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DPS board likely still 4-3 split

Updated to reflect unofficial final vote results released Wednesday by the Denver Elections Division.

Denver school board candidate Happy Haynes overwhelmingly defeated her competition to win a citywide seat Tuesday while candidate Anne Rowe easily beat Emily Sirota to represent southeast Denver on the board governing the city’s schools.

But in northwest Denver, incumbent Arturo Jimenez and challenger Jennifer Draper Carson were neck-in-neck much of the evening, with the last results released at 11:50 p.m. showing Jimenez ahead of Draper Carson by just 114 votes. (Results released Wednesday showed Jimenez ahead by 144 votes.)

Draper Carson called Jimenez shortly after midnight but did not concede, said her campaign manager Greta Twombly.

“Jennifer is extremely proud of the campaign we ran with an extremely strong volunteer base,” said Twombly. “She knows the work that went into the campaign from every volunteer and person on on the ground. She spoke to Arturo tonight, and congratulated him on a race well run. I think once the unofficial results are posted, we will have a very clear idea of where things stand.”

Even without a Draper Carson victory, however, the preliminary results mean DPS is expected to maintain a 4-3 vote in favor of the reform-style policies championed by DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The final tally of results, released just before midnight by the Denver Elections Division, show Jimenez with 7,841 votes and Draper Carson with 7,697 votes. Jimenez, who was watching results with supporters at a restaurant, voiced confidence about the end result.

Vote tallies

“I think we’re going to come out on top,” he said. “It may be close enough that we may have to deal with results past this evening but I’m feeling good.”

In the citywide at-large race, Haynes, a former Denver City Council member and Denver Public Schools administrator, cruised to an easy win after trouncing her four competitors in fundraising for the post being vacated by the term-limited Theresa Peña.

Haynes’ results watch party took on an air of celebration almost as soon as it started.

“These people have worked extraordinarily hard through this campaign,” she said. “It has really been a direct voter outreach. We’ve just talked, literally, to thousands of people and everywhere we went, people cared about their Denver schools.”

That, she said, held true whether people had children in the district schools or not.

Happy Haynes (left) and her sister Khadija celebrated election results showing a commanding early lead for Haynes Tuesday night. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

Happy Haynes (left) and her sister Khadija celebrated election results showing a commanding early lead for Haynes Tuesday night. (Jack Dempsey for Ed News Colorado)

“That was the most gratifying part of this campaign” she said. “Just realizing, how deeply people in Denver care about education.”

Rowe, a founding co-chair of A+ Denver with more than 15 years of activism in DPS affairs, led relative newcomer Sirota by about 2-to-1 throughout the evening.

Watching results with supporters at the Wellshire Inn, Rowe was confident that victory was hers by early evening. She and Sirota fought for the seat now held by Bruce Hoyt, who is term-limited.

“I’m so excited about creating great public education, and I think we can do it. And tonight is saying that we can,” she said. “And that makes me incredibly excited. Tonight starts the work, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Rowe campaign advisor John Britz, who declared the Rowe campaign victorious after seeing the first numbers, said Denver Classroom Teachers Association president Henry Roman called Rowe to congratulate her a half hour after the initial numbers were reported.

At a subdued gathering for Sirota at a Beau Jo’s Pizza, efforts to get comment from the candidate were blocked by her husband.

“Do not go near her,” cautioned David Sirota, as she stood nearby sipping a glass of wine. “You do not work for a real news organization.”

Another Sirota supporter, Cherry Creek News and North Denver News publisher Guerin Green, followed this reporter out of the restaurant, saying, “It’s a good thing this isn’t 100 years ago. You’d be hanging from a tree.”

Rowe, like Haynes, far outraised and outspent her competition. But in northwest Denver, where the night’s nail-biter took place, Jimenez lagged in dollars raised but appeared to secure victory anyway for a second term.

“The huge amount of outside special interest money has had a lot of influence in this race,” said Jimenez. “So it’s very much expected that it would be this close.”

Draper Carson ran on her record of seven years’ roots-level involvement in northwest Denver education activism, including volunteering for Jimenez in his successful 2007 campaign.

But Draper Carson lined up against Jimenez in this election, and amassed a campaign war chest of $177,400 through Oct. 23, close to three times what Jimenez was able to raise. Additionally, she was buoyed by endorsements not only of Stand for Children Colorado and the Denver chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, but also Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Haynes and Rowe also picked up those same key endorsements – among others. That did little to mute complaints that, along with Draper Carson, the three comprised a slate expected to align consistently with Boasberg.

