Candi CdeBaca ran for the Denver City Council as an agent of change.
Mission accomplished, just four months on the job.
The progressive first-time office-holder has assuredly pleased her supporters, taking on the Trump administration’s private prisons, pushing for an elected sheriff and calling for investments in a greener city, amid her spreading influence.
CdeBaca promised to make a difference, and agree or not, she's demonstrating an eagerness to deliver.
For the past week she’s gotten attention for all the wrong reasons, an overreach that could have lowered the city's bar on nepotism.
After a few days of getting kicked around the political arena — including from her own supporters — CdeBaca withdrew the effort to hire her live-in girlfriend, Kerrie Joy Landell, as an office assistant. The job, to answer emails and schedule community events, would have paid a minimum of about $51,000.
Notably, and I'm guessing most painfully for progressives who make up the CdeBaca base, this unfolded in real time with President Trump awarding his Florida resort the contract to host next year's G7 Summit of world leaders. He walked back his decision on Saturday night because of public backlash. CdeBaca had second thoughts on her decision for the same reason on Monday.
CdeBaca said in her statement that men in city government have done what she was attempting.
“The way the media reduced Kerrie to simply my ‘girlfriend’ diminishes her life accomplishments and stature in the community,” CdeBaca said. “It also ignores the double standard practiced by powerful men in city government, including those who orchestrate fictional processes to hire their spouses or close associates.”
I wanted to talk to the councilwoman to get the scoop on which men are doing what she described.
Her chief of staff, former mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon, said CdeBaca is done with the questions, however.
“Please refer to her statement we issued," Calderon told me in a text. "CW CdeBaca has no further comment on the matter & is moving on to more pressing issues in City Council.”
From well more than three decades of journalism, from George Wallace to Jared Polis, I don't recall an elected official hiring a spouse or partner at taxpayers' expense. It’s just not something people do in the daylight, not even in Florida.
Doing so conjures up the worst impressions of government and politicians, where jobs and contracts follow friends and loved ones, untethered to a fair shake for job seekers without connections.
A CdeBaca ally pointed the councilwoman’s words about men and nepotism at Mayor Michael Hancock, whose office was slow to respond, as I pressed the subject of CdeBaca since last weekend.
Yes, the mayor’s wife worked for the city when Hancock was elected to the council in 2003, his spokesman, Michael Strott, said, but she didn’t report to him. And, yes, the mayor’s son and his band played an inauguration event in 2015, but the band didn’t charge anything.
He pointed out that Scott Gilmore, the city’s deputy director of parks, kept his job after his wife, Stacie Gilmore, was elected to City Council in 2015.
“We’re all subject to and abide by the same ethics rules and the opinions of the ethics board,” Strott told me on Wednesday afternoon.
Having a relative who works for the city shouldn’t be a barrier to someone running for office, if there’s not a direct supervisory role.
The city code of ethics says there has to be at least two levels of supervision between the office holder and a spouse, domestic partner or relative. In this case, CdeBaca's partner would have reported to CdeBaca's chief of staff, before the chief of staff reports to CdeBaca.
CdeBaca had preliminary approval from a majority of the ethics board to get a waiver to allow one level of separation, before the public perception of self-dealing hit the fan.
She said in her statement withdrawing the job offer that Landell isn’t going anywhere.
“To be clear, Kerrie will remain a key presence serving the community and helping to repair the harm that has been done as a result of the neglect and pillaging of our historic communities,” she stated. “She will also work in collaboration with my office in her own capacity by continuing to focus on placemaking, community healing and wellness, to repair the trauma resulting from gentrification, displacement, homelessness and incarceration.”
The city ethics board, however, will still have to bless that unpaid placement, because power and influence in the workplace doesn’t have to mean a paycheck.
CdeBaca campaigned on breaking down the walls, not padding her household income, and you can bet she learned some valuable lessons about public perceptions.
She said she was listening to her constituents when she stepped back from her decision, so let's hear it for the power of the people to bring about change, even against one of their own.
After she defended her hiring decision and her partner, CdeBaca offered some contrition in her statement when she said she recognized "that you elected me to create a higher standard of accountability, and to not measure myself by practices of other city officials.”
In this measurement this time, she came up short.