Colorado Dems look to the future at JJ Dinner

The Colorado Statesman

Newark Mayor Cory Booker brought down the house at the Colorado Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson Jackson dinner on Feb. 11, but not before a tribute to former sate Sen. Paul Sandoval moved the crowd to tears.

Sakari Graves, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and DNC member Anthony Graves pose for a souvenir photo.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The state Democrats’ chief fundraising event drew nearly 1,200 donors to the basement of the downtown Sheraton for a banquet, plenty of awards bestowed on party faithfuls, and enough speechifying to stretch more than an hour over schedule, though by the evening’s rousing conclusion, hardly anyone was complaining.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the featured speaker at the Colorado Democrats’ 79th annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner, poses with state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, at a VIP reception beforehand.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio began the awards by acknowledging all the members of the state Reapportionment Commission, tasked with drawing legislative districts, and then joked that he had wanted to present the Chairman’s Award to Republican commissioner Mario Nicolais “for his outstanding work on behalf of Democrats.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker fires up the crowd during his keynote speech at the Colorado Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson dinner on Feb. 11 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

But then, instead, he said he decided to recognize the person Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty credited for the Democrats’ winning strategy and brought attorney Scott Martinez to the stage.

“I’m proud to be a Democratic hack, as some of you may have heard,” quipped Martinez, who was recently appointed Denver’s deputy city attorney.

As a slideshow at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner depicting Lifetime Achievement award winner Paul Sandoval’s years of public service plays, his wife, former state Sen. Paula Sandoval, Democratic Chairman Rick Palacio and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar watch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Presenting the Volunteer of the Year award to Denver County Vice Chair Susan Rogers, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, began by saying that she was happy to have a debate about access to birth control during an election year.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker embraces Gov. John Hickenlooper after he and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock introduced the keynote speaker.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“They’ve got money, but we’ve got shoe leather,” DeGette said, after listing myriad ways Rogers steps up to help Democrats raise money and turn out the vote.

“That’s all we have to do, is walk that extra block and make that extra phone call, so please join me in doing that,” Rogers said.

State Sen. Linda Newell poses for a snapshot with Newark Mayor Cory Booker following Booker’s keynote address at the Jefferson Jackson dinner on Feb. 11.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I would like to be the first to congratulate Rick Santorum for winning the state of Colorado. And it allowed me to get a good night’s sleep that night, a very good night’s sleep,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet before presenting the Democrat of the Year award to state Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

Gov. John Hickenlooper introduces Newark Mayor Cory Booker at the state Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson dinner on Feb. 11 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter honored Commerce City Councilman and legislative candidate Dominick Moreno with the Rising Star award, noting that the young politician”is everywhere all the time.”

Rising Star honoree Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City councilman and legislative candidate, tells Democrats he learned the values of opportunity and education from his parents.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

But the evening turned more somber when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar presented the party’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Sandoval, who was diagnosed nearly a year ago with advanced pancreatic cancer and couldn’t attend the dinner.

Recently appointed Denver deputy city attorney, Scott Martinez accepts the Chairman’s Award for Service and jokes that he’s a “Democratic hack” after his work guiding the party’s reapportionment and redistricting efforts.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Salazar, whose political rise — from state attorney general to the U.S. Senate and into the Cabinet — was plotted on a napkin 15 years ago in a back room at La Casita, the tamale shop Sandoval has run in northwest Denver for decades, credited Sandoval with shepherding the political dreams of many of the state’s most powerful politicians. “He is a dream-maker, even tonight,” Salazar said. “For all of us here, it means we take that baton from Paul.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall trades jokes with state Democratic Chairman Rick Palacio during introductory remarks at the annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Denver on Feb. 11.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“His spirit is indefatigable,” Salazar said, adding that he had visited Sandoval at his home the previous day. “He was still upbeat, he was still giving me advice, he was telling me what I should tell the President of the United States.”

