It took Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca less than six months to undermine her own message and confirm the worst fears of her detractors. 

CdeBaca claims she wants to change the political power structure in Denver. And in some respects, she has done so through her unapologetic approach. But she can’t be successful if she undermines the trust of the people she represents.

Mario Nicolais

After sustaining a week of criticism for attempting to put the woman she lives with on the City’s payroll, CdeBaca withdrew the request when she realized it would be “an unnecessary stain on our record.” Unfortunately for her, these types of stain tend to set fast once spilled on the floor.

CdeBaca ran a tough, disciplined, upstart campaign to earn her seat against incumbent Denver City Council President Albus Brooks last June.

Her undeniable energy and passion during the election not only helped to sway uncommitted voters, but likely brought many unengaged Denverites to the polls for the first time, if not ever, then at least in many years.

Throughout the campaign, CdeBaca attacked Brooks relentlessly for his connection to developers and monied interests. She insinuated that Brooks fell victim to the time-tested platitude “power corrupts.”

And thanks to CdeBaca’s own actions, Denver got a glimpse of how fast that can happen.

I have no reason to doubt that CdeBaca’s partner, Kerrie Joy Landell, works tireless hours on community outreach and events within CdeBaca’s district.

Furthermore, given CdeBaca’s success, I’d assume Landell is good at it. Political campaigns, and particularly underdog efforts, aren’t won alone and require the devoted help of good people around the candidate.

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Just as I laid much of Jamie Giellis’ failed bid for mayor at the door of her inept campaign staff, CdeBaca’s campaign crew, most prominently Landell, deserve recognition for charting a course to victory.

And maybe Landell does deserve compensation from the city coffers to provide her services – just not in CdeBaca’s office. 

Political nepotism is hardly a new concept. And CdeBaca is hardly the most blatant offender. Her attempts pale in comparison to the ridiculous visual of Ivanka Trump being foisted upon world leaders at the G20 summit in July.

And here in Colorado, political candidates have not only used campaign cash to pay family members, but themselves as well.

But CdeBaca carefully curated an image of herself as a reformer and honest broker on the campaign trail. She embraced the characterization of herself as a champion against corruption. And my guess is a lot of people voted for her hoping she’d act accordingly.

So quickly engaging in an action that gives rise to the appearance of corruption – if not actual corruption itself – betrays the trust voters placed in her.

What’s more, doubling down by stating that the situation may be “too difficult for people to understand” simply insults those same voters.

In fact, the concept that hiring family members should concern the public is so ingrained that the City of Denver ethics code defines it as a de facto conflict of interest. Presumably that wasn’t too difficult for CdeBaca to understand, which is why she sought a waiver in the first place.

CdeBaca’s actions have also filled the sails of her staunchest critics. Described as a communist by some opponents, to which she replied by labeling herself an anarchist, CdeBaca’s nepotism provided a “told you so” moment.

Certainly, it made her seem as though she believed the “equitable” solutions she proposed to replace capitalism should start at her own doorstep. 

CdeBaca made a name for herself attacking others for perceived abuse and corruption within the city government. She even hired one of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s fiercest electoral opponents to lead her office, ostensibly to combat the same powers to which she accused Brooks of being beholden. But that image took a major blow last week.

Only a few months into her first term, CdeBaca now looks like just another public official willing to betray the public trust in order to benefit her own interests.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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