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Ten All-Stars Who Are Real Game-Changers in Denver

Ten All-Stars Who Are Real Game-Changers in Denver
Evan Semon
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In 1998, the last time Major League Baseball brought the All-Star Game to Denver, Coors Field was just three years old. LoDo was the hottest entertainment area in the city, and the River North area of Five Points had yet to be dubbed RiNo, much less named an official art district. Those walking to the game from the Northside (no, the LoHi moniker didn’t exist then, either) crossed dusty lots filled with train tracks and tumbleweeds to reach the area behind Union Station (which has no empty lots today, but still needs a nickname). And the hottest souvenir at that game was Glory, a patriotic Beanie Baby.

After subjecting ours to numerous online tortures, we blew it up on a patch of concrete that today is McGregor Square.

All of Denver has blown up since then, of course, with housing prices rising even as apartment complexes continue to rise all over town. While RiNo is the hottest entertainment area in the city, Colfax is making a strong comeback, as is South Broadway. But as artists and other creative types have been priced out of the city, interesting, edgy projects have also been springing up in the suburbs, and even beyond.

And then there’s pot, an industry responsible for over $2 billion in legal sales in Colorado in 2020 alone. There was pot in 1998, but no one kept official records then, and fans headed down the 16th Street Mall for the game certainly didn’t pass recreational cannabis dispensaries that looked like Apple stores (though there might have been some unofficial alley deals).

But even though the Denver of today is in many ways unrecognizable from the Denver of 1998, one thing has stayed constant: This is a city full of all-stars, people who see a challenge, an opportunity, a gap in town — and step forward to fix and fill it with something better. They may never set foot on a diamond, but they’re real gems.

Here’s our all-star team of nine of the game-changers creating a better Denver right now...as well as our nominee to throw out the first pitch.

While serving as captain of his high school baseball team in Waco, Texas, Cole Chandler’s favorite position to play was catcher.

“I liked catcher because you had a lot of control over the game,” says Chandler, now 33. “You had the chance to get the feel for the hitter, the base runners and the opposing team’s dugout, and then you would call the pitch and position the infielders and outfielders accordingly. I liked being that lead communicator and point person on the field.”

Chandler has used that ability to read into what others are thinking and doing in his work with homeless services. And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s been instrumental in pushing the City of Denver toward not just allowing, but fully embracing safe-camping sites for people experiencing homelessness.

Chandler has caught plenty of criticism from opponents of these projects, who ask at public meetings whether he’d house homeless individuals in his backyard.

“And the answer for me is, ‘Absolutely,’” he says.

Back in 2010, Chandler, who was studying to get his master’s in divinity from Baylor University, formed a housing cooperative with a number of friends. The group kept a spare bedroom so that they could house people experiencing homelessness. “That was a huge learning-laboratory environment for a lot of what I’ve done in my career,” he explains.

In January 2014, Chandler, whose wife is from Littleton, moved to Denver and began living in the Denver Catholic Worker House, at the time located at 24th and Welton streets. The house had three bedrooms for live-in volunteer workers and six bedrooms for individuals, couples and families experiencing homelessness. From there, Chandler got an up-close and personal view of how this city was changing.

“I watched tall buildings go up. I watched Five Points change, the gentrification of Five Points happen, in front of me. I learned about the camping ban and how that law was impacting people, and about the service opportunities that existed for people, for my housemates,” he recalls.

While living in the Catholic Worker House, Chandler began helping members of Denver Homeless Out Loud — the group that had been most vocal in criticizing the city’s approach to homelessness, particularly the urban camping ban approved in 2012 — construct tiny homes. He also did some ministry work at a small church. And in March 2017, he joined with other homeless-rights advocates and service providers to found the Colorado Village Collaborative. He was the only employee of the organization at the time.

Today the CVC has an eighteen-person staff and a $2 million budget. It’s constructed two tiny home villages, one in Globeville and the other in Cole. And since December 2020, the organization has set up a series of safe-camping sites for people experiencing homelessness. The two sites that CVC currently operates are located next to Park Hill United Methodist Church and in a parking lot on the Regis University campus.

