The Leadville Connection: Saving Political Careers
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
This post was originally published on January 31, 2018.
One of the coolest things about living in Leadville Today -no matter where you stand politically – is that because the city was established in 1878, its connections are far-reaching. In fact, chances are good that those on the national stage that has a Colorado tie, also have a Leadville Connection, a story about some time they spent in America’s Highest City. And so it goes for Senator Cory Gardner.
It was 2009 when Cory told me his story. I was at the annual Colorado Press Association’s media and legislation luncheon at the historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver which allowed the media and the Colorado General Assembly to break bread peaceably over lunch, rather than embattled on the editorial pages. That year was of particular interest because the luncheon’s guest speaker was former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, whose defiled presidential bid in 1988 was still the reigning jewel in his Wikipedia crown. But nearly ten years later, folks had become more interested in what he had to say about present-day politics, rather than any of the other “Monkey Business” that had left his political future shipwrecked.
And that included me, which was the reason I choose to stake out one of the only empty tables at the front of the ballroom, while the rest of my colleagues networked with other news-types from across the state. I wanted a front-row seat for Hart’s speech. However, I was somewhat surprised that I was still alone at the table by the time the banquet servers arrived with the first course. Suddenly, the side doors to the ballroom sprang open and there was an immediate flurry of white-men-in-suits headed straight toward my table.
“Are these seats taken?” asked then State Representative Cory Gardner as his band-of-brothers filed in like clockwork around the table.
“No, please,” I responded waving my spinach-laden fork in a circular fashion. Boom! Some of the top state legislators from Colorado’s Golden Dome had just settled in, with a journalist from Leadville.
“Ohhhh, Leadville!” they all said, nearly in unison. Keep in mind, this was February 2009 and a little thing called the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (Remember the LMDT!?) was making its own national headlines. It seemed every Senator or Representative at that table had a Cloud City story to share, which made for perfect table conversation. It was during this time that Senator Gardner who was seated next to me, told me about his Leadville Connection.
Years ago, when he was a political science major at Colorado State University, Cory interned for Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO). Allard’s team was on one of those criss-cross, statewide stump-and-pump events, generating support for whatever hot-button issue of the day.
“We were having a coffee meeting in that place, right there on main street. It’s like on old diner,” the Senator recanted. I knew immediately that he was speaking of the old J-Mar Café which later became Mom’s Restaurant, and then the Columbine Café, and is now vacant and papered up.
It seems that as the meeting got underway with all of the Lake County political animals-of-the-day, Senator Allard realized that he had left some handouts in the car. His faithful intern and chauffer-of-the-day Cory leapt into action and went to retrieve them from the car, which was parked on the corner of Harrison and E. 7th Street, just a couple spots down from the eatery.
“I ran outside,” Cory continued, reiterating his need to make a good impression on his boss. “I got to the car and reached into my pockets, realizing that I had locked the keys in the car!” he exclaimed. “Oh no,” I heard myself say as I pictured exactly where he was parked: directly in front of The Manhattan Bar, one of Leadville’s most notorious saloons.
I must have looked pretty freaked out, Cory continued with his story, because when I looked up there was a red-headed guy standing on the sidewalk, asking if I needed help. “I locked my keys in the car,” the future Senator explained. The guy mumbled something and walked into the bar. Right then, I knew exactly who Cory was talking about, and I smiled because it was one of my favorite main street guys.
Cory continued, I was standing there trying to figure out how I was going to explain this to Allard when that guy showed back up, not more than 30 seconds later with a coat hanger. He had that lock, popped and open within 10 seconds, I swear. I never saw anything like it – so fast! I grabbed the papers and got back to the meeting before anyone ever knew what had happened.
“And he mighta just saved my political career.” Okay, I added that last part. But I can’t help it. Because that red-headed guy was none other than Dave Cerise (RIP) owner of “The Hat,” a main street watering hole with a rather dubious reputation. In fact, on any given Saturday more than a dozen motorcycles would be parked in front of it, with the hard-leather, weathered riders to go with them, inside slamming long-neck buds and shots of Crown Royal, pumping money into Dave’s cash register. This time, the story was about a main street business guy who helped out a future DC big-shot!
Just then, as if on cue from Cory wrapping up his Leadville Connection story, Senator Gary Hart took center stage as the featured speaker. But, by then, I’d already heard what I came for – another story, one more Leadville Connection. Cory Gardner, I thought, you’re going places!
So if you’re tuning in to tonight’s State of The Union address, keep an eye out for Senator Cory Gardner. As the sixth ranking Republican Senator, he’s usually not far off from center stage. And should you be watching the State of the Union from a Leadville bar, feel free to strike up your own “Where’s Cory?” drinking game, with a shot of Crown for every appearance the Senator makes! Alas, there’s no guarantee that even a strong elixir will take the sting out of today’s political climate – but it’s a good start!
Cheers to you, Senator Cory Gardner! Remember well your Leadville friends, especially those working hard, just running a business or a bar on Leadville’s main street types; you never know when you might need them!