Ann Knollman, CD 7 Democratic Chair, relaxes for a minute with State Chair Rick Palacio.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Accepting the award, his wife, former state Sen. and former Denver City Councilwoman Paula Sandoval, said her husband has devoted his life to helping both everyday people and powerful politicians “with such pure joy, from the heart.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, left, and DNC member Mannie Rodriguez seem to be enthralled with something coming in on the cell phone.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

She said that her husband’s last year has been spent “in the fight of his life,” and that even though he decided last month to suspend chemotherapy and go into hospice treatment, “He’s kept his spirits up through all of it. He is upbeat, he keeps trying.”

Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, left, his wife, Nancy Henderson, and Carroll Beach, former president/CEO at Colorado Credit Union League, are all smiles during the VIP reception at the J J Dinner.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Booker was introduced by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who bracket Booker,
in a sense: The Newark mayor looked to former Denver Mayor Hickenlooper for advice when he was first elected and, in turn, served as inspiration for Hancock when he was running for office a year ago.

Political consultant Rick Ridder, president of RBI Stategies and Research, talks with Helen Thorpe, Colorado’s first lady.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Booker opened with an extended story about his travails trying to make a flight. At each successive hurdle, when someone standing in his way would tell him what he was trying to do was impossible, Booker said he had to put his hand on his hip and explain that his mama — and then his grandmother and his great-grandmother, known as “Big Mama” in the family — told him there was no such thing.

CU Regent Michael Carrigan of CD 1, At-Large member Stephen Ludwig, CD 3 Regent candidate Jessica Garrow and Irene Griego from CD 7 pose together for a group photo.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Booker said he traveled to Colorado because the Obama campaign had told him it was the critical state for the president’s reelection. The meat of his speech was long list of answers to administration skeptics, specifically the refrain first uttered by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: “‘How’s that hopey-and-changey stuff going for ya?’” Booker repeated. “Well, let me tell you what hope is, and what change is.” Then he launched into a sustained run that had the crowd shouting “Hope is —” again and again.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and Steve Farber of the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck have a hard time containing their smiles.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“Hope is,” he began, his voice rising, “that during the depth of the worst economy of our generation, when we’re losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month — hope is believing that we can have a leader that will reverse that trend. And change,” he said, “is Barack Obama, who came in and reversed the terrible trend and has 23 straight months of job creation.”

Kent Glassman is accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter Abby, who’s been attending the annual Democratic dinners for several years.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Booker continued with a list of accomplishments he credited to Obama, including saving auto manufacturers, enforcing the Lilly Ledbetter Act to require equal pay for women, and bringing an end to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that excluded openly gay soldiers.

Democratic State Chairman Rick Palacio stands with Mayor Cory Booker at the pre-dinner reception at the downtown Sheraton Hotel on Feb. 11.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

At the climax of his 35-minute speech — which had Democrats shouting, repeatedly leaping to their feet, and shaking their hands in the air — Booker concluded by answering critics with his mother’s adage when they cast doubt on Obama’s reelection chances.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, left, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-CD 2, share a laugh during the VIP reception at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner at the downtown Sheraton Hotel on Feb. 11.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“To all those people who say our quest is but a dream and our efforts are but impossible,” Booker roared, and then propped his hand on his hip and deadpanned, “my momma told me no such thing as impossible.”

Already whipped into a frenzy, Democrats nearly exploded with laughter and applause, rushing the stage seeing autographs and snapshots with Booker.

“Oh, my word,” said state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, fanning herself and looking like it was taking some effort to readjust to her surroundings moments after Booker had finished. “I have not heard that powerful of a speech in very many years,” she said, adding that she could envision Booker as a future presidential candidate.
Moreno had similar praise for Booker’s speech, which he dubbed “phenomenal.”

“He fired me up. I’m ready to reelect the president. I’m ready to win my own election and make sure Democrats up and down the ticket win their own elections,” he said. Then he chuckled and added: “Half way through my own speech, I got a little nervous because I looked at the first table and there was Cory Booker, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m speaking before Cory Booker,’ but I didn’t let my nerves get the best of me, and I got through,” he added with a look of relief.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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