Political patronage has no place in American politics, and yet the practice of putting friends, relatives, and donors in plum jobs is so ever-present that when Denver mayoral candidate Kelly Brough blew the whistle on a politician seeking a job in exchange for an endorsement, no one batted an eye.
But we do not have to accept this small-scale corruption in Denver, even as presidents for decades — Eisenhower, Kennedy and Trump — have given relatives key positions in their administrations. And despite a push for the opposite, Biden continued the tradition of dolling out ambassador positions to political allies although he scaled down the practice from the prior administration.
The next mayor coming in must stand strong against even the appearance of impropriety. In Denver, it is especially critical because of the strong-mayoral format of governance where the mayor’s cabinet wields more power than the 13 elected members of the City Council.
Whether the candidate winning Tuesday’s election is Brough or Mike Johnston, we expect a public and transparent process for filling crucial cabinet seats and other jobs in the administration that have been treated in the past like the spoils of electoral victory rather than taxpayer-funded jobs to serve the public good.
Denver voters are going to have to use their judgment to decide who they believe in the dispute over the sought-after endorsements of the other candidates who ran for mayor in April but did not make the June runoff election.
Brough told The Denver Post that former candidate for mayor Leslie Herod asked her for a job in the mayor’s administration in exchange for her endorsement. Herod has vehemently denied that this occurred and said she instead asked for assurances that women of color would have a seat at the table should Brough win.
Brough displayed integrity and courage standing up against what is clearly wrong – demanding a job in exchange for an endorsement. More politicians should be willing to step forward when they witness wrongdoing in politics.
Obviously, it’s possible Brough made the whole thing up in an attempt to make her opponent Johnston look bad because he ultimately received Herod’s endorsement or in another scenario to keep progressive candidates who endorsed Johnston like Herod and Lisa Calderon from holding important seats in a potential Johnston administration.
Johnston has said he made no promises in exchange for Herod’s endorsement.
The ethics test of course will come after election night when either Brough or Johnston begin assembling a transition team and then filling out the administration’s unclassified positions, a great deal of which will be vacated as employees leave with the Hancock administration — showing just how much the patronage system is ingrained.
Johnston told The Denver Post’s editorial board during the endorsement process that high-level positions in the city — department and agency heads — will be filled through a robust nationwide open and transparent hiring process. We intend to hold him to his word. Such a process should be the standard operating procedure for all hires in the city that are non-classified.
Part of our decision to endorse Johnston was based on the need to clean house in the City of Denver. We need a leader who will stand against outside interests, including political patronage demands, and lobbyists to do what’s best for all Denver residents.
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