The two tiny home villages and the two safe-camping sites have a combined capacity of 140. Chandler hopes to expand this capacity to 250 over the next year. That’s just a fraction of the capacity needed to house Denver’s estimated 1,500 people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness, but it’s much more than the city had a few years ago.

“I do think that we can scale safe outdoor spaces and tiny home villages and make a significant dent in terms of the population of people living in unsanctioned encampments,” Chandler says.

To get there, he knows he’ll have to overcome neighbor opposition. But this former catcher is ready for the next batter.

Sometimes transplants can be a great addition to the home team.

Alexandrea Pangburn came to Denver just four years ago, bringing fresh energy and a fresh perspective to the city’s turbulent, growing street-art scene. Since then — through her position at the RiNo Art District (where she had to grapple with last fall’s Crush Walls debacle) and her work on Babe Walls, her own women and nonbinary mural festival — she’s become a heavy hitter as an artist, curator and cultural conscience.

Along the way, Pangburn has been put in some tough situations as longtime muralists, graffiti artists and the Art District itself have reckoned with art-world racism, patriarchy and cultural gatekeeping. But she’s managed to keep cool, even when under attack from all sides, focusing less on what she dislikes and more on the creative communities that she wants to embolden. She’s used her posts to empower Denver’s underrepresented artists, build mentorships for aspiring muralists and spark a dialogue between the international street-art world and Denver’s scene, and those efforts have paid off with some big scores. Yet her speedy rise in the art world seems just as surprising to Pangburn as it does to anyone else, and she’s humble about it all.

Pangburn grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in animal science in 2010, she moved to Powell, Ohio, where she worked at a veterinary clinic and launched a series of commissioned pet portraits — hardly an auspicious start for an art influencer. After arriving in Colorado in 2017, she started working for the RiNo Art District and created her first spray-paint mural at Crush Walls in 2018. From there, her Colorado art career took off.

Her solo and collaborative paintings, mostly of animals, explore issues of conservation and often focus on regional fauna. Her representational murals of the natural world now grace the walls of the Denver Zoo, Five Points and Fiddler’s Green, reminding us that animals were on the land long before people and should be protected. The results of her curatorial work, which has offered a compelling alternative to the street-art scene’s patriarchy problem, can be seen throughout the RiNo Art District, in Westminster and soon along Ralston Creek Trail in Arvada, where the second edition of Babe Walls 2021 will be held July 15 to 18. She’s collaborated with artists ranging from Grow Love to Adri Norris, Mar Williams, Danielle SeeWalker, Romelle and others to build the festival, and this year she’s bringing in several international artists to collaborate with locals, pairing tried talent with newbies. (For more information, go to babewalls.com.)

In her role with the RiNo Art District, Pangburn worked on the curatorial team at Crush Walls, Denver’s long-running street-art festival, where she earned a reputation as a champion for BIPOC, women and nonbinary artists, making the lineup more diverse than ever. Those efforts were largely overshadowed after the September 2020 edition, though, when festival founder Robin Munro was accused of rape and assault by multiple women — claims he strongly denies, but which led the district to cut off ties to Crush Walls. As a result, Pangburn found herself near the center of a community hurricane that could have obliterated the street-art scene. Yet she and the RiNo Art District kept their cool and launched an ambitious new RiNo Mural Program, building off the work they’d done with Crush Walls. They also formed No Vacancy, a program offering sixteen month-long residencies for local artists, encouraging collaboration and giving these creatives space to fulfill their wildest dreams.

“I’m really excited about what the scene is doing right now,” Pangburn says. “So many people in the mural scene are organizing a lot of really exciting things. More people are being able to be highlighted because more people have the opportunity.”

From serving at the White House to serving as a certified barbecue judge, James Beard Award-winning food historian Adrian Miller has collected many accolades, but this year his public profile has risen to new, all-star-level heights.

Miller graduated from Smoky Hill High School in Aurora and went on to study law at Stanford and Georgetown before joining the Clinton White House as special assistant to the president, leading the One America Initiative, which focused on addressing issues of racial, religious and ethnic reconciliation.

