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Fathers and Sons, Then and Now

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After our drive time radio show, I fought the weather and traffic to get downtown to moderate a mayoral debate. There was plenty of parking in front of West High last Wednesday evening. Denver and its politics seem to be in the doldrums. Memories of more exciting elections stirred within me.

As I ran in through the rain, I saw Michael Hancock emerge from the back seat of a nice vehicle stopped directly in front of the entrance. The dapper city councilman had the benefit of an assistant with a well placed umbrella, thus keeping his suit and tie dry. Michael and I exchanged our usual friendly greetings. Michael Hancock has guest co-hosted with me, and he has a friendly personality that doesn't quit.

I have also known Chris Romer for quite a while. Chris and I both played a lot of golf at City Park. I remember when he and his father worked hard for the 1996 election of my electoral rival, incumbent Denver DA Bill Ritter. That was long ago now.

Senator Romer has been an accessible and interesting guest on our radio show. I saw him right after entering West High and we joined in a search for a men's room to pee and see how the sideways rain had affected our appearances.

To our mutual disappointment, there were urinals but no mirror inside. Forget about more math and science in Denver Public Schools, how about some mirrors? Are they afraid that students will break the mirrors apart and use the glass as weapons? Bad luck for teenagers who want to check out what they look like.

Chris Romer had a young and earnest assistant with him going over the format of the debate while giving the candidate and his outfit the once over. Only the campaign name tag needed replacing. Senator Romer's assistant produced a fresh "Romer. Mayor" sticker and the candidate put it on the chest of his sharp pin-striped suit.

The small and ancient auditorium was mainly empty. I thought back to memorable mayoral elections from decades ago with Denver DA Dale Tooley trying again and again to beat Bill McNichols. Then there was the 1983 runoff between my boss, the late great Dale Tooley and Federico Pena. Eight years later, there was the memorable 1991 contest between my next boss, Denver DA Norm Early, and Wellington Webb.

The crowds back then seemed bigger and more enthusiastic. The Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post tried to beat each other daily with new angles and scoops. Denver seemed more energized and engaged.

To kick off this mayoral debate, the small West High drum corps marched in and provided energy and big boom percussion. Michael Hancock sat alone in an aisle seat rocking out to the rhythm of the beat. He was getting into a zone. He was getting loose.

I could not help but think about Roy Romer sitting there in the front row. Governor Romer had helped determine the course of my career and life. In 1993, Governor Romer chose Bill Ritter, not me, to become Denver DA. Now, there were Roy and Bea Romer in the front row, and I was about to moderate their son's debate.

My father and mother are both gone now, but I think about them often. My father, Sheldon Silverman, graduated West High in 1944. My mom graduated East High, same as Chris Romer.

My dad, a smart, mannerly and accomplished lawyer, once got in Roy Romer's grill at a gala dinner that we attended in 1993 shortly after the Ritter appointment. My dad was mad. My papa thought his son Craig would have been a good choice. Roy Romer barked back and the men got separated.

Back to West High on May 11, 2011. Before peppering them with questions, I told the candidates that they were doing a lot of these debates and that they might get frustrated arguing about the same thing with the same person every day... and... welcome to my world. That got some laughs from those that follow the Caplis and Silverman Show.

Hancock and Romer are two intelligent candidates who know the issues and how to keep their composure. The debate was interesting, but it did not get exciting until right near the end when the candidates started swinging haymakers at each other.

The accusatory Romer TV ad evidently angered Michael Hancock who said, "Chris plays games with the facts -- they're fuzzy facts." Hancock then attacked Chris Romer over his very temerity to even run for mayor while simultaneously seeking re-election to the state senate. In some over the top rhetoric, the councilman proclaimed, "There is no greater betrayal of the public trust."

Chris Romer seemed slightly shaken and told the assembled dozens that Hancock was engaging in "the politics of personal destruction." Former Senator Romer said he was going to "resist those temptations... I'm going to stick to the issues." The sparse crowd laughed sarcastically. Roy and Bea Romer sat stoically in the front row.

Who's zooming who? That will be for the voters of Denver to decide. The endorsements have been interesting to watch. James Mejia garnered about 25% of the votes cast and he promptly endorsed Romer. Soon thereafter, Michael Hancock got endorsed by former Governor Bill Ritter.

Bill Ritter never lost an election. He was president of our law school class at CU. Bill Ritter told me on the radio that he got 85% of the Denver vote when he beat Bob Beauprez to become Colorado's 41st governor. Bill Ritter still has a big Denver following. But so does former Mayor Federico Pena, who now backs Chris Romer.

At the end of the debate, as people mingled, I went up to Governor Romer. I shook his hand. He shook mine. We spoke pleasantly for a couple of minutes. I told him about my father's recent passing. He showed respect. I doubt he recalled the encounter with my father at that gala, and I did not bring it up.

In 1993, Governor Romer, a wealthy Yale-educated attorney, saw something interesting and important in Bill Ritter's work as a missionary and his hard scrabble upbringing in a huge family. Now, Roy Romer's son competes for Denver's highest office against a man of religious faith who had an impoverished upbringing in a gigantic family. Last week, Governor Romer witnessed Michael Hancock get the endorsement of Governor Ritter. I wonder if he was surprised or mad.

In 1993, Governor Romer made the right choice for him and for others as well. All our lives proceeded in interesting ways and hopefully will continue to do so. Few relationships are more interesting and intense than those between fathers and sons.