Dems lock out alleged assailant

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Vince Chowdhury’s political career, which took 18 years to build, was destroyed in a matter of minutes after he pleaded guilty to losing his temper last month, hitting his daughter and then threatening his wife. The longtime Littleton resident, who has served on the Jefferson County School Board since 2001 and is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination in House District 22, is facing disgrace and ruin over what he now calls a “terrible mistake.”

Regardless, the Democrats are closing ranks and locking Chowdhury out. On Tuesday, Chowdhury’s primary opponent in HD 22, Camille Ryckman, issued a press release announcing her endorsement by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, and 16 other Democratic legislators.

The release came the same day Chowdhury, 48, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, a class one misdemeanor. The timing, said Romanoff, was not a coincidence.

“It makes sense to move forward with Camille at this point,” he said on Wednesday. “The race got a lot clearer yesterday.”

Although none of the Democrats involved, including Ryckman, came out and said it, the meaning was obvious — Chowdhury is finished.

“We, as a party, don’t condone that kind of behavior,” said Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.

As Jefferson County School Board president Scott Benefield put it, “Who would vote for someone who slaps his daughter?”

Benefield’s wife, Rep. Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, is one of the lawmakers who endorsed Ryckman.

During a meeting of the Jefferson County School Board Tuesday night, board member Sue Marinelli called the incident a “profound disappointment.”

“I see the attention that’s being brought on the district as an embarrassment,” she said, just before the board voted to ask Chowdhury to resign his post. “It’s going to affect public perception of who we are and what we stand for, and it’s very important that we take a stand and not permit any unlawful or unethical behavior.”

Chowdhury himself has expressed regret over the incident, but it’s unclear whether he will drop out of the HD 22 race or even resign his post on the school board. Reached Wednesday, he said that his only focus now is on his family.

“I’m going through very difficult family and personal issues. Politics is the last thing on my mind at this time,” he said. “I’m not out there knocking on people’s doors. I’m not out there soliciting people’s votes. Basically (the campaign is) suspended.”

He added, “My priority is my family and everything else is secondary.”

Ryckman, who took top line over Chowdhury at the HD 22 assembly, commented, “I’m sure this is a really stressful time for Vince, and I don’t want to complicate what must be a very difficult time for him and his family… I’m just going to run as though I have an opponent.”

Benefield, who, along with Marinelli and Susan Barnes, voted to ask Chowdhury to resign, said Tuesday that Chowdhury had told him “three or four days ago” that he would not resign. The board has no legal authority to force him to step down, and if Chowdhury chooses, he may remain until term limits prevent him from running for re-election. His current — and final term under term limits — expires in November 2009.

Benefield made no secret of his feelings on the matter and did not mince his words. During the school board hearing, he read from a prepared statement, “While we are here, all of us on the board are stewards of the board and its integrity … We should hold ourselves accountable at and away from the board table. Our behavior expectations should be no less than what we expect from our students or our employees.”

Chowdhury was not present at the meeting. Dave Thomas, another school board member, abstained, saying to vote would be a violation of attorney-client privilege because he had served as Chowdhury’s lawyer through his guilty plea that same morning.

The current incumbent in HD 22, Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, said he was “saddened”?by the news of Chowdhury’s arrest, and added that he doesn’t view the situation as politically beneficial to himself.

“It’s a people problem, not a party problem,”?Summers said.

Ryckman and other Democrats said they don’t believe the Chowdhury scandal will stain other Jefferson County Democrats. They insisted that the race is a competitive one, despite a sizable Republican registration advantage in the district. There are 16,818 registered Republicans, 12,822 registered Democrats and 14,889 unaffiliated voters.

In 2006, Summers won re-election by a relatively narrow margin — by only 1,600 votes out of 24,000 votes cast. And that, to Romanoff, spells opportunity.

“I think it is a race we can win,” he said. “If you look at the margin in ’06, it’s obviously very competitive.”

The speaker declined, however, to say whether the race would be targeted by the Democrats.

The Incident

According to Chowdhury’s arrest affidavit, he returned home at roughly 9:40 p.m. on June 17, pulled into his driveway and began honking his car horn, a signal for his family to open the garage door. After a few minutes, the door finally opened, but Chowdhury was angry that he was forced to wait.

He confronted his wife, Katherine, and their 16-year-old daughter, who both later said they apologized. Chowdhury, however, said he thought his daughter was “mocking” him, and he began slapping her. The daughter said he tried to choke her with both hands, a charge Chowdhury has denied.

Once his wife successfully intervened, she said she told their daughter to run upstairs and hide in the bathroom. According to the affidavit, she then told Chowdhury she was going to call 911. Chowdhury allegedly responded by saying he would “hit” her and that “she would be next.”

Chowdhury told the Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies that he “lost it” when he had to wait in the driveway, honking his car horn. He admitted that he had slapped his daughter, and was arrested on assault charges.

Chowdhury also was charged with violating a restraining order against him after the incident because he sent a pair of e-mails to his wife in an attempt to reconcile. That violated the protective order, but the violation and an additional harassment charge were dismissed Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Chowdhury pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and was given a deferred but supervised one-year sentence, during which he must complete anger management courses and parenting classes. If he completes the conditions of his sentence, the case will be dismissed after a year.

And at the request of his family, the protective order was modified to allow Chowdhury to communicate via e-mail with his wife and daughter.