Denver Direct: Further reflections on the election of Paula Sandoval to Denver City Council

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Further reflections on the election of Paula Sandoval to Denver City Council

by George Seaton

I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.
George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall fame…or infamy.

Okay. So no significant—or even piddling, for that matter!—blow was struck for democracy with the election of Paula Sandoval to serve out the remaining year of Rick Garcia’s incumbency as Northwest Denver’s city councilperson. Indeed, if you look at the numbers, you might be startled, amused, or indifferent to the fact that only about 33% of “Active Registered Voters” in Council District 1 bothered to cast a ballot in this all-mail election. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Ms. Sandoval garnered only 22% of the 7,738 votes distributed amongst ten candidates.

They tell me—I honestly didn’t know—that Ms. Sandoval has been our (I live in the district) state senator in the Colorado Legislature for eight years. Go figure. Of course, since she is term-limited in the legislature, she needed a job. Where else would a professional politician go to get a job at this particular time? Duh! is, of course, the obvious answer.

Right off the bat, let me tell you I voted for Larry Ambrose. Larry came in fifth in the field of ten. I don’t know Larry well. I do know Larry is not a politician. Larry is one of those civic-minded citizens who studies the issues. He is intimately conversant with the plethora of legislation, internal agency “rules,” mayoral tap-dancing across that happy-crappy stage of spin-baby-spin, the collective malaise of the present city council (with the possible exception of Jeanne Faatz), and other issues that most directly touch you and me as citizens not only of Northwest Denver, but the city as a whole. Larry would make a fine councilman. Larry would separate the political wheat from the chaff. No, let me say that in another way: Larry would take the proverbial municipal bull by the horns, demurely shake the crap out of that obstinate, self-serving beast, and reveal the sordid—or, at least, surly—underbelly of city government for what it is. What is it? Again, Duh! Surly. Sordid. And when I note the “underbelly,” I’m referring to the machinations of John Hickenlooper’s administration, most notably his agenda to commercialize our parks, and to give every possible opportunity for developers to destroy neighborhoods in the name of “New Urbanism.”

A few other observations with regard to the candidates:

Jerry Frangas served as the deer-in-the-headlights candidate. City government is very, very different from the machinations of the state legislature. Frangas exemplified that. Yup, I know. Everybody thinks Jerry is a helluva nice guy. I’m sure he is. But, then, there is that adage about nice guys and baseball. Enough said.

John Haney, cop, entrepreneur, spewer of those things every citizen loves to hear—public safety, education, business—was, for me, a kind of backslapping wannabe politico who believed his Irish smile, prolific procreative accomplishments (kids and grandkids—a sort of family values thing, I guess), and glad-handing would catapult him to a seat on council. Wrong. Notable in my observation of Haney was that prior to his announced run for council, every day, day in, day out, there would be three, four, five marked Denver Police cruisers pulled to the curb alongside Haney’s little coffee shop at 38th and Lowell, pretty much at any time of day. After his announcement that he would be running for the council seat, there wasn’t a cruiser in sight. Never. Ever. What does that tell you about John Haney? “Hey, listen guys, now that I’m running for council, it’s probably not a good idea that you all are hangin’ around here all the time. I mean, people might get the wrong impression.” And—leave it to me to actually look at this stuff—one of Haney’s contributors was Christian Anschutz. Yup, son to Philip. Sorry, but that fact alone turns my stomach. I know. I know. Fat cats can contribute to whomever they wish, just like you and me. But this particular fat cat… Enough said. Well, maybe not enough said yet. It has always fascinated me that fat cats seem to have a predilection, perhaps an obsession, with getting close to cops. They love cops. They love cop stuff. (Believe me when I tell you this. I have a familial history with regard to this phenomenon.) Okay. Now, enough said.

Ken Padilla and Ms. Sigala. Suffice it to say I found these two just out there. Kinda kooky. Kinda, well, how do I say this? Kinda odd. Padilla is an attorney. And you would think an attorney would spew his message in a manner that is grammatically correct. He didn’t. Perhaps just a personal bias, but this lack of adherence to proper grammar bothers me. Ms. Sigala, for one thing, needs to exercise; for her own good, and to assure she is able to continue her passionate fight on behalf of her causes, she needs to, um, trim up. I admire her passion, her drive. I understand her highlighting the winning of a lunch or dinner with Federico Pena when she was a DPS student. Good stuff. Good inspiration for sticking your big toe into the turbid waters of politics. But—and let me be very clear here—Federico Pena was Denver’s first Latino mayor, and that’s also good stuff. But, Ms. Sigala, take a look at what Feddie became. He became an advocate for the fattest of the fat cats. Not that that’s particularly bad, unsavory. It’s just, well…

Okay, then there was Susan Shepherd who came in second in this ten person race. Susan is an urban farmer. She was a restaurateur (Hmmm… Why does that restaurateur thing bother me?), who found her particular passion in political organizing, most recently with the Denver Area Labor Federation. Susan, from my view, represents a far, far left (that place on the left that leaves no room for compromise, that takes no prisoners; a self-righteous mien) approach to politics. I’m sure she’s comfortable with her views, her passions. Thing is, my impression is that she would insist we all embrace her views, her passions. I consistently resist such egocentric notions…especially from politicians. There were the also-rans who, forgive me, don’t really merit comment.

Now, back to Ms. Sandoval.

Ms. Sandoval won this race, firstly because she loaned herself about $40,000, and secondly because she has name recognition—both she and her husband having been active in politics on the state level for some time. There is also that component to her political sellability in that she is Latino. No secrets here. No biases here. Just stating a fact. She was endorsed by the likes of Ken Salazar, Rick Garcia, Judy Montero, and Paul Sandoval. In addition, such Democratic pols as Dennis Gallagher and Mitch Morrissey also nodded in Ms. Sandoval’s direction.

Ms. Sandoval did not invent the politics of ethnicity. Indeed—sticking to a local perspective—Robert W. Speer, our revered mayor during the first two decades of the twentieth century, knew the ethnic game, played the ethnic game, reveled in the ethnic game with the ease and grace of a ballerina’s pirouette. Nothing new here. Times have changed. But the intent, the result, the inescapable question is: Does the political bus leave the station filled with only the blest purity of ethnic personages? I think this is a good question; a reasonable question given the facts as we know them.

Another thing: Why do we need another career politician on Denver’s City Council? Why do we need another presence on the council who will, most likely, trod lockstep with the caprices, the demands, the squirrely maneuverings of the Hickenlooper administration? For me, the simple answer is, we don’t. In fact, the simple answer begs the question: What on earth do we gain by seating another career politician on Denver’s council, when those that are there already have proved themselves to be sycophants to the mayor’s desires; useless numbskulls when it comes to furthering the weal of the people; practitioners of the age-old suck-up to the luscious, glutinous endeavor to stuff themselves silly with the rewards of being a good soldier in the eyes of the party (Democratic), lobbyists, ethnic proclivities, and, most importantly, the furtherance of their own incumbency? What do we gain? We gain nothing. Period.

Appropriately ending this portentous piece with another gem from George Washington Plunkitt:

There ain’t a man in New York who’s got such a scent for political jobs as I have. When I get up in the mornin’ I can almost tell every time whether a job has become vacant over night, and what department it’s in and I’m the first man on the ground to get it.

Ah, Ms. Sandoval… Ain’t politics grand!