By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The down to the wire race for state treasurer race between incumbent Democrat Cary Kennedy and Republican challenger Walker Stapleton has deteriorated over the last few days to a mud slinging battle over a DUI conviction Stapleton received a over decade ago.
Kennedy released a television advertisement on Tuesday attacking Stapleton’s honesty in revealing his DUI conviction that involved a car accident in San Francisco in 1999. The ad points to the fact that Stapleton didn’t reveal the conviction until more than a year into his candidacy for the statewide office.
Stapleton initially mentioned the DUI conviction in September during the “Colorado Decides” debate hosted by CBS4 Denver and KBDI Channel 12 between himself and Kennedy. He admitted the conviction after moderator Eric Sondermann asked the candidates if they had ever received a felony, misdemeanor or DUI. Kennedy said she had never been arrested.
Stapleton later told the Denver Post that the accident in June of 1999 happened after his car struck a taxi that ran a blinking yellow light. He also told the Post that he pulled over a block away following the accident before police arrived.
The issue was raised again last week when the liberal-coalition group, Campaign for a Strong Colorado, released court documents revealing Stapleton was also initially charged with hit-and-run after hitting the taxi and injuring two victims. The hit-and-run charge was later dropped, Stapleton said, after he explained to police that he pulled off the road a block away to move from traffic.
“The police dropped charges when they were wrong in assessing those charges in the first place,” said Michael Fortney, Stapleton’s spokesman, this week.
Even though the wording in the court documents could be interpreted to mean that Stapleton hit a pedestrian crossing a crosswalk, a San Francisco public information officer said Stapleton did not hit any pedestrians, according to the Post story.
Stapleton pleaded no contest to the DUI and he served community service by picking up trash and spending time at a nursing home in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, he said. Fortney said the campaign is filing a written request with the San Francisco Police records department to obtain the police report, which by California law isn’t public, in order to prove Stapleton’s version of the story.
In a letter to supporters regarding her new ad against her GOP rival, Kennedy said she spoke with Ginger Vasquez, a victim in the accident, before going forth with the ad.
“I learned as much as possible about the incident before deciding to run this ad,” she said. “I spoke to a victim in the accident and she confirmed that the charges are true.
“I do not like negative attacks. But I do believe this incident is serious enough that Colorado voters need to know about it,” Kennedy said.
The ad comes a week before the election where both candidates are virtually tied for the lead according to polls. Stapleton is upset at the timing of the ad, which Fortney called “overtly political” and “pathetic.”
The language in the ad is “false” and designed to be misleading, Fortney said.
According to Kennedy’s ad, “Stapleton was finally forced to admit being arrested for a DUI and charged with a hit-and-run.”
“He was asked about it (at the debate) point-blank and he point-blank answered — he was never forced to admit anything. He owned up to it,” Fortney said.
Fortney said he’s also disappointed that the ad included the hit-and-run charge even though it was later dropped.
The ad also uses a quote that Stapleton provided to the Post after the September debate in which he said, “This is obviously not something I’m proud of, so I’ve not broadcast it. It’s like being forced to eat a doo-doo sandwich: I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t shy away from it either.”
The ad shortens the quote, saying, “Asked to explain why he failed to disclose the DUI, Stapleton said, ‘it was like being forced to eat a doo-doo sandwich.’”
“Cary Kennedy said she doesn’t like these negative attacks and then she goes and does one,” Fortney said. “The story here is Walker Stapleton got a DUI, admitted to it, then the Kennedy campaign (and) liberal attack groups put out a bunch of lies to see what sticks.”
Serena Woods, Kennedy’s campaign spokeswoman, responded Tuesday to Fortney’s accusation that the ad is filled with lies.
“That’s somewhat interesting given that their ad that has been running for the past few weeks has been determined false by both the Denver Post and 9News,” Woods said. “We’ve repeatedly ask them to pull the ad and they have cynically refused.”
Woods is referring to a Stapleton ad where he said, “I’m Walker Stapleton and I approved this message because I’ve never spent a day of my career inside of government and my opponent hasn’t spent a day of her career outside of government.”
Last Monday, 9News reporter Adam Schrager deemed Stapleton’s claim as false, saying, “If you define career as being after an individual finished school, Kennedy’s professional resume includes stints with two different nonprofits in Colorado advocating for kids. From 2000 to 2002, she worked at Educare Colorado and from 2002 to 2004, she worked at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.”
Asked whether Kennedy’s new ad about Stapleton’s DUI is in direct response to his ad, Woods said, “I wouldn’t say it’s a response. Accusing us of lying is interesting given that two large media outlets in Colorado have determined their ad to be false.”
Kennedy, a trained lawyer, is running for a second term. She was first elected in 2006.
Stapleton is the CEO of the real estate company SonomaWest Holdings in California’s wine country. Stapleton’s family owns 48 percent of the shares for the publicly traded company.