out of over a million cast. Since then, he's collected no shortage of enemies. Critics like Republican state senator John Andrews feel that Polis has a dark side that even his greenbacks can't paper over.

"Polis is a gravitational pull on the Democratic Party of Colorado that's a whole lot like the gravitational pull of Saudia Arabia on the world oil industry, and not much more healthy," Andrews says. "You combine huge dollars with a passion for secrecy, and honorable Democrats like Mark Udall or Ken Salazar are probably somewhat embarrassed by him, even if they won't admit it."

To that, Polis offers the verbal equivalent of a shrug. "I don't particularly care what people think of me," he says, "as long as I know what I'm doing is right."

Does that mean Polis isn't concerned with his image? Not quite.

At one juncture, I ask him for the names of anyone he thinks would have interesting things to say about him, good or bad. At first he demurs, telling me that I should feel free to speak with anyone I please -- but when word filters back to him that I've been reaching out to a lot of political colleagues and observers, he e-mails a batch of suggestions for extra contacts, all of whom are employed by him or collaborate with him on non-profit projects.

Not surprisingly, each of these individuals speaks of Polis in glowing terms. "I've worked with Jared for four years, and I'm continually amazed with all he does in this community," says Lisa Finkelstein, executive director of the Jared Polis Foundation.

"He's great and really innovative," chimes in Wayne Jin, director of the C3 program, who predicts that he and his associates will give away 3,000 computers to deserving individuals during 2004. "He's always got great ideas."

Polly Baca, chief executive officer of the Latin American Research and Service Academy (LARASA), agrees. A New America School boardmember and partner with Polis on assorted LARASA undertakings, she finds him to be "very proactive -- a very thoughtful person with a big heart."

"He has a passion to give kids who normally don't get opportunities the chance to be successful in school," adds Richard Garcia, founder of the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition and president of the New America School's board. "At the New America School, he's focusing on immigrants who are in the sixteen-to-twenty age group -- kids who are on the verge of dropping out, have dropped out, or haven't even registered. Society often discards these youths, but he's reaching out to them. In that way, what he's doing is really visionary."

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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