After George W. Bush took office, Miller left the White House and turned his attention from politics to food writing. His first book, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, won a James Beard Award in 2014; since then, Miller has published The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas and Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, which was released on April 27 this year.

As an expert on Black food history in the United States, Miller was tapped to offer his perspective in the current Netflix series High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America. The docuseries, hosted by chef and writer Stephen Satterfield, was produced by a predominantly Black creative team (a not-so-common occurrence) and has been a home run, receiving praise for its ability to combine the food, travel and history genres to bring to light previously untold and unknown stories of how African-Americans shaped American food culture. Miller appears in two of the four episodes, sharing his knowledge on topics like Hercules, the enslaved African-American chef for president George Washington, and the origins of Texas-style barbecue.

Since High on the Hog premiered on May 26, the popularity of Denver’s own “soul food scholar” has been heading higher, too. Miller gained thousands of new Instagram followers in just a few weeks; appeared at book signings at barbecue joints all over the metro area; offered the keynote at the Lycoming Tri-County NAACP’s inaugural Juneteenth celebration in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; was a guest on the Food With Mark Bittman podcast; and even found time to take his dad out for Father’s Day. (They went to Old Town Hot Pot in Aurora.)

“I’ve seen a tremendous response to my latest book, Black Smoke, and my appearance in the Netflix smash hit High on the Hog,” Miller says. “I’m thankful for the growing support of, and appreciation for, the food stories that I share.”

While his schedule may be filled with more travel than usual for the rest of 2021 — he recently went to San Francisco for a Black Smoke author talk with the Commonwealth Club of California — Miller has deep roots in Denver and remains a local culinary leader...even if we may need to wait in line the next time we want to see him.

The very best batters hit for both contact and power. They limit their misses by connecting with the ball, but they also drive the ball far, often over the fence. That’s exactly how Julie Gonzales, a Democratic state senator representing Denver, operates in the Colorado Legislature, often swinging for the fences while rarely striking out.

“I really enjoy a David vs. Goliath fight, especially when it’s fighting alongside people who haven’t traditionally been taken into consideration in the Capitol or who don’t have a ton of lobbyists representing them,” says Gonzales. “Poor people, women, immigrants, people of color, folks who speak languages other than English. I feel like my job is to work like hell to make their lives just a little bit easier, one bill at a time.”

Now 38, Gonzales was born on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona and lived there until she was ten. After that, she moved to south Texas, where she lived on a ranch before heading to Connecticut to study at Yale University...and become an activist at the same time.

“I started organizing around immigrant rights and labor issues in college, and continued that work when I graduated,” Gonzales says. “For many years, I did my work outside of capital-D Democratic politics, but at a certain point, I realized that you need people inside the halls of power to run the policies that the community is calling for.”

After Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Gonzales realized that “nobody was going to save us but us,” she recalls, so she declared her intent to run for the legislature in August 2017.

Since winning her seat in November 2018, Gonzales has had a massive impact in the Colorado Senate, successfully championing progressive bills year after year. In 2020, she was instrumental in pushing for the abolition of the death penalty in the state, and the prohibition of courthouse arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A year later, she helped pass one bill that creates more oversight of the state’s top air polluters and another that reforms the way the state categorizes misdemeanor offenses.

During the pandemic, the longtime immigrant-rights organizer has worked with a group of other elected Latina officials outside of the Statehouse. The “Jefas” — as Gonzales, Colorado Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Denver City Councilwomen Jamie Torres and Amanda Sandoval, and Denver School Board Director Angela Cobián — refer to themselves, have helped organize “over a dozen COVID-19 vaccine equity clinics in order to ensure that our community had access to the life-saving vaccine,” Gonzales says.

Gonzales describes her political style as “direct.” Unlike many politicians, she doesn’t grandstand.

“I often say, ‘You stab me in the front, we’re cool, but you stab me in the back, and we’ve got problems.’ To be honest, that directness and straightforwardness has helped me build relationships with Republicans who I rarely agree with. But they appreciate that I’m always being real with them,” she says. “And that way, when we find a point of agreement, it’s rooted in truth and honesty, and we’re able to move forward.”

