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 Legacy

Sandoval’s reach and influence extend far beyond Denver, beyond Colorado, and beyond the Hispanic community.

John Salazar: When I’m talking to younger groups about when the door of opportunity has been opened for you, you hold it open for the next generation. A lot of people don’t do that; they’re given an opportunity, and then they just let that door slam shut. Paul held that door open. He helped usher us through.

Arnold Salazar: He’s an icon in Democratic politics but has also been a real mentor to those of us who came after him, to learn how the political process works and how to advance the causes of our community. He taught us that we can stay strong if we’re willing to unite and work hard. It doesn’t take a big budget; you organize block by block, community by community, and build from the grassroots up.

Garcia Berry: His legacy is that he (and Ruben Valdez) opened up so many opportunities to everyone else. Paul will go out of his way to spend time with anyone who wants to make a difference.

Valdez: He helped make the Hispanic community a powerful political force. Today, no statewide candidate can win without the support of the Latino community. It’s a powerful force, and not only in Colorado. Even presidential candidates court Latinos now—and if they don’t, they’ll lose. It’s that simple.

Ken Salazar: He’s had an impact on an incredible number of people. I think that many of us who have been elected to high office owe him so much because he was the giant whose shoulders I stood on to get to where I am today. He has been a lifelong friend and mentor. He is a godfather to me and my family. He inspired me to do everything I could in my own life. I see him as a cornerstone of my own political career.

John Salazar: Paul is more than a friend to the Salazars; he’s like our big brother. He’s not only our confidant, he’s our guiding light, politically.

Dino: He’s a Denver institution. His keen political presence has been behind some very important people who have done some very important things for our city and state. If he wasn’t around, there may not have been a Wellington Webb. There may not have been a Ken Salazar.

Gallagher: He’s a wonderful American success story who shows that with hard work and perseverance and faith, you can do great things.

Hansen: Politics has always been an interesting thing for him, but I think his legacy will always be that tamale shop. If you were to say his legacy had to do with politics, he would probably be disappointed, because he sees himself as a businessman first. But when you have a U.S. senator and a state senator call the hospital and drag him there, everybody’s like, “Who are you?” He says, “Everyone wants to know who I am, but I always tell them I’m a tamale maker.”

Sewald: I feel like I’m the closest one to him, but that’s because he treats all of us the same. When you meet with him for advice, he leaves you feeling alive. He leaves the folks he mentors feeling like they can do no wrong, and the world is open to them—the impression that, if you’ve gone after your dreams, even if you don’t win an election, you still win. To have someone like that put his arm around you and bring you into his life…. It’s a beautiful thing. m

Patrick Doyle, formerly a 5280 senior editor, is now the executive editor of Boston magazine. Email him at [email protected].