Hispanic elected mayor of Denver


DENVER -- Transplanted Texan Federico Pena won the mayor's job by using a coalition of Hispanics, labor unions and newcomers, defeating a former district attorney to become the second Mexican-American to head a major U.S. city.

After all 390 precincts had reported early today, Pena had defeated Dale Tooley by 79,453 votes to 75,043 -- or 51.4 to 48.6 percent. After the results were in, Tooley, walked to the convention center where Pena and his supporters had gathered and the two embraced on the platform.


'Race was never an issue,' Pena said in his victory speech. 'Denver is not Chicago. Today's election sets a new tune for American politics. We are producing a new generation of political leaders.'

Pena will replace Bill McNichols, who had been mayor for 14 years but his hopes for a third term were wiped out by what became known as the 'Pena phenomenon.'

The office of Denver mayor is considered one of the most powerful elected positions in the nation in terms of the lack of city-charter checks and balances.

Pena -- a bachelor, attorney, former legislator and admirer of John F. Kennedy -- decided to stay in Denver after visiting his brother in 1972, and when he takes office in 10 days he and Henry Cisneros of San Antonio will be the only two Mexican-American mayors of major Americancities.


Hot weather, clear skies and an intense campaign led to a record turnout of 73 percent. Officials said more than 155,000 people cast ballots -- roughly 16,000 more votes than were ever counted in a municipal election. A total of 217,348 voters were registered for the election.

When he assumes office, Pena, 36, will become the youngest mayor of Denver since 1947.

'I feel good about everything that we've done,' Pena said. 'This has been a good campaign. It's been an aggressive, vigorous -- biting at times. But the people of Denver will not allow this to turn into what we've seen in other cities.'

Pena built a coalition of labor unions, Hispanics and new residents to stake out the political center and transcend traditional Hispanic issues. He ran strongly in the Hispanic and black neighborhoods of north Denver and the liberal Capitol Hill area, while seizing enough of Tooley's support south of downtown to win the victory.

Denver is 18.7 percent Hispanic.

Tuesday's election was the third defeat in a mayoral race for Tooley, who had resigned his position as Denver district attorney to conduct the campaign. Tooley was defeated in 1971 and 1975 by the outgoing mayor, William McNichols Jr., 73, and it was said of Tooley that he had spent virtually all his public life trying to become mayor of Denver.


The campaign began late last year but shifted into high gear after the May 17 primary, in which Pena and Tooley bested five other candidates to earn spots in Tuesday's runoff. Denver's mayoral elections are non-partisan and both of the finalists were liberal Democrats.

Tooley ceased all public appearances in the final two days after his mother suffered a heart attack, and Pena announced he would do the same out of respect for the Tooley family.

Josephine Tooley, 72, remained in 'stable and serious condition' Tuesday but later in the day her husband, Cliff, said she was improving and would recover.

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