Interview #142: Denver, CO Former Councilman Rafael Espinoza (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Rafael Espinoza was the District 1 councilman in Denver for the past four years before stepping down this summer. From meeting attendance to the non-televised public comment sessions, he took issue with some of his council’s operating procedures. Plus, he explains on the podcast how he rapidly made up his mind during a divisive vote on affordable housing.

Q: Unlike most cities out there, your council does not hold public comment during the meetings. Why not? And as a follow-up: how dare you?

A: That was an interesting debate. I very much supported having public comment be televised. Basically we were advised by the city attorney to not do that because once you open public comment, you can’t shut it down. You cannot dictate or control what the individual speaks to. In order to maintain the ability for individuals to speak, but maybe not broadcast things that are not really good to broadcast, the decision was to hold that prior to the actual televised meeting.

Q: So if I’m hearing you correctly, there was a fear that mild-mannered Denverites would be more vulgar, crude, and insulting than all of the other cities that do televise their public comment?

A: There are some usual attendees that take every opportunity they can in public comment to speak. There was concern expressed by members of council that those individuals would take that opportunity to expound upon whatever theories they had.

Q: I noticed that the pre-meeting comment, although not televised, was on your personal Facebook page. Is anyone live streaming the half-hour public comment session now that you are no longer on council?

A: No. I took exception to the fact that we were fearful of having public comment. I took it upon myself to live stream it directly from the dais. But I didn’t bother asking permission. I didn’t think it was a big deal because anybody in the audience could do the same thing. But it did come out years later at a retreat–“hey, you’re doing that and you never bothered asking us.” I was like, “does anyone take issue with it?” And there were enough members of council that did that I ceased making that broadcast.

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Denver, CO former Councilman Rafael Espinoza

Q: Denver has council meetings. It has committee meetings. But it also has a unique third type of meeting called the “mayor-council” meeting. Each week, the council members sit around the table, and your mayor–who is not a part of council–comes in to chair a legislative update between the branches of government. These meetings are typically under a half hour, sometimes under ten minutes. If this is the time for the legislature and the chief executive to be in the same room at the same time, I would expect a little more give and take. What was your impression?

A: It is the lone chance where council is sitting at the table with the mayor in a public forum. Early on I did take advantage of that opportunity to try and raise certain concerns. That wasn’t very well received. It’s more of a perfunctory thing.

Q: I noticed that it was very rare for all council members to show up to the mayor-council meetings. What was your philosophy on showing up? Speaking now as John Q. Voter, should it matter to Denverites whether council members are having face time with the mayor?

A: I think it would be important to have face time with the mayor. I was a regular attendee until I wasn’t. There was a lot of things that were on the consent agenda that I took issue with and I wished we were questioning. I’m notorious on council for wanting to question things. For me personally, it made my skin crawl at times to be sitting in there being deferential when there were things there that I thought should be called out and questioned.


Follow former Councilman Rafael Espinoza on Twitter: @CD1Rafael

#25: Los Angeles, CA 6/3/16

Like most things in Tinseltown, the Los Angeles city council meeting became all about s-e-x.

“Half of black men and a quarter of Latino men who have sex with men are projected to be diagnosed with HIV,” testified Councilwoman Nury Martinez, looking anything but somber in a fiery yellow dress.

“Way back when, in the early 1990s,” she reminisced, “my job was to hand out condoms. Not only to my peers at San Fernando High School, but around small little bars and cantinas.” The sex-positive councilwoman batted her eyes. “I would talk to grown adults and pass out condoms.”

Councilman Paul Krekorian perked up at this risque mention of prophylaxis. “I had no idea about this first job of yours,” he bashfully admitted.

“I’m not gonna tell you who was Condom Man in 1990,” she responded coyly. “I happen to have married him.” Whoa, talk about a power couple!

As the council moved on, Martinez strode back to her seat and, off-mic, breathlessly told Krekorian, “He was Condom Man! We were just so popular in school!”

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Councilwoman Nury Martinez, a.k.a. Mrs. Condom Man

Council President Herb Wesson called for public comment on an affordable housing ordinance. “I want to take up item 3…Mr. Walsh? Mr. Walsh, please come forward.”

A bedraggled man shuffled forward–flannel shirt unbuttoned, yet still wearing a tie. “Tweeting @hollywooddems,” Walsh mumbled by way of introduction. “Under [Mayor Eric] Garcetti, it’s like the mob. Everything  is done like the mob.”

He signed off merely by giving his URL: “hollywoodhighlands.org.”

The next commenter was as cocky as he was efficient with his allotted two minutes. “One minute only, please! One minute,” he yelled out, like some Babe Ruthian showman, calling his home run.

“You never define what ‘affordable is! Are you deciding what’s affordable by district, or what’s affordable for the whole city?!” He clocked in at exactly 58 seconds.

The next several items also required public comment. And the only people signed up to gripe were–I’m sure you can guess–

  • Mr. Walsh (“Blogging at hollywoodhighlands.org or jwalshconfidential.”)
  • Mr. Speedy Gonzalez (“One minute only!”)
  • A lady who held the microphone directly on her lips and thundered “We must vote for Donald J. Trump!”
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John Walsh: blogger, tweeter, person who barely sits down at city council meetings

After their third or fourth appearance, they stopped being polite and started getting real.

One-Minute Guy: “I’m going to be the lead plaintiff in a suit against the city of Los Angeles because–” his voice became sing-songy–“you’re hiding documennnnts councilmemberrrrrrs!”

John Walsh.blogspot/tweets.gov: “There are thousands of blacks and Hispanics who have been murdered and you don’t give a f*cking sh*t about their asses. HOLLYWOODHIGHLANDS.ORG.”

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Mr. One-Minute-Only, as he’s known in city hall and the bedroom

At blessed last, an angelic face stepped up. “To my friend, the Honorable Herb Wesson, Jr., who undoubtedly will be our next mayor–”

Council President Wesson blushed. “Oh, come on, Chuck!”

“To all the agitators who mock, belittle, degrade, or are prejudiced to him, shame on you!” roared Chuck. “Let Herb do his job! Leave him alone and stop picking on him!”

You’re a good man, Chuck. Too bad you’re not the one with the blog.

Final thoughts: Be honest, you’ve already forgotten that Councilwoman Nury Martinez was married to the Condom Man, haven’t you? I give this meeting One Minute! One Minute Only, Please!