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Joel Judd Headshot

Lessons From Federico Peña

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In October 2008 I was asked if I had ever seen the kind of excitement Barack Obama was generating.

Yes, I had; Federico Peña in 1983.

A progressive legal aid lawyer and the minority leader in the State House, Federico Peña had Denver energized as no politician before or since. Everywhere you turned all over Denver you'd see the diamond-shaped signs (I still have one) and the theme of "Imagine a Great City." Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Jews, African-Americans, Hispanic, seniors and young people all united behind him. This amazing coalition knocked off an incumbent mayor in the first round of balloting and defeated an extremely able district attorney in the run-off.

I have to think that some of the talented Obama team must have studied the Peña play book. Federico did not have huge amounts of cash. In fact his lawn signs were silk-screened by volunteers -- fire fighters on their days off. What he had was vision and a message. He also reached out to those who had been left out. Federico's coalition included the LGBT community where, as with every other community, he worked hard to earn support.

Federico Peña took office during an economic trauma perhaps as great as we now face. As mayor, Federico Peña did not just imagine a great city -- he built a great city. Without his leadership much of what makes Denver so great would not have come about. Federico led during a time of crisis and led Denver by making hard tough decisions that got our city back on the road to prosperity.

Today, our state and our city also must make tough choices. Mayor Peña showed the kind of skill competence and moxie needed. I have great respect for the advisers to both Mayor Hickenlooper and Governor Ritter. However, if I were the mayor or governor my next call would be to the man I consider Denver's greatest mayor to seek out his always wise counsel. Mayor Peña confronted a crisis and demonstrated that leadership and vision can prevail.

We first met when he was the state representative for the district I now proudly serve. You could tell he was a cut above the rest. In fact, with the help of others, Federico ousted a Democratic leader who was ineffective and instilled his caucus with a sense of purpose. When he ran for mayor I was part of his huge army of supporters who knocked on doors, put up signs and worked day and night for his election.

When I sought office eight years ago Mayor Peña honored me with his support. Everywhere I went -- Downtown, Capital Hill, Highlands, Globeville, Swansea, Elryia and Cole -- folks would proudly tell me how this gifted man had improved their neighborhood and their community.

So many talented people served under Mayor Peña -- Steve Kaplan, Kathy Archuleta, my Dad (appointed to Metro Denver Wastewater Board).

I am running against another old friend and ally of Mayor Peña's for the State Senate. I do not know whether Federico will endorse or stay neutral in this race. Whatever he chooses to do will not diminish my friendship with and respect for Mayor Peña.

Without Mayor Peña Denver would not be the great progressive city that serves as a model for communities around the world.