Executive directors of nonprofits have a bad reputation for cozying up to funders and doing whatever their wealthy patrons demand. But not Jami Duffy, the head of music-education nonprofit Youth on Record, which was founded as a scrappy social justice outfit by the experimental hip-hop band Flobots back in 2007 and just got a million-buck infusion from Jeff Bezos’s ex.

A graduate of the University of Denver — and the first person in her family to complete college — Duffy spent a few years after college working for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. At 27, she planned to attend law school at DU, but after being denied a full scholarship, she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford the program. Then, around the time of President Barack Obama’s election, she met the members of Flobots through social justice work and eventually took the helm of their nonprofit.

“I’m not a musician, not raised by musicians and not really involved in the music scene. I was drawn to the organization by its social justice work,” she explains.

The future of the nonprofit was hardly secure at the time. Duffy had one month to save the group from running out of money — and she pulled it off. Over the years, she grew into the executive-director role and built up Youth on Record at the same time, taking it from a one-room operation in a run-down storefront on Larimer Street to a growing organization in a stunning new space that’s part of a partnership with the Denver Housing Authority. The current digs include a youth-media studio and space for workshops, offices and performances. There, young people learn the ropes of the music industry under the mentorship of some of Denver’s most renowned artists.

So far, Youth on Record has served more than 10,000 young people. Some have gone on to play in popular bands; others have joined the nonprofit’s staff. (Around 45 percent of the current employees were once youth in the program.) And the nonprofit’s benefits are first-rate, Duffy notes. Salaries are high, even part-timers have health-care coverage, and each employee receives $1,000 per year for mental health. When the pandemic hit, as other organizations were making cuts, all staff at Youth on Record received a significant raise.

In June, Youth on Record announced that it would be receiving its own significant bump: a million dollars from MacKenzie Scott to launch a “big idea” project. Duffy’s keeping the specifics close to her chest until she rolls them out in September, but from what she and staffers have shared, their yet-to-be-announced project could transform the entire music industry, creating greater equity and economic opportunities for young BIPOC artists. At the very least, it will bolster the musician working class at the national level.

During her years at the helm, Duffy has not only grown the organization into a nationally recognized model for arts education, but she’s become a leader in the nonprofit sector, part of a movement challenging foundations to shift toward trust-based philanthropy. So far, she’s spent much of 2021 pushing funders to quit tying up organizations with pet projects and encouraging them to lift ridiculous restrictions on spending, cut cumbersome reporting requirements, and trust nonprofits to spend grants wisely.

That advocacy could have torpedoed her relationship with funders. Instead, it opened the floodgates of support from foundation leaders pledging to do a better job. In the meantime, Duffy’s strategizing how to work herself out of a job. As a dedicated anti-racist and champion of youth, she plans to replace herself in the organization by equipping young people in the program with the skills it would take to run Youth on Record.

“The goal is always to work yourself out of the current role you’re in,” Duffy says, “and bring up the next generation to learn how to do that work.”

On any weekday afternoon, the studio at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in Five Points is better than an old-school barbershop for neighborhood news and gossip. And what a neighborhood: Five Points, an early Denver streetcar suburb that turned into the heart of this city’s Black community and then became known as the “Harlem of the West” for its hopping lineup of jazz entertainment, has been gentrifying fast. Today the corridor along Welton Street — the city’s first official cultural historic district — has turned into almost a canyon of construction, and few Black-owned businesses remain in the Victorian-era storefronts still standing.

