Feature

The Spoiler

Andrew Romanoff, former speaker of the state House and a once rising political star, wants to be a U.S. senator. And there’s nothing Governor Ritter, the state Democratic Party establishment, or the White House can do about it. If he costs his party the big one and torpedoes his career along the way, well, that’s democracy.

August 2010

As far as parties at the Capitol building go, this is about as raucous as it's ever going to get. Techno music thumps from speakers at the base of the West Steps as dozens of people bounce to the pulsing beat. There's a man in his 30s, his face battered beyond his years, grooving at the center of the asphalt dance floor, waving imaginary glow sticks. A group of bikers stands off to the side. They're all leather and beards, looking like Hells Angels, but they're members of Sober Souls (mottos on their jackets read: "Let Go, Let God.") Dotting the perimeter are tables and tents advertising services like free massages, the Hep C Connection, and Narcotics Anonymous. It's the annual gathering for local sobriety groups: The Recovery at the Capitol is in full swing. At the center of the party is a pale blue tent, faded from the sunshine, advertising Andrew Romanoff's campaign for the U.S. Senate. It is staffed by several young volunteers who seem confused by the bazaar, as if they're wondering just what, exactly, they've gotten themselves into.

Just before 12:30 p.m., Romanoff arrives. Six feet tall and lanky, the 43-year-old has what's become a famously still-boyish face and a helmet of dark hair that's starting to recede. His smile is the first thing you notice: A big grin—a little cocky, a little awkward—loaded with bright Chiclet teeth and bookended by dimples. He quickly sheds his dark jacket and starts shaking hands. Followed by a small entourage of aides and supporters, he slides through the crowd, looking like a student council president trying to drum up votes in the corner of the schoolyard. The music cuts out. A man in a Hawaiian shirt, fedora, and wraparound shades ascends the West Steps to a lonely podium. "It's an honor for me to stand up here on the steps of the state Capitol, sober, with my family," says Hawaiian-shirt guy. Propped behind him is a green sign for Surrounded by Recovery. "We've asked governors and mayors to come speak to us, but they never seem to have time. But I have a gentleman here who was the speaker of the House."

The crowd is quiet and looks puzzled. "Andrew," Hawaiian-shirt guy shouts, "is running for the state Senate!"

He pauses. Awkward silence.

Immediately, he senses what he'd said was not right. "The U.S. state Senate!" he yells. "And he's got a good chance of getting there!"

Romanoff jolts up the steps, and Hawaiian-shirt guy awards him a plaque for his support of Colorado recovery groups. The candidate turns to the crowd and says hello. He doesn't bother to acknowledge the fact that he's actually running for the United States Senate, the hallowed chamber where 100 representatives make laws and determine, to a large extent, the future of America and the world. Getting dissed and discounted is par for the course these days for the once rising political star: "A good chance of getting there." Good chance?! He ignores the unintended slight and tosses out a joke. "I'm in recovery too," Romanoff says. "From eight years in the building behind me! Getting things done and getting people to cooperate isn't easy!"

No one laughs.

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