Jim Monaghan left a larger than life mark on Colorado's political scene

The Colorado Statesman

James Edward Monaghan Jr., the larger than life political figure who brought so many distinguished Coloradans, friends and family members together for a final farewell at Holy Ghost Church in downtown Denver on May 22, probably would have been a little embarrassed by all the fuss. He was never one to hog the limelight during his brilliant and storied career as a political consultant, high placed business confidant and legendary powerbroker.

And, more importantly, as the father to sons Jimmy III and Brian, two step children, husband to loving wife Lisa, and “Pappy” to four grandchildren whose lives he dramatically impacted.

Public affairs consultants Steve Katich, Maria Garcia Berry and former Gov. Dick Lamm pose in front of framed pictures of good friend Jim Monaghan at a reception at the Governor’s Residence on May 22, 2013. A well known political consultant who died at the age of 66, Monaghan was remembered by Lamm in a stirring eulogy earlier that day.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Jim died on May 15 at the age of 66 after a brief illness. But his legacy can hardly be described in such brevity. Seated in the pews of the cavernous church were his protegés from over the years, ranging from governors, mayors and other elected officials, lawyers, business people, political consultants — even one time political adversaries — hundreds who were touched by Monaghan in some way or capacity.

Former U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek, Monaghan and political consultant Ed Graham at a 1980 fundraiser for Kogo in Denver.

And, of course, his two sons and angelic four young grandchildren.

Former Gov. Richard Lamm, whose 1974 campaign for governor was masterminded in large part by Monaghan, spoke of the expansive reach of his longtime friend, whom he referred to as the “mentor-in-chief” of his administration. “There are dozens like that — the audience is full of them — people who were inspired and mentored by Jim. They were inspired by his kindness, generosity, integrity, and selflessness,” the former three-term governor stated as one of the two eulogists at the funeral services that morning.

Judi Wolf, Molly Gilford, Monaghan’s wife Lisa Gilford and Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown at the reception honoring Jim Monaghan on May 22 at the carriage house at the Governor’s Residence.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The evidence was in plain view.

Inside the church and milling around outside afterwards were some of the dozens alluded to by Lamm: political consultant and lobbyist Maria Garcia Berry; governmental affairs pro Steve Katich, who saw a photo of himself and other Lamm campaigners from the 1970s at the reception afterwards and giggled outloud upon remembering the paltry $60 a month and eight cents a mile he made driving around the state to get Lamm elected in those early years; attorneys Jim Lyons, Mark Grueskin, Pat Teegarden, John Head and Dick Freese; former candidate and Democratic State Chair Buie Seawell; lobbyist Don Eberle; political consultants Steve Welchert, David Kenney, Marge Price, David Cole and Mike Stratton there with grown-up son Samuel, Alan Salazar — Democrats. And Republican firebrand Dick Wadhams with Rick Reiter sitting nearby; veteran GOP strategist Walt Klein; Chris Leding, who worked with Monaghan during his days representing Continental Airlines and who retires from her current position as executive director of GOCO next month after 19 years; David Miller, president of the Denver Foundation and previously a principal in Greenberg, Baron, Simon & Miller, a strategic communications consulting firm that sometimes competed with Monaghan’s own firm in the past; longtime Democratic fundraiser Warren Toltz with his lovely wife Ruth and son Ken; attorneys and supreme power brokers themselves, Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein; Mayor Wellington Webb and former legislator and Denver first lady Wilma Webb; writer, one-time Senate candidate and former Colorado first lady Dottie Lamm; Secretary Federico Peña; former legislator and current City Auditor Dennis Gallagher; CU President Bruce Benson, who developed a friendship with Monaghan after being former political adversaries... the list goes on and the names above are only a smattering of the many people influenced by Monaghan.

Jim Monaghan, who died last week at the age of 66, is pictured here in a more relaxed pose from more than 30 years ago.

And, it bears repeating, his two sons and angelic four young grandchildren.

Public affairs consultants Steve Katich — pointing at the photograph — Maria Garcia Berry, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb reminisce about the good ol’ Dick Lamm days, depicted in several of the photographs displayed at the reception at the Governor’s Residence following Monaghan’s funeral on May 22. Katich got his start in politics in the 1970s with Lamm’s campaign, Garcia Berry was a Lamm confidant over the years, and in 1981, Webb was appointed by Lamm to his cabinet as executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Son Jimmy III spelled out the complicated relationship he shared with his father over the years. He witnessed his workaholic Dad move out of the house so he could be closer to his office. He recalled his mother’s death when he was just a youngster, and his Dad allowing him to cry for only one hour. “Buckle up and be a man,” his stern father instructed.

