Denver mayoral candidates open doors, disclose year-end campaign fundraising

The Colorado Statesman

Three of the leading candidates to take Gov. John Hickenlooper’s place as Denver mayor threw open the doors to their campaign headquarters and released preliminary fundraising figures this week.

Each of the three — City Councilmen Michael Hancock and Doug Linkhart and Denver Preschool Program Director James Mejia — said their fundraising through the end of 2010 exceeded goals for the campaigns on pace to raise upwards of $1 million apiece before the May 3 election. (If no candidate secures a majority of the vote, a run-off will be held in June.)

Denver mayoral candidate James Mejia entertains 1-year-old daughter Riley with a balloon during a grand-opening celebration at his northwest Denver headquarters on Jan. 9.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
About 100 supporters braved Sunday’s single-digit temperatures and icy roads to inaugurate Mejia’s campaign headquarters, housed in a former art gallery and frame shop on the edge of the Highlands neighborhood in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock, left, chats with Alan Ochsenbein, associate manager of aviation at Denver International Airport, at Hancock’s headquarters. Hancock has rented a Golden Triangle building noted for housing a string of successful, statewide Democratic campaigns.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Denver City Councilman Michael Hancock, left, thanks outgoing Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll for his introduction during an open house Jan. 6 at Hancock’s mayoral campaign headquarters. Behind Carroll, Hancock’s family applauds.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Denver City Councilman Doug Linkhart, left, talks politics with Ed and Sally Augden during an open house Jan. 8 at his mayoral campaign headquarters in Five Points.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Linkhart campaign staffers Laura Chapin, left, and Justin Tafoya chat during the open house. Chapin spent the evening updating Linkhart’s Facebook page with news from the party.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Young supporters decide between pretzels and crayons in a quiet corner at City Councilman Doug Linkhart’s mayoral campaign headquarters open house in Denver on Jan. 8. Behind them hangs a banner from one of Linkhart’s two successful at-large City Council campaigns.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Hancock led the pack with more than $265,000 raised through the end of the year — including roughly $45,000 transferred from his at-large City Council campaign coffers — followed by an estimated $226,000 raised by former state Sen. Chris Romer, $208,500 raised by Mejia and $102,000 raised by Linkhart. The other major announced candidate, City Councilwoman Carol Boigon, didn’t disclose fundraising totals by our deadline. Candidates have until Jan. 31 to file reports.

So far, 13 candidates have announced plans to run for the seat, which will be kept warm until after the election by former Deputy Mayor Bill Vidal following Hickenlooper’s move across Civic Center Park on Tuesday. At least one other potential major candidate could enter the race this month, sources told The Colorado Statesman. Powerhouse Latina businesswoman Linda Alvarado is expected to announce her plans by the middle of January but didn’t return calls earlier this week from The Statesman. (On Friday, the Face the State website reported hotelier Walter Isenberg notified employees he would not be entering the race, ending months of speculation.)

Hancock, Linkhart and Mejia welcomed supporters to their campaign headquarters at the end of last week and over the weekend, though only Mejia’s bash counts as a true grand opening, as the other two have occupied their quarters for months. Hancock is based out of a talismanic building at 11th Avenue and Bannock Street, where successful statewide campaigns for outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter, former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, and last fall’s Democratic statewide coordinated campaign all called home. Linkhart’s headquarters is near Five Points at 31st Avenue and Downing Street, near a Light Rail stop, while Mejia has taken over a former art gallery and frame shop at 25th Avenue and Eliot Street in northwest Denver.

Each of the candidates threw festive parties for supporters, including music, speechifying, plenty of balloons and more than a few infants to kiss.

Hancock was introduced by longtime political ally and outgoing state House Speaker Terrance Carroll, who said the two-term northeast Denver councilman is among those responsible for Carroll’s entry into public life.

“The thing I like most about Michael,” Carroll said, “is it’s clear that it’s not about him, it’s really about him giving back to the city that’s done so much for him.” Invoking at least one successful mayoral campaign theme from the past along with Hancock’s “We Are Denver” slogan, Carroll continued: “He wants us to make sure we all know we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants as we move forward and we move forward together to make a great city even greater.”

Hancock stated the themes of his campaign: “We are ready and prepared to go and address the issue of job creation in this city. We are ready and prepared to go and guarantee that every family and every child will live in a neighborhood where there are great schools in this city. We’re going to go for broke to make that happen,” he emphasized. “We are ready to live in a city where we are proud of our police, and our police are proud of us, proud to go to work every day to serve and protect us.”

At Linkhart’s open house, campaign manager Wendell Pryor acknowledged the two-term at-large councilman’s fundraising total wouldn’t be as high as some other campaigns would report, but said that was fine with him.

“We’re satisfied with where we are at this point,” Pryor said. “It’s a grassroots campaign — we don’t have the money some of the other candidates will have, but we don’t think the candidate with the most money always wins.”

Instead, said Pryor — pointing to position papers the campaign has released about economic development and public safety with one focused on youth issues on the way — “We’re out there with real solutions.”

That’s what Linkhart said would distinguish his candidacy in the crowded field.

Terming his campaign the one “with real solutions,” Linkhart said he will offer voters a degree of specific answers he said voters demand this year.

“We do need real solutions — and specificity,” he said. “We’re running an issue-oriented, specific campaign, with a candidate who’s not afraid to take a stand. So we’re coming up with bold solutions.” The two-term at-large councilman said the solutions he offers stem from his extensive track record, including years representing Denver neighborhoods in the Legislature before running for City Council. “All I have to do is do more of what I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve been acting as if I were mayor to some degree — I take city-wide issues, come up with solutions and implement it.”

Mejia sounded a similar theme, pointing to his experience leading departments and managing projects for three Denver mayors.

What sets his campaign apart, he said, “is who has the experience to hit the ground running on day one. What we’re saying is, this is not a time for on-the-job training. This is the time to hit the ground running, to solve the budget problems now — do a more effective job of marketing Denver, and make these education system one we can all be proud of.”

Mejia said he will “be the only guy in the campaign who has cabinet-level managerial experience,” pointing to his role closing a city budget gap when he managed the parks department under Mayor Wellington Webb, the last time Denver faced budget shortfalls similar to the ones bedeviling the city since the current recession. Mejia said he instituted 10 percent budget cuts while expanding the park system by 25 percent, in part, “by engaging our employees saying these are our objectives, how are we going to get there?” Mejia credited the Hickenlooper administration with yielding savings from employee suggestions but said there was plenty more to be found.

“Other people are going to say, this is how I might do it, this is how I envision doing it. I’ll say, this is what we did, this is how we’ll do it again,” he said.

Announced candidates will appear on stage together for the first time on Jan. 26 at a mayoral forum sponsored by the Park People organization, devoted to parks, recreation and urban forestry. The event is set for 5:30-7 p.m. at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

The ballot won’t be set until at least early March, when candidates must return petitions securing a spot. Another seven candidates have filed paperwork with the city indicating an interest in running. Other city offices, including district seats and the two at-large City Council seats surrendered by Linkhart and Boigon, will also be up for election in May.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com