But at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, run by longtime community organizer and activist Jeff S. Fard, the old Five Points isn’t forgotten. During his daily Facebook Live broadcasts — before an appreciative in-studio audience that could include everyone from gadfly candidate Chairman Seku to journalist Jon Bowman to podcast host Theo Wilson — he’ll talk to critics and supporters alike, discussing everything from his early work on HIV and AIDS rates in the African-American community to gun violence to the outsized impact of the pandemic on the Black population (he urged listeners to shelter in place long after Governor Jared Polis lifted the state’s stay-at-home orders). He’s hosted food drives and free dinners. And during last year’s protests against racist policing, Brother Jeff’s willingness to give voice to controversial topics was particularly valuable. He urged protesters “to stay focused, not to be agitated, and to know they’re on the right side of this particular issue — know that what they’re doing is part of their constitutional rights and they shouldn’t be driven away by fear and intimidation.
They need to stay vigilant on the side of peace and justice. And justice has no skin color, no sexual orientation, no zip code or financial level. Justice will prevail through all of this. It may be ugly at times, but at the end of the day, we will have justice.”

Although perhaps not economic justice. Five Points is changing so rapidly that two years ago, Brother Jeff changed the name of his monthly neighborhood publication from the 5 Points News to the 5 Star News. In a city that’s been labeled the second-most-gentrified in the country, Five Points has become “perhaps the model of gentrification,” he says. “We’re doing it faster, higher.”

But not better.

“What Five Points means today, and what it meant then, it’s night and day,” he points out. “There’s a lot of confusion about these symbols about names. And at the end of the day, I’m more interested in the actual control of the assets. You have a lot of people working on Black ownership, but can you keep up with the pace of growth and development that have been orchestrated by rabid capitalism?”

If you’ve tuned in to independent radio in Colorado over the past fifteen years, you’ve heard the indefatigable voice of Alicia “Bruce” Trujillo. Trujillo honed her skills and made her mark as the first female general manager at KMSA, Colorado Mesa University’s student-run radio station, then became the music, production and web director of KAFM in Grand Junction; after that, she served as music director at KGNU in Boulder, where she amplified emerging trends in Colorado’s music scene.

She left KGNU in 2016 for her most recent post: as assistant program director and host at Colorado Public Radio’s Indie 102.3. At CPR, Trujillo has been a loud champion of Denver musicians, booking studio sessions, running promotions and hosting nighttime and weekend slots. She founded the hour-long show Especial, which showcases Latin-made music from around the Americas, with a special focus on Colorado artists. And when she’s not in front of the mic or hustling to make Indie 102.3 one of the premier destinations for non-commercial music in the region, she’s been running Whiskey, Women & Song, a series pairing femme musicians with locally made whiskeys at performances and interviews. Over the summer of 2020, she co-founded Colorful Colorado Collaborations, a podcast series putting a spotlight on local BIPOC musicians, artists and entrepreneurs.

But Trujillo’s just getting started championing the Colorado music scene. She was recently tapped by folk-music institution Swallow Hill to become the nonprofit’s new concert director. In a city where the vast majority of high-power talent buyers are white men, she brings a fresh perspective and impeccable taste to the position.

“Bruce is a force in this community,” says Swallow Hill head Paul Lhevine. “Her time with Indie 102.3 as assistant program director and side projects are setting us up for success as she drives greater diversity in our performers, our genres, and the audiences we attract to Swallow Hill. She will be part of our team on the forefront of driving a look and feel at Swallow Hill that will make us more vibrant in the community.”

For Trujillo, the new position is an opportunity to expand her own skill set and the music scene she loves. “This is new territory for me,” she says. “I’m confident I’ll be able to do it. Obviously, after working in radio, going into booking is a little out of my wheelhouse. I’m going to have a little learning curve. Hopefully I’ll have that chance to grow.”

Her plans are ambitious and characteristically focused on building up the local music community. She’ll be booking more Colorado bands as opening acts for big-stage shows at Swallow Hill’s summer music events at the Denver Botanic Gardens and Four Mile Park, and hopes to build bridges between the slam poetry, theater and arts scenes, giving artists who aren’t necessarily musicians space to showcase their work. Ultimately, she envisions making the nonprofit a welcoming place for all people in the city.

“I’m grateful we’re at a place in time and evolution of the city and music scene of Denver to create these safe spaces,” she says.

A lot of cannabis businesses in Colorado put up big numbers, but how many of them are team players?

