This is the fourth in a series of stories on Denver mayoral candidates in their last days on the campaign trail ahead of the May 7 city election.
No matter what the outcome of Denver's May 7 municipal election, chances are that mayoral hopeful Lisa Calderón will be the only candidate who can claim she had a fence painted purple in her honor.
That’s because on a blustery recent Sunday afternoon, a group of Calderón’s volunteers kicked off their final week of campaigning by painting a wooden fence outside the Whittier Café.
Café owner Millete Birhanemaskel said the idea for the project started out as a joke and took about 10 minutes to launch.
Birhanemaskel is married to Brother Jeff Fard, a longtime community activist in Five Points. Fard is a supporter of District 9 city council candidate Candi CdeBaca, whose campaign color is pink.
So Fard recently decided to paint the outside of his building, Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center at 2836 Welton St., entirely in pink. And not just pink, but hot pink.
“You’ve got to see it. It’s insane,” Birhanmaskel says during an interview at her café. “And you know, I’m not a fan of painting brick, but this is actually beautiful.”
“So when I saw the pink building, I said, ‘Hey babe. Beautiful building. And I approve. I’ll raise you a purple fence.’”
Birhanemaskel has been a supporter of Calderón, a criminal justice professor at Regis University, who is making her first bid for public office. The café owner has been wearing Calderón campaign T-shirts every day in recent weeks.
She knew that Calderón’s official campaign colors were purple and teal. So, the idea for a purple fence in Calderón’s honor was born in a quick series of Facebook posts.
When the time came to paint the fence, the weather was not cooperating. Gusts of wind kept blowing away the plastic tarp, until one volunteer backed her car onto the sidewalk to anchor the plastic.
A crew of about six volunteers with rollers and paint brushes then made fast work of the fence and the paint dried quickly in the wind.
One of the painters was Kerrie Joy, a local artist, who said the fence was a perfect symbol for a grassroots campaign.
Calderón trails Mayor Michael Hancock and two other challengers in terms of fundraising. Hancock raised $1.7 million as of April 17, while Calderón has raised about $99,622.
“When you have a grassroots campaign, a true grassroots campaign, it’s really hard to access those things,” Joy said, alluding to money and advertising.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re activating people the way that the establishment has been activating money,” she added.
Volunteer R. J. Harker was so activated that she came away with a purple palm after spilling some paint upon opening a can.
Christopher Savin, who has knocked on doors, staffed tables and made phone calls on Calderón’s behalf, said he had not expected his volunteer job would include painting. He called it “exhilarating.”
“It’s time for a lot of changes in Denver. Painting a fence purple seems to sum up the mood for that,” Savin said. “So, it’s kind of exciting in the home stretch.”
Calderón arrived from another campaign stop just as the paint was drying and as a Prince song was playing inside the café. She wore a mostly purple dress.
“I feel so honored,” she said after thanking Birhanemaskel and the paint crew. “Purple – it’s been my favorite for a long time and as we’re listening to Prince, I couldn’t think of a better way to come full circle.”
Calderón also noted the diversity among the painters.
“This is the Denver we want to live in,” she said. “Everyone has a place at the table or painting the purple fence.”