Jim Monaghan — and the politicians he worked with — were frequently in the media spotlight. At top right of the top photograph, the long-haired Monaghan of the early 1970s is flanked by Colorado folk-pop singer John Denver of ‘Rocky Mountain High’ fame at left, and Dick Lamm, whose gubernatorial campaign he masterminded, at right.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

But the most riveting comments offered by the son at his father’s funeral concerned his own frailities. Jimmy told of his numerous struggles with the law, his on-and-off addiction to cocaine; how his first daughter was born cocaine-positive in 2002 and how his Dad, with whom he had lost contact with over the years, surprised him by appearing in court during the state’s attempt to take custody of the baby and took the little girl himself while his son and daughter-in-law entered rehab.

Dottie Lamm, Lisa Gilford (Monaghan’s wife) and Gov. Dick Lamm at the post-funeral reception at the Governor’s Residence on May 22.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Son Jimmy referred to it as the beginning of a period of “redemption and grace” that would later unite the broken family.

James “Jimmy” Monaghan III, who delivered a powerful and emotional eulogy of his father earlier that day, talks with Anschutz Corp. president Cy Harvey and his wife, Lyndia, at a reception later that day.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Jim was born a mere 10 minutes before April Fool’s day, 1947. His printed biography on the church program called it a divine irony, as the youthful exploits of his formative years at CSU could fill volumes.

On Earth Day in 1970, just as he was approaching graduation from college, Jim found his intellectual counterpart and lifelong friend, Richard Lamm, and the chance encounter launched Jim down the path of public service. “Their shared respect for Colorado as a natural resource led to a bold political defense of the environment that became the foundation for policy nationwide,” the biography continued.

By the time Lamm finished his third term as governor, Monaghan was already an influential powerbroker whose skills in campaign management and issue strategy became linked with prominent politicians of the day: among them Gary Hart, Roy Romer, Tim Wirth, Wellington Webb, and even a guy named Clinton.

“Committed to social equality, Jim was instrumental in helping Holy Ghost’s beloved Father Woody provide resources and services for Denver’s homeless population,” his bio further pointed out.

“With his late wife Carol Foster, Jim played a silent but critical role in founding ‘Adoption Option,’ a non-profit open adoption agency that, to this day, brings together grateful families regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation...”

His work in the private sector, it was noted, also found him in the war rooms of US West, Coca-Cola, Continental Airlines and longtime client, The Anschutz Company.

“I was introduced to Jim Monaghan in 1977 by way of Tim Wirth,” recalled attorney Norm Brownstein in a conversation this week. It was about the time that he and Steve Farber were developing their business relationship, Brownstein said, “and Tim said you really ought to meet Jim because he is an incredible person that understands how politics relate to society. And he said he probably knows more about environmental issues and understands the politics of the environment than anyone he previously met.”

Lamm had been elected governor right around that time with virtually no business support, Brownstein recalled. “Steve and I went over to meet with him and I think we were first the first business people to meet with him. We were concerned about the business and real estate community.”

Monaghan’s early understanding of the competing forces that come into play was evident back then.
When they were trying to build I-470, Brownstein remembered, Monaghan was absolutely against building it — and Gov. Lamm, as well — because it would create urban sprawl. What was so interesting, Brownstein said, was Monaghan’s correct premonition that the money that would be saved could pay for mass transit and would be one of the major things that could cut urban sprawl.

“Jim saw when no one else really did the impact mass transit would have on that corridor. And now, of course, we have rail and Fastracks and things that didn’t exist then, due in part to his insight of how important mass transit was.”

Monaghan was an incredibly astute person in the political process, perhaps the most astute, Brownstein continued. “His influence will be felt for many, many years to come... His impact will be felt a long time. How issues should drive politics — politics should not drive issues — that is his legacy.

“[Jim] was a good friend, as honorable as you can be in any issue he was involved in. But he did not suffer fools lightly and he was absolutely ferocious in his advocacy. He is worthy of every acknowledgement, every kudo and every wonderful thing that was said about him.” In fact, Brownstein concluded, “Everything described at the service was probably understated...”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com