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Latino voting power

By Ernest Gurulé

In not quite seven weeks Denver may have a new mayor, or at least, a mayor-elect and a new Denver City Council. May 3, Denver voters, including a growing block of Latinos, will exercise their Constitutional right to vote.

Unfortunately, while it may be one of the most precious rights guaranteed American citizens, a growing trend shows that that too many Americans find other things to do on election days than vote. The Mayor’s race could be the most important election in Colorado this year. And judging from recently released census data, Latinos may play a critical role. They could very well spell the difference in a whole spate of things that could affect not just the city, but all of Colorado and the entire region, for years to come.

The ten names on the ballot for the May 3 mayoral election are certainly aware of this fact and doing more than ever to woo Latinos. But, interestingly, it may be Latinos who are unaware of the leverage they may hold in this and future Denver and Colorado elections. In a close race, and there is no reason to think the mayor’s race won’t be — certainly with no incumbent on the ballot — Latino voters could decide the outcome.

“Our population is young,” said Amber Tafoya, Executive Director of the Latina Initiative, an organization dedicated to cultivating, maintaining and supporting Latina civic engagement. “We are 31 percent (of the population) in Denver County and 12 percent of the Denver voting population.

” A vote in the mayoral election and deciding who runs the city for the next four years is an incomplete look at the picture, said Tafoya. Who runs Denver is a potential referendum on the entire state, she said. A generation ago, at least in political time, it was Mayor Federico Peña who got the discussion started on replacing Stapleton Airport and building one that would meet the region’s and the country’s 21st century’s air travel needs. DIA is now considered among the ten finest airports in the world. In another bold move, Peña was also instrumental planting the seeds for light rail and making it bloom all across the metro area. He also planted the seeds for major league baseball and Coors Field, which ushered in the resurrection of Lower Downtown.

Peña’s successor, Wellington Webb, also added his imprimatur to the city’s profile in many ways, including completing DIA, adding Invesco Field, the Pepsi Center, redevelopment of Stapleton as a vibrant new community, a new library and more. Many of these huge public service projects only served to reinforce the city’s image as the crown jewel of the Rocky Mountain West.

In a period of economic down times, Mayor Hickenlooper built a new justice center downtown and improved dialogue with regional leaders promoting joint economic development. It is impossible to imagine how the city may have turned out under different leadership. Perhaps, better. No one will ever know. But it is irrefutable that the vision and leadership that the city has had in its last three administrations catapulted Denver into a world class ranking. And that is why, said Tafoya, Latinos cannot afford to take their vote for granted and ignore the mayor’s election.

While all votes are important, the Latina Initiative is concentrating on getting Latina women civically involved, especially those who voted in the last election. “If we are organized and do what we’re supposed to do,” Tafoya said, “we estimate that 70 percent to 80 percent of who we worked with in 2010 will be getting out and voting.” One of the things Latina Initiative workers do is stress the importance and power of a single vote. “There is always that kind of sense that my vote won’t swing anything,” Tafoya said.

“But in local races, it really does.” Colorado’s seventh congressional district, often called the nation’s most competitive, proved the power of a single vote. In 2002, former Congressman Bob Beauprez won his seat by only 122 votes beating Democrat Mike Feeley. Nearly 400,000 were cast across the district, which encompasses portions of Denver, Adams and Jefferson counties. So important is voting that Denver’s Latina Chamber of Commerce is considering adding a reminder to its greeting when callers reach the office. The DLCC sees the election as critical for its members and all small business people. “We’re all going to be impacted,” said Theresa Solano, Executive Director of DLCC.

“We want a mayor who is going to be fair to all businesses, especially small and minority businesses that aren’t always looked at as a driving force.” While the LDCC has not endorsed a candidate, it hopes that whoever wins in May or a later runoff if that becomes necessary can deal thoughtfully and imaginatively with a soft economy that has lingered for the last several years.

“There is a lot of work that has to be done,” Solano said. “We hope the new mayor focuses on small businesses.” She stresses the importance of having a “seat at the table” with the new mayor when critical decisions that affect DLCC’s members are made. Solano says what the new mayor does on business policy, sooner or later, “will affect the whole state.” Every vote in this election is important, but the Latina Initiative is putting a specific emphasis on younger voters. “We do a lot of work with our youth,” Tafoya said.

She recently led a group of 200 young people to the legislature to meet with their elected officials. “We want to show them that they have a voice.” Tafoya says LI plans to have a presence at as many public events as possible between now and the election. “We’re stressing local elections,” Tafoya said. It is those races, she says, that determine how we get resources in our community. On May 3, the candidate receiving 50 percent plus one automatically wins the election. If the winning margin falls short of that, a runoff election will be set. The ten candidates vying for the job represent the largest field in more than forty years.





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