The leaders of New Era Colorado promised a different kind of candidates’ forum Wednesday night. When some would-be Boulder City Council members mounted the stage carrying pints of beer and the mistress of ceremonies announced “martini specials,” you knew they weren’t lying.
If the brisk sales of alcohol in the back room of the Trilogy Bar didn’t say it all, the T-shirts New Era sold to raise money to get out the infamously indifferent youth vote sure did:
Dayna Himot had a little trouble explaining that one to her six- and eight-year-old sons.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “I don’t have a babysitter. I wanted to take a moment to get informed.”
She was talking about political issues, not what is known in the Himot household as “the F-bomb.” “My son asked me about the T-shirts,” Himot said. “I told him they were trying to make the meeting hip by using slang.”
Then, she realized why edgy can mean uncomfortable.
“How can I tell my son not to use the F-bomb, if that’s what we’re using to get young people to vote?”
Better than some offered in the crunchy granola, oh-so-Boulder introductions of candidates. The potential office holders were asked what they had for breakfast and the name of their first pet and the street they grew up on.The candidates also were put on the spot with a question about their “most common mode of transportation.” When a few answered proudly that they didn’t own cars, you could almost see their rivals turn green with envy.
In the interest of the video-game-induced attention deficit disorder that afflicts many of New Era’s target audience, each candidate got one question and about a minute to answer. Then, everyone mingled.
The forum even included unintentional but effective sound effects.
As candidate Shawn Coleman, clarinetist and car salesman by trade, struggled to address the issue of dangerous student behavior on and around the University of Colorado campus, someone accidentally dropped a wine glass, which shattered loudly on the concrete floor.
Overseeing this spectacle was New Era Colorado executive director Steve Fenberg, resplendent in pinstripe sport coat, blue jeans and a silver stud in his pierced right nostril.
“The real thing is to get candidates in the room with people,” he said.
They did that.
Time will test New Era Colorado’s effectiveness. But when an organization of young voters can draw 19 of 22 City Council candidates to its forum, as happened Wednesday night, you have at least the beginnings of a movement.
“New Era Colorado represents the future of the Democratic process,” said Jared Polis, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the Boulder-based 2nd Congressional District.
Polis showed up, along with primary opponent Will Shafroth, to sing the praises of the civic gathering. The third congressional primary candidate, state senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald, didn’t come. But someone hung a giant banner advertising her candidacy alone one wall.
Polis talked of “people-powered campaigns” and youthful enthusiasm.
Both will be measured in the turnout of the coveted, but elusive 18-to-34 demographic in the November Boulder election and the 2008 presidential, congressional and state elections.
“We saw a pretty significant void for young people getting involved in politics,” Fenberg told the overflow crowd at the Trilogy. “We’re not around for just one election. We want to create a culture of political awareness.”
If they’re careful where they drop their F-bomb T-shirts and serve their martini specials, they just might succeed.