This is a series profiling Denver’s City Councilmembers. Each month we grab coffee and take a car ride in their district. Along the way, we get an intimate look at their lives, their worldview and most importantly, their goals for their districts. Go here to read past profiles.
Turn on any news network, look at any social media feed and you’ll find something about politics. Whether you agree or disagree with what’s happening in the political arena of the day, there’s a question we should all ask: Has America’s faith in politics shattered?
Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann, District 6, thinks so. Elected in 2015, he’s serving his first term on the council, and one of his main goals is to restore faith in politics.
“We have so few people participating in government now,” Kashmann said.
In fact, for his race alone, 11,212 people voted. For Mayor that same year, 94, 525 votes in total were counted. In 2015, when these votes were cast, the population of Denver was at 682,54.
Kashmann estimates 28 percent of the eligible voter population came out in May 2015 to cast a ballot. He said people don’t want to get off the couch to vote because of how they view politicians, especially in today’s climate.
“They don’t think it’s worth their time. They think all politicians are bought and sold,” Kashmann said.
During his campaign, Kashmann claims he did not accept special interest or PAC donations. He said many people feel a donation to a politician is a check for a vote in their favor — a quid pro quo. He feels politicians aren’t bought, that a donation shouldn’t mean an endorsement for votes. So on the campaign trail, he started knocking on doors to get people to turn out to vote and to hopefully restore what little faith people have in politics.
“What I find is very few people are nearly as invested in me agreeing with them as me really listening to them, trying to understand their point of view and then carrying it to whatever city agency might be responsible,” Kashmann said.
He found many people to be nice and engaging — interested in what he had to say, whether they agreed or not. He admits, as the former publisher of the Washington Park Profile, he had a slight advantage.
So a friendly face and exchange and multiple contacts still didn’t get a large voter turn out. But why?
“The attitude is politicians don’t care. So we need to show people that we do because my experiences, especially with this council, is these people care. We have differing opinions, but there’s not a crook in the bunch,” Kashmann said.
But, district six isn’t riddled with gentrification like Rafael Espinoza’s, poverty like Paul Lopez’s or as broad as Kendra Black’s. District six is home to Wash Park, the University of Denver, Virginia village and many Denver staples — his district really doesn’t have the types of issues in other areas because it’s neighborhood heavy with an affluent population. Kashmann describes the council as collegial, a different description from Councilman Rafael Espinoza. As a council member Kashmann said he’ll go through five or six topics a day or meeting, all that matter and demand attention and all that are complex, contributing to the idea that politicians don’t care — he suggests they’re just spread a little thin.
“It is [a] full-time challenge, but every day is interesting, every day is different. You feel like you’re actually doing something that affects peoples lives,” Kashman said.
He said each of his fellow councilmembers care, but with differing opinions. However, if the council in itself has differing opinions of itself and issues — at least publicly — how can Kashmann restore faith in government, here in Denver and around the nation?
“I think you have to (restore faith in government) by trying to undo that feeling, that pervasive feeling, that politicians don’t give a damn,” Kashmann said.
He’s trying to prove this to his constituents; so, we meet Kashmann at Pete’s Café on University. It’s a place where everybody knows his name, where he meets a friend every Friday morning for coffee and holds open meetings every Thursday from 8 until 12 p.m. for walk-in office hours — a place where it’s safe to say he gives a damn.
He said he usually sees two to three people at these office hours. For Kashmann, his job is to get people answers to questions they may have about their city, neighborhood and government.
“City Council is like the portal between constituents and their government. I tell people frequently that I may not be able to get you the answer that you want, but I can get you an answer,” Kashmann said. “Often when people try to access their government by themselves they find roadblocks that don’t get to the person, it becomes confusing.”
He’s always felt a duty to serve his city, which he felt he did with the Washington Park Profile. Always having City Council in the back of his mind, he decided to deepen his roots within the community. Kashmann has public service running through his veins. Growing up, his parents were working class people who always made time to serve on the PTA, the volunteer police department, the little league games, you name it, they were there.
“It’s just what you did. I grew up with just an understanding that that’s what you did. You participate in helping your city function,” Kashmann said. “We didn’t go fishing, we went to meetings at [the] town hall.”
By getting more people involved in local government and politics — like his family always was — and gaining their trust, he hopes constituents will bring more ideas for the city to the council. Kashmann points out the numbers saying there are 13 council members representing about 700,000 people in Denver.
“I figure there are probably some good ideas out there that the 13 of us might be missing,” Kashmann said. “So, bring it on! Bring it to me.”