The final debate of the mayoral season, hosted by The Denver Post and the Denver Press Club, couldn’t have ended any other way — with both candidates reeling. Mayor Michael Hancock made a full-on gaffe in his final question of the night, one addressing his most problematic issue — the sexually suggestive texts he sent in 2012 to Detective Leslie Branch-Wise.
In his final rebuttal, after noting that the texts were inappropriate, he was asked why he wouldn’t admit he was guilty of sexual harassment — which, by the way, I’m convinced he was — when the texts were revealed last year.
His answer: “When you see the texts from Detective Branch-Wise, you see my texts. The reason I said it wasn’t sexual harassment is because you don’t see the back-and-forth conversation that occurred.”
Which was the exact wrong answer, as the debate crowd loudly noted. It was a bad case of victim-blaming. If you’re mayor and you’re suggestively texting with someone who works for you, the power dynamic involved, the dynamic that Branch-Wise once called “chilling,” is the textbook definition of sexual harassment. On Wednesday, Hancock apologized in a statement and he apologized at a neighborhood forum and, despite both apologies — in which he defined the problem, in which he said he understood the power dynamic issue, in which he said it’s all on him and no one else and in which he apologized again for “poor judgment” — he still could never bring himself to use the words “sexual harassment.”
But here’s the strange part. As of now, I still can’t say whether that was the worst mistake of the night. Because immediately following Hancock’s rebuttal, challenger Jamie Giellis gave her 90-second summation. During the debate, Giellis had been asked again to discuss her NAACP embarrassment, her taco/low-rider flub, her why-do-we-still-have-Chinatowns tweet, the poor responses to each mistake, and the sense that she seems to have an issue with cultural sensitivity in a multicultural city.
To make matters worse, Giellis admits up front that if she wins, “I am going to fumble and I am going to stumble, but I’m willing to step up and learn by surrounding myself with people of diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives who will challenge me to do better …”
It sounds as if she’s actually conceding that these stumbles and fumbles she anticipates would bring us back to yet other culturally sensitive subjects. But, she says, not to worry because she’s surrounding herself with, I guess, the team of rivals — Lisa Calderon and Penfield Tate— and other people of color who can advise her on how to relate to minority communities.
So we’re being asked to elect a mayor who worries that she can’t find her way around culturally sensitive topics without help? Seriously?
Here’s where we find ourselves.
It seems pretty likely that in the first round of voting, much of the vote for Giellis, who entered the race with little name recognition, was a vote against Hancock. Now we have to wonder whether Hancock might benefit from some anti-Giellis vote.
It’s sort of a joke now that Denver really isn’t into either of the candidates. I advise never going to social media for confirmation of anything, but I did see something on Twitter that made me laugh about the state of the race.
I found one person (assuming it was a person and not a bot) arguing for Giellis, making this case: In four years, when better candidates might emerge, it will be easier to vote her out of office than beat back whoever would be Hancock’s hand-picked candidate for the job.
And then came another arguing the reason to vote for Hancock was that we’d have him for only four more years whereas if Giellis were elected, we might have her for eight or 12 years.
In other words, you’ve got lesser-of-two-evils arguments on steroids or whatever substance it is that athletes typically abuse these days.
We know, of course, that politicians in general are extremely unpopular in these times, nearly as unpopular as journalists. And we know that Denver’s prolonged growth spurt has an entire city roiled. For evidence of the roiling, there’s this: The mayoral race is one of seven runoffs in the June 4 municipal election.
In any case, the math seems to confirm the Twitter account. Hancock, seeking his third term, won a disappointing (to him) 39 percent of the vote in the first round despite leading a city that is now maybe the hottest city in the country. As runner-up and thereby qualifying for the run-off, challenger Giellis won an unimpressive (to most people) 25 percent of the vote despite promising to deal with the rapid pace of development.
As I may have noted before, the race for mayor began as a referendum on Hancock’s two terms in office and particularly on the way he has handled Denver’s explosive growth. It ends on the same note, but now competing with a concern whether Giellis is prepared to deal with the range of diversity that makes Denver so appealing.