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. 

September 30 2011, 12:33 PM

The Straight Shooter

Valuing honesty and loyalty above all, Sandoval never remained neutral and made it clear that betrayals would not be forgotten.

Dino: When Wellington Webb sought re-election in 1995, there were accusations against him for cronyism and favoritism, and that the airport had struggled to open. But Paul was always there, a close friend and confidant who gave Wellington confidence that he would get through it.

Webb: Why has he been so successful? Number one, he’s fiercely loyal. Number two, when he gives his word, he keeps it. Number three, if you’re a friend, he supports you and doesn’t care who’s against you. Number four, he’s always been a political power in the community because he’s always put his money where his mouth is and knows how to build coalitions. He was a valuable adviser and big supporter when I ran for mayor in ’91 and ’95 and ’99. He was instrumental in attending some of the debates to make sure that the points I was making were accurate and clear.

Bennet: He also manages to get his hands on everybody’s polling data. I don’t know how he does it, but he does.

John Salazar: He somehow just makes friends everywhere. He would pretty much tell me what my poll numbers were, and I don’t know where he found that information.

Hickenlooper: One of the remarkable things about him is that almost always he picks a side. He always has a point of view. So often you see—among people who have a lot of political influence—that they choose to stay neutral. Paul Sandoval’s not neutral about anything.

John Salazar: He has conviction. He says, “This has to be done, because it’s the right thing to do.” It’s not about politics. We both knew that voting for health-care reform would hurt me, and we talked about that for a long time. The morning before the vote, he said, “I’m not even going to try and talk you out of it, but you know it’s going to hurt you politically.” I said, “Yeah, but don’t you think it’s the right thing to do?” and he said, “You’re exactly right. It’s the right thing to do.”

Hansen: With Paul, your word is your Bible, and once you give it you can never take it back.

Paul: If you go into politics, you only have very few things, and one of them is your word. If you don’t keep your word, you’re not trusted, and eventually it catches up to you. Look at the recent mayoral race: Chris Romer asked me for my support, and I gave it to him. He made a promise to this gentleman in Washington that he’d be his campaign manager. And then Romer pulls the rug from under us. He said, “We wanted to go in a different direction” and this and that. I withdrew my support from him. The electorate is not stupid. Case in point: Chris Romer did not win mayor, for whatever reason, and he outspent the other guy by more than a million dollars.