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The Countdown

By Ernest Gurulé

And then, there were three … three serious challengers at the top of the rung in the race for mayor of Denver. There are, actually, a handful of others in the race, but according to the latest polling, the contest seems to have winnowed itself down to Councilman Michael Hancock, Denver Preschool Program CEO James Mejia and former state senator Chris Romer.

A recent Denver Post/9News mayoral poll race showed Mejia and Romer tied at 22 percent with Hancock trailing at 18 percent. However, a month earlier, the same poll showed Romer leading all candidates with 22 percent while Mejia and Hancock trailed well back with 10 and nine percent, respectively.

But, what may be most interesting in the latest polling is not the narrow gap separating the top three candidates but the dramatic change among undecided voters. A month ago, 40 percent of all registered voters were undecided about a candidate. Today, because mail in ballots are already being returned and results are expected on May 3, only 11 percent of voters are undecided.

Metropolitan State College of Denver Political Science Professor Robert Hazan is not surprised by the shift in the polls. “Both Hancock and Mejia are sharp and highly sophisticated in sharing their views,” he said. The pair, he said, has shared their views with potential voters via a media blitz, primarily television, over the last month. “Hancock and Mejia have emerged as highly articulate candidates.”

As for Romer, the son of perhaps Colorado’s most popular governor of the last half century, “his name is not playing as much of a role,” said the MSCD political scientist. In addition, he says Romer’s absence at a number of community forums has not helped him maintain the momentum he enjoyed when he was polling well ahead of the field.

One thing all candidates in this election are counting on is getting as large a portion of the Latino voting bloc as possible.

“The mayor’s race is going to be incredibly close,” said Amber Tafoya, Executive Director of the Latina Initiative, a non-profit organization that focuses on getting Latinas civically engaged.

“When you have a ten-person field each vote becomes incredibly important,” said Tafoya. “As the number of candidates goes up, the importance of each vote goes up, as well.” Also important to Latino voters is the fact that a well-known Latino, Mejia, is a serious candidate.

But, she said, Latino voters are becoming too sophisticated for any candidate to take them for granted, even Latino candidates. “If people see a strong Latino candidate,” she said, “they will unify.” But any candidate still has to work for their vote.

Nevertheless, said Solutions West president and veteran political consultant Greg Kolomitz, the Latino vote has “enormous potential” in this election. “If they turn out at a higher proportion than the rest of the city, then they control the election.”

Kolomitz, who once helped engineer former Mayor Wellington Webb’s campaign, also says Mejia benefitted greatly from the endorsement of one-time Denver mayor and still enormously popular Federico Peña.

“It certainly gives James a lot of legitimacy and credibility with older, more established Latinos,” he said. Kolomitz calls it the “he’s OK, he’s one of us” blessings. “It’s a big deal.”

On the Romer campaign’s inability to “move the needle” on his polling numbers while Mejia and Hancock have essentially doubled theirs over the last month, Kolomitz speculates that Romer’s campaign is “nervous.”

“They’ve got two things that the others don’t have, money and the Romer name,” Kolomitz said. But the name recognition may not mean as much among young voters. “The Romer name still means a lot with older voters who were around for Gov. Romer’s tenure. They loved him … and still do.”

But with only days left to effect any serious change with potential voters, Kolomitz believes a lot of campaign literature will be hitting the mail in a last-minute scramble for the hearts, minds and, especially, votes of those still undecided. “I would speculate that Latino voters will get a lot of attention this week to get their ballots (vote).”

Hancock’s stock may be spiking as a result of television commercials that paint a poignant and touching personal story. The candid and no-holds-barred spots are anything but airbrushed. They tell a story of a broken home and family hit early and often by violence and tragedy. Certainly, in the last month, his story and relentless campaigning have played a role in reducing a ten-horse scramble into a three-way race.

Hancock, Kolomitz speculated, may also gain some votes from the endorsement of city councilmember Carol Boigon who recently dropped out and threw her support to him.

“But someone’s going to come up short; there’s only two spots,” Kolomitz said. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off between the two highest vote getters will be held in June to determine the city’s next mayor. “I expect voters will see a lot of sniping intensify this week.” Look for a lot more political commercials from each of the candidates, too, he said.

In previous years, voters reported to polling places to cast a ballot. Today, elections are largely conducted with mail in ballots. But that, said Latina Initiative’s Tafoya, should not diminish either the importance or power of an individual vote, and particularly, the Latino vote.

“It can swing an election,” she said. Great examples can be found in the most recent election. “They (Latinos) voted overwhelmingly for their candidates — and in a unified way.” One significant recipient of the Latino voting bloc was Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet who looked more than vulnerable against a well-financed and organized Republican opponent.

It may be too soon to equate Latino voting power with that of the Irish of earlier days when they often determined the outcome of mostly big eastern city elections. But, it is well known, politics does have a strange way of repeating itself.





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