Editor's note: This story is a reprint of a profile of Steve Farber by reporter Ernest Luning that ran in The Colorado Statesman (the precursor to Colorado Politics) in December 2015.
A television screen filled with images of protesters and vigils and presidential candidates competes for space on one of Denver attorney Steve Farber’s office walls, chock-a-block between framed newspaper clippings, memorabilia and photographs of Farber with some of the most recognizable faces in America and nearly every major author of Colorado’s recent history.
There’s Farber with presidents and governors and senators and mayors. There he is with sports heroes and business leaders. But on nearly every square foot of his office walls, there he is with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, friends of Farber’s for decades.
As turmoil and arguments flashed across the screen, Farber reflected on more than 25 years at the center of Colorado politics — first helping college classmate, fraternity brother and firm partner Hank Brown get elected and then chairing Gov. Roy Romer’s three campaigns — and on a task he’s set for the year ahead, helping Hillary Clinton win election as president.
Farber, a member of Clinton’s Colorado Leadership Council, ranks among the select group of so-called "Hillblazers," bundlers who have raised more than $100,000 for the Clinton campaign.
His career is the stuff of local legend. After growing up in North Denver — he’s featured in the “I Am a Viking” publicity campaign along with other prominent alums of North High School — Farber and childhood pal Norm Brownstein attended college and law school at the University of Colorado in Boulder and went on to found powerhouse law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which operates across the country, including a Washington, D.C., office so influential that Ted Kennedy once dubbed Brownstein the 101st senator.
It’s hard to talk about Farber without using the term “powerhouse.” He’s been named one of Colorado’s Lawyers of the Decade and the Businessperson of the Year. There’s hardly a leading Democrat in the state who hasn’t benefited from Farber’s advice and help raising money.
He represented the Denver Broncos in negotiations for their new stadium and helmed the site committee that brought the Democratic National Convention to Denver in 2008. (A ticket to the 1908 DNC in Denver hangs on his wall near a picture of Farber and Bill Clinton at the opening of the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver, which Farber co-chaired for two years with attorney Steve Bachar.)
“I don’t ever say it’s easy to raise money for political candidates, especially in years like this where there’s a lot of controversy going on,” Farber said, pointing to the TV screen. “What we’re sitting here watching is frightening. I’ve raised money in a lot of campaigns for a lot of years. It’s never easy. When you talk to people — and most of the time you’re calling your friends and good acquaintances —the question you ask is, what are you looking for in the next president of the United States.”
Farber has concluded that donors aren’t so much concerned about political parties these days. “It’s not about the Republicans, and it’s not about the Democrats. It’s about leadership. People want leadership. That’s who they’re looking for, that’s who they’re prepared to vote for.”
And he says Hillary Clinton fits the bill.
“It’s someone who can step in and lead our country, someone who can step in and deal with the international front, to be able to deal with the leaders of other countries, maybe more so than at any other time in our lifetime. It’s a time when our eyes are open, and we know around every corner, there’s some danger,” he said.
“What we’re dealing with isn’t good for any political party. I’m supportive of Hillary because of what she brings to the table. I seem to be having a good line of communication with my friends that are, even, Republicans. They’re looking for the right person to support, and right now that’s falling on Hillary.”
While some of the usual partisan divides seem to be crumbling, that isn’t a new situation for Farber, who counts prominent Republicans in his inner circle.
“I have so many friends that are Republicans that it’s tough to divide us up. We care a lot about the same things.” Noting that Brown, a former Republican U.S. senator, works just down the hall, Farber adds, “It’s tough not to work together to get a lot of things done.”
Farber says he learned early the value of reaching across the aisle. When he was running Romer’s first campaign for governor, he recalled, “There was a guy named Bill Coors, who was supporting every Republican. I went up to him at a meeting I was at and said, ‘Roy Romer thinks the world of you, are you going to support him?’ He said, ‘You know, I’d like to, but I just don’t know if I can get away with it in my house.’ I said, ‘What if I went to some of the key Republican business people and they said they’d support you, I assume you’d be thrilled with that?’ He said OK. We had like 30 Republicans. It taught me a good lesson: Don’t worry about what party they are.”
For Farber, it’s all about getting to the table and finding solutions.
He lamented the recent divide over whether the United States should accept Syrian refugees. “We’ve heard all our lives — when I was a young kid, the immigrants were settling in Denver. I’m an American. America is based on opening our doors to people, being civil to people who need help. We’ve always been that way.” But the answer isn’t to draw lines and score political points, he said. “It is a crisis, and I hate to see us not solving problems that are there to be solved. If somebody said to me, ‘Will you sit down and work on a committee to solve this?’ I would do it. Nothing’s insolvable.”
It’s a point driven home by a health scare last summer, some dozen years after Farber’s son Gregg donated a kidney to his father — Farber wrote a book after receiving the transplant and started the American Transplant Foundation, which works to eliminate the shortage of transplant organs and has saved lives in 35 states — when Farber was diagnosed with liver cancer. A team at Anschutz Medical Center, he recalled, told him, “‘We’re going to give you one shot, and if that works, it’ll clear the cancer from your system, and if it doesn’t, we’ll figure something else,’” Farber said. “They gave me the shot and I went back five weeks later and they gave me the scan, and it was clean. I had a lot of people praying, Jews and non-Jews, maybe Syrians,” he said with a smile. “But whatever it was, I was plain lucky, and I’ll do whatever I can do to help people save their lives. Maybe that wasn’t my time to go yet.”
Looking ahead, Farber declined to speculate about future campaigns in Colorado — “You never know in politics what’s around the corner, what’s the next thing,” he said — although he did drop a suggestion that longtime political ally Ken Salazar has at least one more campaign ahead.
“There’s different rules for every election,” he said. “You sit back and you wonder who’s going to run that election, what your involvement’s going to be. I expect at some point they’ll come and say, ‘Thanks, Steve, you’ve done a great job,’” he smiled. “Whatever I’ve done, I hope I’ve gotten as much out of it as the candidates. It’s an opportunity presented you just can’t not take advantage of.”