Bennet and Romanoff headline El Paso Dems Dinner

The St. Patrick's Day Gala & Auction brought luck and bucks

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging him in a likely primary, headlined the “St. Patrick’s Day Gala and Auction” — an annual fundraiser to keep El Paso County Democratic Party “green all year long,” according to the dinner program.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff is greeted by former National Democratic Party Committeeman Ed Raye.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen
Special to The Colorado Statesman

The event, which raised more than $20,000, was held March 19 in the Cheyenne Mountain Resort’s ballroom with a wall of windows showcasing the mountain range, but on this evening the view was limited to snow, snow and more snow.

During the reception, guests were treated to glasses of wine and trays of hors d’oeuvres and listened to Celtic music as they previewed more than 125 auction items that ranged from a leather bound collector’s edition of Moby Dick to a 10-day vacation in Belize. Bidders also had a choice of vacations in Mexico City, Orlando and New York City, the latter was won by Pat Hill.

The Kymco People motor scooter, donated by J.B. Penner and valued at $2,500, caught the eye of state Rep. Michael Merrifield, a manpowered mountain biking enthusiast. But the high bidder was Ian Griffis, who co-founded Griffis/Blessing, a real estate and property management firm.

Two hot ticket political items were “Burgers with Bennet,” billed as “your chance to ask those burning questions up close and in person,” and a day on the campaign trail with Romanoff. Rick Ricker won the Bennet and burgers gabfest and Griffis scored a day with Romanoff.

As the silent auction was closing, Bennet aides and Romanoff campaign staffers called or text messaged on cell phones to check on their bosses’ progress in navigating through nearly blizzard conditions. The luck of the Democrats prevailed when Bennet and Romanoff arrived shortly before the dinner.

Chuck Murphy, CEO of Murphy Constructors, shares a laugh with Senator Michael Bennet during the wine-and-cheese reception and auction preview.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen
Special to The Colorado Statesman

Romanoff immediately circulated the reception room, shaking hands and conversing with folks such as former Democratic National Committeeman Ed Raye, state Reps. Dennis Apuan and Merrifield, and Pete Lee, who aims to fill the House District 18 seat being vacated by Merrifield.

Bennet was greeted by his U.S. Senate Office District Director Ann Oatman-Gardner and El Paso County Executive Director Cristy Le Lait, a former staffer on Hal Bidlack’s 5th District congressional campaign in 2008. He chatted with county party 1st Vice Chair Judy Ingelido, Democratic heavy hitter and community activist Chuck Murphy, former county party chair Sharon Berthrong and Public Trustee Tom Mowle, who is running for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder.

Bidlack, who was elected county party chair earlier this month, missed the gala but sent a message that set a celebrative tone for the evening.

“Please accept my sincere apology for not being with you tonight,” said Bidlack. “As you read these words, I am quite literally at my wedding rehearsal, and tomorrow I have the great honor and joy to be marrying a wonderful and caring woman.”

That “wonderful and caring woman” is Dana Cole, who had worked on Bidlack’s congressional campaign.

Bidlack encouraged Democrats to celebrate the elections of President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2008, but focus on the future to elect and re-elect “outstanding public servants.”

El Paso County Democratic Party Executive Director Christy Le Lait and County Public Trustee Tom Mowle, a Democratic contender for county clerk & recorder.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen
Special to The Colorado Statesman

State Senate Majority Leader John Morse navigated through the snowstorm from Denver to Colorado Springs and arrived as the “Irish” corned beef soup was being served. The main fare offered a choice of lamb, salmon or vegetable Wellington.

Romanoff, who spoke at the start of dinner, praised the Democrats’ grassroots activism and seized the opportunity to hammer his “Main Street” versus “Wall Street” message.

"Sometimes when we send folks to far-off lands like Washington D.C., they forget who sent them there, or why. They become much more interested in their own job security than ours. They become scared of their own shadows, or cowed by their party leaders or seduced by the special interests that subsidize their campaigns. That is a mistake we ought not to allow them to make," declared Romanoff.

"If you like the way Washington works, by all means vote for somebody else," he added.

Bennet, who spoke at the close of dinner, lauded the Democratic activists and implored them to stay involved and work hard in this election season. He felt confident that the health care bill would pass in the House and later, the Senate. It was signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday.

“I said I'd vote for health care reform even if it cost me my job. I stand by that because I believe helping 30 million people is my job, that no child should be denied treatment due to a "pre-existing condition," and that it's critical to put an end to skyrocketing health care costs,” said Bennet in an e-mail.

In his remarks at the dinner last Friday, the Senator seemed to ignore his challenger Romanoff. But, then Bennet was in a very safe territory.

Three days earlier Romanoff had won the statewide caucuses’ preference poll, 49.9 percent to 41.9 percent. Yet, the preference polls in El Paso County Democratic Party caucuses produced flipside results — Bennet captured 51. 3 percent of the votes and Romanoff received 40.7 percent.

“It was a very classy dinner!” exclaimed Le Lait. “Our gratitude goes to Kathleen Ricker and the fundraising organizing committee.”

Members of the committee include Jane Ard-Smith, Regina Andrews, Janie Berkbigler, Elaine Brush, Virginia Carlson, Linda Dyer, Jill McCormick, Kathy McQuillan, Brook Squire and Lori Thom. The committee not only snared donations for the auction, they sold ads in the 16-page dinner program and raised more than $4,000 to offset the event costs.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com