The Tamale Maker of Tejon Street

For decades, Paul Sandoval has been a mentor, friend, and adviser to virtually every Denver Democrat (and more than a few Republicans). Here, an oral history of his rise from local activist to political kingmaker. 

October 2011

The Young Entrepreneur

In 1944, Paul Sandoval was born in northwest Denver to Camilla and Jerry Sandoval. The ninth of 11 children, Sandoval earned a reputation early on as a cunning deal-maker.

Joe Sandoval, Paul’s brother: Times were tough when we were growing up. My mom was a stay-at-home mom who’d clean houses to make extra money. My dad worked at the meatpacking house scalding hogs. They taught us about work ethic, and everyone pitched in. Paul and I started selling papers with our older brothers when we were six and seven. Paul was always outgoing and gregarious—always trying to make that extra nickel. If you didn’t sell all your newspapers in a day, when you turned them in they’d charge you for how many you didn’t sell. Every night, he’d say, “We have to sell every newspaper.” After people would leave downtown at 5:30 or 6, we would go hustle the bars until we sold out.

Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior: When you grow up on the streets selling newspapers to make a living, it gives you wisdom from the school of hard knocks.

Paul Sandoval: I had the New Customs House on my route. President Eisenhower had a heart attack and was recovering near Fitzsimons, so when he got better, he went to the Customs House to thank his Secret Service. I knew all the back entrances and found him there at the desk, so I asked him, “Would you like to buy a paper?” A staff member said, “What are you doing here? Do you know who this is?” I just said, “Do you want to buy a paper?” He said, “Sure, how much?” I said, “Five cents.” He said, “Well, I only have five dollars.” I said, “That’s OK, I’ll get you change.” He said, “No. Here, kid. Just keep it.” I asked him to sign the money, and he said sure, so he signed the five dollars. I took that five dollars and sold it for $10 and doubled my money.

Joe: He was always studying. Our parents were strict about us getting our homework done. Paul was always doing something extra, for the debate team or the clubs he belonged to. His interests were always in the political arena. He and my dad used to stay up late when television came out to watch election results.

Paul: My dad was the president of the meat-packers union, and they used to have rallies, fund-raisers, and campaigns, and they’d back candidates. I would go to the meetings and help them pass out literature for campaigns and listen to the candidates. I usually support Democrats, but I supported Richard Batterton in the ’50s when he ran for mayor and won. He used to buy my papers, and one day he says to me, “Do you know some friends who will help pass out some literature of mine?” I had a lot of friends. We took about 20 kids downtown one day. When he became mayor, he invited me into the office and showed me around.

I always thought I wanted to be a priest, and I got the opportunity to go to a seminary in California. I stayed half a semester. One Friday afternoon, there was a discussion in religion class about free will, and I raised my hand and said, “If we have a free will, then what makes us do things if God knows what we’re going to do?” The teacher says, “That’s your free will, and you have a right to do it and God basically lets you do it.” I said, “Well, God’s all-good, right?” And the teacher says, “Oh yeah, he’s all-knowing, all-forgiving.” I said, “If he’s all-loving, why did he let things happen in the Holocaust? Why would he let millions of people perish without helping them? If he gave you a free will, if he knows everything from the beginning of time to the end of time, why would he put you here on Earth knowing that you might go to hell?” There was a vivid discussion that day. That Sunday, I was asked to leave.