Don’t get it twisted: Wanda James is good at getting paid. Over the past decade, the serial entrepreneur and her husband, Scott Durrah, have planted their flag in northwest Denver, where they’ve churned out several businesses and plenty of good stories. The duo is responsible for one of the first Black-owned cannabis dispensaries in the country, Simply Pure, which they still own. James and Durrah also founded a CBD brand under the same name, as well as a cannabis extraction company and consulting firm.

Durrah, a former Denver City Council candidate and award-winning cannabis chef, would probably tell you that James is the force behind their status as a pot power couple. And over the past several years, she’s used that force of will to create opportunities for others, too. Shortly before transitioning from owning restaurants to owning legal marijuana operations, James carved out a space in Colorado politics, working on a finance committee for presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and, that same year, managing Jared Polis’s first campaign for Congress. Since then, she’s kept Polis’s ear, serving on state tourism commissions to promote more diversity in Colorado’s travel industry — and cannabis.

Tourism is hardly James’s most passionate play, however. She’s been calling for more diversity in Colorado’s cannabis space since the day she stepped foot in it over ten years ago, and those efforts have started to come to fruition.

In 2020, James was an integral force in pushing legislation through the Colorado General Assembly that created the state’s first social equity framework for the marijuana industry, a framework that eventually led to a program for cannabis entrepreneurs who’ve been affected by the War on Drugs with a budget of $4 million — up considerably from the $10,000 initially earmarked, after James called out the governor’s office when the first proposed budget leaked.

Tired of being one of the few people of color at cannabis business events and lawmaking sessions, in 2019 James started her own trade group for minority business owners, the Black, Brown and Red Badged network. Since then, the group has become a regular presence in shaping Colorado and Denver’s future cannabis laws, routinely calling out Mayor Michael Hancock for his slow movement on creating more marijuana business licenses for social equity licensees while fighting against interests of some of the bigger, shadier operators in legal pot.

James has used her political muscle to publicly confront everyone from lawmakers to construction crews who were screwing up the street where she and her neighbors are trying to do business, but she knows how to move behind the scenes, too. When Arzelle Lewis, a former local basketball star, found himself stymied in his efforts to gain his father clemency for trumped-up drug charges from the ’90s, it was James who nudged Polis’s office and got his father home, Lewis says.

Playing in so many arenas is inevitably going to create rivals and enemies, and James isn’t short of those, either. But you have to respect someone who refuses to bunt, and Wanda James always comes to play.

Danny Newman had to be at the closing for the Mercury Cafe deal at 5:15 a.m. — the time that Marilyn Megenity had determined would be the perfect moment to transfer ownership of her legendary venue to Newman and longtime business partner Austin Gayer.

This was not something that Newman had envisioned when he got into the business of saving cultural institutions in Denver. But then, he hadn’t planned on getting into that business at all. The now-forty-year-old Denver native got into technology early, starting a string of companies two decades ago. But he wasn’t all work: Newman also founded the Zombie Crawl, an annual event that once drew as many as 40,000 gore-soaked participants. After a pandemic hiatus, the Crawl is slated to come back from the dead this fall.

But first, Newman had to make sure that Megenity’s legacy didn’t die, and after she announced that the building she’d moved her then-fifteen-year-old restaurant/performance venue into back in 1990 was going on the block, he quickly reached out to see if he could help. He’d gotten into the savior business five years earlier, after the sale of Roximity, the big location technology company that he ran with Gayer, made it possible for Newman and his family to buy My Brother’s Bar from the Karagas family, which had run it for close to fifty years. “The timing worked out there,” says Newman. That deal was the next best thing to keeping Denver’s oldest bar in the family; after all, Danny’s mother, Paula, had worked at My Brother’s for more than thirty years, and when the Newmans promised that they would keep the character of the place alive, they were intimately aware of that character.

“It wasn’t until Brother’s that I realized the operation, and what the atmosphere created in these places, is an even bigger component of the physical spaces,” Newman says. “And now, five years later, with the Merc, I know what’s important. It’s the vibe and the memories that people created there. How do we keep that part of it alive?”

