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Regime Change
Denver City Election
May 2003

by Floyd Ciruli


Regime Change - New mayor
Denver exceptionalism
Past is prologue
Legacy and unfinished agenda
National mayoral changes
Election results - Peña 1983
Election results - Webb 1992
Polling results in mayoral race Feb. To May 1991
Voter turnout
Latino population increase in Denver 1990 to 2000
Partisan registration change 1990 to 2002
Left/right ideology
Transition during uncertain times
Wellington Webb’s approval and disapproval
Candidates for mayor of Denver-early name identification
Economic development alternatives
Creative class index
Civic vision and civic capacity

  1. Regime Change - New mayor -The first slide highlights the outcome of the last two elections, 1983 and 1991, when newly elected mayors brought new agendas and personnel. The 2003 election will feature a new auditor and 10 out of 13 are city council members, as well as a new mayor. The results will produce a new set of priorities from the mayor, and a host of new or lesser known political personalities in high-profile city jobs [view slide]

  2. Denver exceptionalism - Denver and its mayor are an exceptional force in Colorado politics. The city came to its prominence through aggressive boosterism by business and civic leaders dedicated to growth. It had to fight for survival at its founding and has seldom stopped promoting its interests since. Denver’s political and civic leaders rapidly formed partnerships to divert rail that was passing through Wyoming, win the state’s capitol and claim an exceptional share of the state’s water. Its current revival is the product of voter support of major urban investments, including the new airport, sports stadiums, cultural facilities and convention center. Denverites sees themselves as not just Colorado’s first city but the capitol of the Rocky Mountain empire. [view slide]

  3. Past is prologue - The 1983 and 1991 elections that brought in new leaders were framed by specific political circumstances. In the 1983 election the McNichols era was ending. The mayor was beset by controversy, changing demographics (a younger electorate, more minorities) and the general sense that it was time for a change. The 1991 election won by Wellington Webb was framed by the projects and controversies of the Peña era, especially the new airport. In a 2003 election without term limits, Mayor Webb and many of the current city council persons would likely win re-election. This year’s regime change is prompted by term limits and not voter demand for change. It appears the backdrop for the 2003 election will be highlighted by the city’s fiscal shortfall and the contraction of the economy. But predicting the likely dominant issue is impossible before the candidates begin to engage and the campaigns develop. A new-and defining-issue might emerge late.

    The Peña and Webb elections served to incorporate minority constituencies, Hispanic and blacks, respectively. It is not clear whether the two woman candidates thus far in the 2003 race will energize women voters. Denver already has a majority of women on council and several women serving on the mayor’s cabinet and senior staff. Finally, it doesn’t appear that any of the announced candidates has an exclusive hold on key Denver constituencies. [view slide]

  4. Legacy and unfinished agenda - The 1990s were good to Denver. For the first time in more than four decades the city gained population. The economy was strong and there was a considerable degree of racial harmony. Due to the economic slowdown, crime and social welfare costs have jumped the last 12 months.

    The city funded several major projects that have enhanced the quality of life and economy. The city’s greatest achievements are probably planning and development of its extraordinary infill spaces: Lowry, Stapleton and the Central Platte Valley.

    There are many unfinished projects and issues that candidates and the next regime will need to deal with, including a new jail, a downtown hotel, airport finances (including a new airport hotel), an upcoming vote on regional transit and associated development, affordable housing, and, because of the drought, a concern about water supplies for the first time in more than a decade. [view slide]

  5. National mayoral changes - A review of recent elections for mayor around the country shows a number of surprises and new faces came to power. New York and New Orleans saw business people win. And in Dallas a woman beat the established business candidate. [view slide]

  6. Election results Peña 1983 - 1983 was a modern turning point in Denver politics. The excitement and perceived closeness of the race along with powerful get-out-the-vote efforts produced record voter turnout. The general election result was a surprise with the incumbent in a weak third position and the powerful district attorney losing out to an Hispanic former legislator. The close result in the runoff election (which was repeated four years later in the 1987 runoff) framed the Peña era from start to finish as one of strong and closely matched political blocks contending for influence. [view slide]

  7. Election results Webb 1992 - Turnout declined in the 1991 election, but as in 1983 it held several surprises—the ultimate winner ran third during most of the campaign, came in second in the general election and then won the runoff. [view slide]

  8. Polling results in mayoral race Feb. To May 1991 - The polling conducted in the 1991 mayoral election demonstrates that long shots can win and that the campaign makes a difference. Webb began in third place from a base in the black community and some anti-Peña Democrats. He only surged ahead of Don Bain (the Republican) in the last couple of weeks before the general election. Webb largely out-maneuvered Bain on the airport issue and out-campaigned him by walking the city. He then made a spectacular come-from-behind effort to win the runoff four weeks later. [view slide]

  9. Voter turnout - If voter turnout remains about 50 percent of the electorate, 170,000 voters will participate in May 2003. [view slide]

  10. Latino population increase in Denver 1990 to 2000 - During the last decade the Hispanic community increased its numbers by 64 percent, now making up 32 percent of the city’s population. However, their electoral participation is about half that amount, due to lack of political activity, a younger median age, and many recent non-citizen immigrants and adults busy with basic economic survival. [view slide]

  11. Partisan registration change 1990 to 2002 - The largest increase in partisan registration the last decade was among unaffiliated voters. However, they tend to vote at lower levels than partisan voters. Democrats dominate, but there is an important block of Republicans. [view slide]

  12. Left/right ideology - Denver is a community in which the largest plurality of voters, 41%, describe themselves as liberal. However, they tend to be skeptical of politicians and many of their projects. [view slide]

  13. Transition during uncertain times - There are at least a dozen issues that will be addressed in the campaign, some more so than others, depending on the candidate. But for now, the economy dominates. After a rich decade, Denver, as do most cities, now struggles with declining revenue, staff and service cutbacks. United Airlines’ bankruptcy, with its impact on DIA operations and finances, is a new feature. [view slide]

  14. Wellington Webb’s approval and disapproval - Mayor Webb received a 70% approval among Denver voters in a July 2002 survey. He is especially well liked in the minority community and among Democrats. [view slide]

  15. Candidates for mayor of Denver-early name identification - In a July 2002 Ciruli Associates survey, 80% of voters could not identify a candidate they favored for mayor. Among the 20 percent who named a candidate, Ari Zavaras, former Manager of Safety, was in first place with six percent. Auditor Don Mares came in second with five percent. [view slide]

  16. Economic development alternatives - Economic development will be a critical issue. Along with big ticket items such as the airport, convention center, transit and entertainment facilities, there will be a conversation about street-level amenities that can attract and hold the creative class. [view slide]

  17. Creative class index - A newly identified economic asset is the creative class, for example, people who work in the arts, media and high tech knowledge industry. Technology, talent and tolerance are the watch words in communities that work to offer a home to the creative class. [view slide]

  18. Civic vision and civic capacity - A community needs both civic vision and civic capacity to fulfill its potential. Candidates should be rated on their vision, their specific agenda and their track record as implementers. But communities need more than just great officeholders. The entire infrastructure of civic leadership must be ready to support the community vision and its specific agenda. [view slide]

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