Jimenez and Sirota benefited from endorsements by the DCTA and the support of many unhappy with Boasberg’s policies. The teachers union contributed heavily to their campaigns and provided lots of feet on the ground for neighborhood canvassing.

First sparks fly in northwest Denver

Jimenez and Draper Carson had remained largely congenial in pubic appearances through the campaign season. The rockiest moments for Jimenez may have been provided by a recently formed political committee calling itself Latinos for Education Reform.

LFER took out advertisements last month in news media serving northwest Denver claiming that Jimenez – and southwest District 2 board member Andrea Merida, who was not a candidate this year – had ill-served the Latino community by resisting reform efforts that LFER felt work to the advantage of their children.

Additionally, Draper Carson used an Oct. 3 candidate forum at the Highlands campus of West Denver Prep charter school to challenge claims by Jimenez that he “helped usher West Denver Prep into North Denver” – despite having repeatedly voted against its eventual locations within his district.

Jimenez largely held his fire, and it was not until an Oct. 18 candidate forum, which Jimenez could not attend, that his stand-in, campaign manager David Sabados, gave Draper Carson perhaps her most uncomfortable moments. Sabados challenged Draper Carson aggressively that night, most notably on her claim that Jimenez had passed a one-year “moratorium” on new schools in their district.

Jimenez had, in fact, authored such a resolution in March 2010, but it was never brought to a vote. Instead, he was joined by board member Mary Seawell in forging a compromise resolution that created a community engagement process for the northwest.

Passed unanimously in June 2010, it called for no additional seats to be added during a one-year study period. But Seawell said it would be wrong to consider it a “moratorium,” since it would have allowed for closure of one school and opening of a new one, providing it didn’t add to the district’s seat total.

Southeast Denver race gains national exposure

The southeast race pitted Rowe, who was strongly rooted in the DPS community and heavily backed by pro-reform interests, against Sirota, who had not moved to Denver until June 2007. She, like Jimenez, had strong support from the DCTA.

The Rowe-Sirota contest had been low-key until Oct. 13, when Sirota’s former boss Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer came to Denver for a fundraiser, immediately on the heels of candidates’ first campaign finance report deadline. Those reports, covering through Oct. 6, had shown Sirota being outraised by Rowe about 3-to-1.

A week later, Sirota began to gain sudden prominence in the national media. Her publicity surge started with a column in Salon.com, penned by her husband, an author, blogger and local radio talk show host, in which he claimed big-money interests – and an education-themed visit to Denver by former President George W. Bush – were threatening to rob his wife of a fair chance to get her message across to voters.

Throughout the brief Sirota media blitz, Rowe campaign members reserved comment. They held their tongues, even while a Sirota interview on MSNBC’s “Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” left viewers with the impression that the Sirota-Rowe contest was a proxy battle for Democrat-Republican wars at the national level – despite the fact Rowe is a registered Democrat, backed by many prominent local members of the Democratic party.

Recent history suggests caution is advisable in making assumptions about future power dynamics and alliances on election night. When current board president Nate Easley was elected in 2009, it was with the support of many in the DPS community opposed to Boasberg’s reform ideas. They believed they had helped elect someone who would hew to their agenda. Easley, however, soon established himself as solidly aligned with Boasberg’s administration, and a vote Boasberg could count on.

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said new members will be sworn in at the conclusion of the board’s meeting Nov. 17, providing the Denver Elections Division has certified results by that date.

By the numbers: Vote tallies for each Denver school board candidate

AT-LARGE CITYWIDE – 90,583 total votes

  • John Daniel – 7,884 votes – 9%
  • Frank Deserino – 8,891 votes – 10%
  • Happy Haynes – 53,639 votes – 59%
  • Roger Kilgore – 10,332 votes – 11%
  • Jacqui Shumway – 9,837 votes – 11%

DISTRICT 1 SOUTHEAST – 23,284 total votes

  • Anne Rowe – 15,182 votes – 65%
  • Emily Sirota – 8,102 votes – 35%

DISTRICT 5 NORTHWEST – 15,538 total votes

  • Jennifer Draper Carson – 7,697 votes – 50%
  • Arturo Jimenez – 7,841 votes – 50%

Unofficial final results as posted by the Denver Elections Division on Wednesday.