Newman has an affinity for old buildings — he’s bought two churches, the top floors of the Clocktower on the 16th Street Mall, and a gas station on West Colfax Avenue where he hopes to someday install a mermaid bar — but preserving the vibe and ambience as well as the physical structure of a place is a relatively new focus. One he’s gotten very good at as he’s participated on the financial side of other saves around town, such as the sale of the Skylark Lounge, and also on the promotional end, with the Save Casa Bonita crew.

Charlie Woolley, who started working with Newman during the My Brother’s deal, calls Newman “an undaunted, fearless entrepreneur.” And as he eyes other potential saves around town, Newman will need to draw on those traits.

In the meantime, though, he’s formed a new technology company with the same team and new ideas. “My day job is definitely still the startup technology stuff,” Newman says. And when that day ends, he pops into My Brother’s to check on how things are going (he just reopened the interior of the bar last week), and now moves on to the Mercury, to make sure the business is running smoothly while it carries on all the eclectic Megenity traditions. “I have just a few things going on,” he admits.

And there could be more. “There are actual layers of physical history in town,” Newman says. “You don’t realize that something is missing until you go back and find it’s not there.”

But with Newman on the job, you may never have to.

Just three blocks from Coors Field is the national headquarters of Dominion Voting Systems, the Denver-based election-services company that quickly became the focus of election-fraud allegations in early November. The charges got so intense and threatening that Dominion, which does work for more than half of the states in the country, sent its workers home as it fired back with lawsuits against its accusers, noting that none of the allegations had been held up in court...or anywhere else. “Dominion Voting Systems in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and many other states use paper ballots & paper records, which allow for reliable audit & recounts,” notes the Dominion website. “No inconsistencies have been found in any state. The proof is in the PAPER.”

But that didn’t stop the Georgia Legislature from passing a new voting law that President Joe Biden called “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and that inspired Major League Baseball to look for a new venue for the All-Star Game, which had been slated for Atlanta. MLB’s choice? Denver, the capital of Colorado, which has a baseball-loving Democratic governor in Jared Polis, and just happens to be the home of Dominion Voting Systems.

Somewhere, Eric Coomer must be laughing. The director of product strategy and security for Dominion, the Colorado man went into hiding late last year as he became the focus of conspiracy theories and violent threats — despite the fact that a large portion of his work involved ensuring that Dominion machines could be audited and analyzed for fair elections.

On December 22, Coomer filed a defamation lawsuit against a long list of defendants, including the Trump campaign and several right-wing media outlets.

“Ultimately, I filed this lawsuit because I think these defendants need to be held accountable,” he told Westword. “My family members have been contacted, their information is out there now, and this is all in service of baseless lies. I do think there’s a potential that once this lawsuit is successful, other personalities that are looking to increase their ad revenue and reach will think twice before making false allegations about private citizens. I will be abundantly clear: I have never ‘put my fingers on the scales of democracy.’ I do not have access to the code, and all of the code that is written undergoes independent code review. Not only are these accusations about me personally baseless, but the idea that there are secret algorithms flipping votes is 100 percent false.

“I do have a broader hope,” he continued. “As we saw [January 6] at the Capitol, these allegations haven’t just affected me. They’re doing real damage on our democratic process. I hope that this lawsuit can bring more information to the public that may not understand how elections work and all of the safeguards that are involved.
Even though it’s systems I’ve helped develop and design, at the end of the day, it is the day-to-day elections departments for counties throughout the U.S. that are charged with conducting free and fair elections, and they do an amazing job.”

Particularly in Colorado, which has been lauded as having the “gold standard” for fair elections. But Coomer has paid a high price for helping to create that standard. “I know that my life is going to continue to be impacted by this for the foreseeable future,” he told us. “And when I say that, it could be years.”

Defending democracy is no game. So here’s our pitch to MLB: Eric Coomer should throw out the first pitch on July 13 — if he can come out of hiding, that is.

Play ball!

Ready to get in the game? See our list of All-Star Game activities (official and unofficial); learn more at mlb.com/all-star.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.